Recently, the results of the US Consumer Privacy Index 2016 revealed that American consumers are every day more concerned about their online privacy. According to the research done by Truste and the National Cyber Security Alliance, 92 percent of US internet users worry about their privacy online. Thanks largely in part to the U.S. government and corporations violating U.S. citizens every move online, and conducting surveillance on law abiding citizens without a warrant, it’s no wonder people are worried. Big brother and Orwell’s 1984 have become a reality in many aspects.
What is really concerning, according to international private investigators, is that many people do not know exactly why they are concerned about it. Many do not know how their information can be used or how criminals make money out of it, and some know it but do nothing about it.
As a matter of fact, the same study revealed that 3 out of 4 Americans believe that they are properly protecting their online data, even though only 16 percent of the people read privacy policies, and only 29 percent have changed their social media settings and turned off their location tracking. In our professional investigation experience, this also translates to the way people socialize online. Thousands of people communicate with strangers online and give them all sorts of information, without even getting a professional background check investigation to verify the facts.
We’re not talking about searching the internet or public records for $19.99. Ask yourself… will a trained private investigation really conduct a professional and comprehensive investigation for less than $100? Unfortunately not. Verifying identities and information requires real investigators and investigations, with access to information and resources that private citizens don’t have.
What this really means is that the standards of what is to “adequately protect personal information” are too low, or that people are just not understanding the real risks, or do not have enough information to know what to protect themselves from. Many have realized that a big part of the problem comes from the way companies manage their information. Everybody knows that online companies store every bit of information pertaining the use people give to the internet. But a great part of remaining private is our own responsibility, and that is something we can control. Share less, always.
So let’s start by explaining why personal information is so important to criminals with one of the simplest examples. There is an enormous amount of personal information available on social networks. On the user profile pages alone, information about the user’s date of birth, relationship status, location, schools attended and place of work is often displayed. By further researching connections and posts, it is easy to figure out family relationships, friend circles, main interests, hobbies and more.
Sites like Google Maps and Street View help criminals find out where you live, and how to get in, so when you post on social media that you’re on vacation, it’s easy to break into your house. Worse, some criminals might try to get into your home while you are inside and alone.
Cybercriminals harvest information in order to obtain answers to security questions used to verify the user’s identity when attempting to log in to sensitive services such as online banking sites. With a bit of research, a fraudster can find out someone’s mother’s maiden name, the name of their favorite pet and their childhood nickname. The fraudster will then use this information to pass security questions, impersonate the victim, gain access to the victim’s bank accounts and steal your money.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Personal information is also used in the black markets to gain access to prescription drugs, to buy illegal products and services in the web, to setup bogus companies in other places of the world (many of which will be dedicated to money laundering activities), and to conduct extortion. Information is power, and cybercriminals know it very well.
So how do you stay safe? Here are some tips:
Check your settings
Not just your social media settings. Search for a browser and a search engine that protects your privacy. DuckDuckGo may be a good option because they do not track you. Read all the settings from your social media networks and make sure you have the highest level of privacy on.
Never share personal information voluntarily
You can still share jokes and articles. You can socialize with your friends, just try to keep your personal things private. We know Facebook will haunt you forever for a date of birth, and having tons of congratulations in your inbox on your birthday is great. But we all survived without Facebook congratulations just a few years ago and it is definitely safer to keep that info for yourself and loved ones. The same happens with address, employment or education information, and very important, with family information. Remember to delete your history on your text messaging services and don’t archive anything – even though Facebook wants you to so they can sell it.
Try to avoid online surveys, raffles, etc
Most of these are designed to create databases that will eventually end up in the wrong hands. Try to avoid giving your personal information to any kind of company, no matter how legit they are. The data breaches in the past two years have been a clear proof of how most companies do not know how to protect their clients’ information. The less you share, the safer you are. If you have to, provide false information. Open a temporary email address. Getting a P.O. box is also a great idea.
We may not have total control over our information, but we can definitely do a lot to stop cybercriminals from making a profit out of it. Get informed and be safe!
© 2016 Wymoo International
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