Protecting yourself in a digital age

How to help safeguard yourself—and your cell phone—in today’s modern world

It is now estimated that there are more cell phones in the world than people,1 with 97% of Americans owning a mobile device.2 Ninety percent of those individuals own a smartphone—a figure up drastically from 35% in 2011.3 But as our digital world grows smarter and faster, so do opportunities for fraudulent activity. In 2023, the Federal Trade Commission received 5.7 million fraud reports (1.4 million of which were identity theft cases),4 with total losses estimated at $10.2 billion (up from $6.9 billion in 2022).5 Furthermore, it’s thought that a case of identity theft occurs every 22 seconds,6 and that 33% of Americans will face some form of identity theft in their lifetime.7 Our cell phones are an increasing target, as we rely on them more and more to help us manage everything from our bank accounts to our travel plans.

Bryan Raup, Assistant Vice President & Casualty Claims Manager at Berkley One, states:

“Our cell phones are computers that we carry around with us, helping us access our emails, financial information, social media accounts, and business transactions from wherever we are. If you’re not diligent in protecting your information, someone could easily have your whole life in their hands.”

Because there are myriad forms of digital fraud to be on the lookout for, including instances of fraudulent government benefits, home loans, utility accounts, banking accounts, tax returns, medical claims, and beyond—Raup notes it’s more important now than ever to protect our Private Personal Information (PPI). Here, he shares tips in doing so to help ensure safer, more secure ways of moving through our digital world.



Establish Cyber Safeguards
Raup notes that there are several steps we can take to help lower our chances of experiencing PPI theft via our cell phones and digital devices, including the set-up of multi-factor authentication, firewalls, and antivirus software. He also recommends using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to ensure a more secure web connection, strong passwords on all your accounts and refraining from storing credit card information anywhere online—no matter how convenient it might seem.

“I know it’s easy to double click the side of your phone to download an app because Apple already has your payment information, but all someone needs to do is steal your phone, double tap on the sidebar, and charge whatever they’d like to your account,” he says. Phone theft is even easier these days with the rise of “SIM swapping”—when a device doesn’t need to be physically stolen to be compromised. “If someone obtains your name and social security number, contacts a phone company, and asks them to transfer your SIM card to a new number, they then have access to all of your phone’s details,” says Raup. “Which is why it is all the more important to protect your social security number.”


Protect Your Social Security Number
Your social security number is a critical piece of personal information that, if a fraudster obtained it, could be used to cause an array of complex issues. It’s for this reason that Raup recommends guarding it diligently and giving it out sparingly. Raup mentions:

“Always question why someone wants you to provide your social security number. Take, for example, when you’re at the doctor’s office filling out paperwork—those forms may ask for your social security number, but the last four digits will suffice.”

Raup notes how rare it is for a full social security number to be needed, even in the case of Medicare or employment paperwork—and how we have the right and reason to ask about providing a different form of identification.


Watch Your Transactions
We may be familiar with some of the ways credit card information can be stolen, but Raup urges us to consider the many digital platforms we now encounter on a regular basis—and how fraudsters are leveraging those busy-purchasing practices. “These individuals have determined ways to fly under the radar with credit card theft, purchasing something once every two weeks for $20 bucks with multiple credit cards,” says Raup. “It’s rare today to see tens of thousands of dollars of purchases on your credit card, and far more common to see smaller, more frequent transactions.” Keep a close eye on your accounts, and when you do make a purchase, ensure it’s from a site with a full web address (including the https://).


Know Your Trusted Sources (And Do Your Research)
Of all the fraud schemes out there now, Raup wants to highlight social engineering—when someone pretends to be a trusted source to trick individuals into sending them money. “If the IRS emails and asks for $1,000, and that person sends it because they want to comply with the IRS—they were just tricked into losing a lot of money because the IRS doesn’t send emails of this nature,” says Raup. In addition, “Someone could see a plumber’s van in your driveway, do the research on that company, get your email, and send you an email (that appears to come from the plumber) saying you still owe money from the work done at your house.” Raup continued:

“It’s important to never underestimate these fraudsters and the creative lengths they will go—and to do your research before making payments anywhere.”


If You Are a Victim
Raup notes the importance of taking the above steps to help lower your risk of experiencing fraud or identity theft. “Once you are a victim, it’s very difficult to get your money back or your identity restored,” he says. “It’s really about being proactive.” If you are a victim of identity theft, immediately report it to your local police department. “Every police department is connected with a federal agency, so their report is instantly sent to the Federal Trade Commission,” says Raup. “From there, they can run reports to determine if your social security number is being misused and take the appropriate steps in shutting it down.” The victim can act too – immediate action in placing fraud alerts on credit cards and credit report, closing out accounts, and notifying the cell phone company—or any other companies in which identity or payment systems may be compromised.


Berkley offers optional Cyber Coverage Endorsement which includes access to CyberScout, an identity monitoring and protection organization that provides insights and guidance in the digital security landscape. To learn more, contact us here.

Berkley One is a Berkley Company.