It’s not that bizarre of a situation… it’s the next scam to get you.
Maybe you’ve heard of the television show High Stakes Sweepers on TLC? It’s a show about people who, as a hobby, enjoy entering various sweepstakes through mail in requests, instant wins, and via email. They win cash prizes… vehicles… whatever. They’re the 1 in (an incomprehensible number) that seem to get lucky.
You are not so lucky, but why not give it a shot.
While watching the program, like those people on TV and the millions of people who do it every day, perhaps you are inspired to turn on a tablet, smart phone, or laptop and enter a few million dollar sweeps in between commercials. The holidays are upon us, a million dollars would make for a few good presents.
You click on a few things, here and there, as the site looks legitimate.
And since you probably won’t be visiting the site more than the few more times you watch the show, you make an easy password that you will always remember, is safe (because you use anti-virus and have a secure network), and also happens to be the password for a few other things/the name of your email account. Easy enough, right?
A Very Bad Identity Theft Scenario…
Well, since it is the holidays, and there are still commercials but no more sweeps to enter for the day, you then decide catch up with a few relatives that you didn’t see and choose to send out a few emails.
You check your email account and find out someone posing as you emailed twenty-five of the people in the “Close Friends” folder and all thirty-three people in the folder labeled “Family” asking for money to help get out of an East Coast airport on your way home for Christmas. Five out of fifty eight have already wired two thousand dollars.
Yeah… it can happen pretty easily and is likely the result of two problems—identity theft at a big corporation level and small scale via phishing.
The new wave of computer scams and hacks have affected everyone… from local websites with mailing lists to big name corporations like Sony (who had their Playstation Network attacked, accessing millions of users emails, credit card information, addresses) and Google Gmail, targeting emails to sell/spam and loot.
This could be the product of a smart individual, stealing information, but it could also in part due to laziness with changing passwords on a regular basis and very improper choices in passwords—not to mention further improper internet surfing habits.
How Identity Thieves Go About Stealing Your Life!
It doesn’t take much to hack a Gmail account when the password is the name of the email account (JJohnson@gmail.com using JJohnson); and, once someone has access to another’s email, that opens up the availability of Paypal accounts, private documents, personal information, or bank statements. The hacker can read through emails and use signatures to make the emails sent from your account look like genuine cries for assistance, preying on friends or relatives that are the most naive.
And since people are continuing to use dull, obvious passwords—and using the same password for several things… sites like Google and companies like Sony taking further precautions when selecting a password; including, a security question (which you will now see if you have a dated Gmail account) or an initial prompt that requires the user to click on a predetermined word before putting in a user name and password—done through sites like https://www.safe2login.com/.
This is to combat the phishing scams as well. Phishing (not unlike the idea of baiting unsuspecting victims) is when an outside source is posing as a trustworthy entity to gain access to private information through email spoofing or instant messages that take the user to sites that look engage in a normal way—so much that the user doesn’t realize it’s fake. The user clicks or unintentionally installs a program that seeds into the computer and roots out private information.
But even the most archaic and obvious internet virus/scam will work if the user isn’t practicing safe surfing habits. Since those phishing scams are making themselves as authentic as possible, it may not be easy to spot one. Running virus removal programs will help, but they will be ineffective too if time isn’t taken when identifying potential threats.
Steps You Can Take to Help Keep Your Identity Safe
So what’s the remedy? It seems like an uphill battle, but the extra effort is worth the potential risks.
- Create an account that is specifically for sweepstakes or fantasy football (etc.) with its own unique password. Use this for entering contests that will require some kind of personal data.
- Avoid insecure sites on your personal computers. Bestbuy.com and your local newspaper are going to be protected and secure, the message board that links you to a blog, which links you to another blog, that links you to a picture probably is not.
- Erase cookies at least once a week and a password change once a month. This is done in your internet options at the top of your screen.
- Keep your email cleaned up. You don’t need 1,789 deleted emails just because you have the space for it. Move important emails with private information to a secure drive (cloud, flash, etc.) and try to do this once a month.
- Don’t click on anything you are not familiar with and don’t install anything that you are not 100% positive about. If you are unsure, Google it or ask someone regardless of how silly of a question it may look like.
- Don’t visit sites that require private data on public computers. You can visit our blog post regarding this topic in detail.
Identity theft and its repercussions can devastate a job opportunity during employment screening and background checks–especially in the credit area. As the internet grows, it is a dangerous place for even the emperors like Google from time to time. But that doesn’t mean you can’t BE safe and follow common Internet routines to ensure that you are doing everything you can to steer clear of danger.
After all, how are you going to win a million dollars if you don’t enter to win?
Categories: Identity Theft and Protection Tips