Cyber Hackers: How They Can Open the Door

An 86-year-old man was distressed by the death of his spouse – distracted and grief-stricken. So when the con artists posing as Nigerian government officials sent out their sweeping scam email, he was vulnerable – and an easy target. They offered to transfer lots of money into his bank account if he was willing to pay the fees or “taxes” they needed to get their money. After he had lost more than $20,000, he finally agreed – at the urging of a daughter – to go to authorities for help.

Falling prey to phishing scams is one way you could open the door to a cyber criminal. Phishing is an attempt to defraud an individual online. It’s just one way that hackers could threaten you, steal your identity and rob your assets. This does not mean you should shy away from communicating with friends and family. But do consider deleting emails from individuals you don’t know and turn on spam filters.

Following from Home Instead Senior Care®, the National Cyber Security Alliance and Public Safety Canada are other ways that criminals could try to entrap you:

  • Weak passwords or using the same passwords on multiple accounts could leave your accounts vulnerable. According to research conducted by Home Instead, Inc., franchisor of the Home Instead Senior Care® network, 68 percent of American seniors surveyed use a single password or re-use passwords on multiple sites. According to the National Cyber Security Alliance, reusing passwords is a no-no. Passwords are recommended to be at least 12 characters long and a combination of letters, numbers and symbols. “If your password is something simple to remember because it uses your child’s name or birthdate, or your anniversary date, you need to create a better password,” said Michael Kaiser, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance.

  • Oversharing – Hackers can create fake profiles and then reach out to unsuspecting seniors and family members, preying on their vulnerabilities. Facebook profile pictures and cover photos, for example, are typically public. One woman made her profile photo the flag shadow box from her late loved one’s memorial service. Soon a friend request came from a handsome young military man. It was no one this woman knew, and reading his profile gave her a funny feeling that this person wasn’t someone she wanted to befriend. You can delete friend requests from people you don’t know or that make you feel uneasy.

  • Clicking on bad email links – Emails, even those that seemingly come from friends, could contain viruses and malware or links to malicious websites. The experts warn not to click on links in any emails that look suspicious. Always be wary of emails from financial institutions, internet service providers and other organizations that ask you to provide them personal or financial information. “Some people don’t understand that their email account in many ways is their crown jewel account,” Kaiser noted. “If someone can get into your email, they could also get into your bank or other financial accounts.”

  • Searching for weaknesses in computer systems – Cybercriminals sometimes send out mass emails in an effort to compromise weak computer systems. Make sure that your computer security systems are up-to-date and functioning properly.

  • Using open Wi-Fi – If you connect through the internet on a Wi-Fi system, whether at home or in a public place, make sure the device is encrypted or secured by a password. Be especially careful if you’re in public. If Wi-Fi access is not secure, don’t connect to the network; use your phone’s data connection to access confidential files and personal information.

  • The death of a loved one. After a loved one dies, contact credit agencies (such as Equifax, Experian, and Transunion) and credit card companies to notify them that your loved one has passed away. Also, contact the postal service to stop mail delivery. This will help keep criminals from trying to steal the identity of a loved one.

Reviewing the ways that a hacker could try to access your personal information and even steal your identity could help prevent an online security breach. In addition, check out the dangers of oversharing online. And be sure to take the “Quiz: Can You Spot an Online Scam?” to test your cybersecurity knowledge.

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