If you’ve been following our Facebook, you may have seen some of our “Did You Know?” infographics. Posted every Friday and with a new theme every month, “AMS Did You Know” is a way to inform AMS Facebook followers about a variety of important topics related to AMS’s services and beyond. The month of January dealt with the topic of “Security”, primarily “Identity Theft” and “Cyber Security”.

Identity Theft is a hot button issue, and one very important to us here at AMS, but many don’t know how often it occurs, or what to do to protect against it. According to a 2017 study, the amount of victims of fraud are up 6.15%, from 13.1 Million in 2015 to 15.4 Million in 2016 (a more than 2 Million growth in incidents). This is coupled with a 40% increase in Card-Not-Present Fraud (CNP), false transactions in which the card is not presented to a merchant; CNP fraud can be an example of “cybercrime”. As the internet becomes a more integrated part of our everyday lives, it increases our chances of being victims of cybercrime, but fortunately there are ways to reduce that chance.

First of all, a strong password is important for any internet goer, especially when that password is the only thing between a scammer and your private information. A good strong password should make use of capitalized letters, numbers, and symbols to reduce predictability. It’s important that your password is not predictable, this means avoiding using personal information for passwords such as the names of family members, pets, favorite sport teams, etc., this information can be immediately apparent through your Facebook page. For additional protection, try to use websites that utilize “Two-Factor Authentication”, a method of confirming a user’s claimed identity by utilizing a combination of two different factors: 1) something they know, 2) something they have, or 3) something they are. In the case of online shopping accounts, credit card numbers are often saved to the account, so robust protection is vital.

When it comes to social media use, it’s important to be particularly aware, as many social media sites can be home to scammers looking for an easy mark. To reduce your chances of encountering a scammer, don’t accept friend requests from complete strangers. If you have no idea who someone is, it’s probably safe to ignore that friend request. Your Facebook page can contain more sensitive information than you might realize, and a scammer could make use of it to deduce sensitive personal information. To get information out of a potential victim, scammers will use a technique called phishing; not unlike trolling the ocean, “phishing” is when a scammer uses fraudulent emails or texts, or copycat websites to get you to share personal information. Scammers can do this by impersonating friends of friends, distant family members, or people of authority. When it comes to your personal information it’s always better to be safe; do your research, or double check with friends or family to catch a scammer in a lie.

Dating sites can also be a common spot for scammers. Date site scammers most often use fake identities, and attempt to ingratiate themselves to potential victims and prey upon their good nature, this can involve attempting to exchange personal emails/social media, making romantic gestures, or sharing personal “tragedies” early in the conversation to win their trust and create an immediate link to their personal life/information. Using a fabricated tragedy to guilt people out of money is a common scam on date sites as well as other sites, so always exercise healthy suspicion when it comes to wiring money, and don’t let someone take advantage of your good nature. The most common scams come in the form of pop-ups; some masquerade as security alerts, others as lotteries. Most are obvious, but some are craftily designed and can get the best of even the most seasoned internet-goer. Ad blockers can help protect against pop-ups, but it’s always important to have robust anti-virus and anti-malware software.

As a final line of defense, it’s best to know the warning signs of identity theft once it has occurred. Some include, unexplained/erroneous transactions in your bank account, calls from debt collectors about debts that aren’t yours, medical bills for services you did not receive, having your checks refused by merchants, or no longer getting bills or other mail. Others include, unfamiliar accounts or charges on your credit report, the IRS notifying you that more than one tax return was filed in your name, receiving a notice that your information was compromised by a data breach at a company where you do business or have an account, or your health plan rejecting your medical claims because records show you’ve reached your benefits limit when you know you haven’t. In the event of fraud, first call the company where you know fraud has occurred, place a fraud alert on your credit reports and get copies of the report, report identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission, and finally file a report with your local police department.

The pitfalls of identity theft and cybercrime can be harrowing, but like Francis Bacon said: “Knowledge is Power”.

Be sure to follow our Facebook, where we post every Monday, Wednesday, and a “Did You Know?” every Friday. Also, be sure to check back on our website for new blog posts at the end of every month!