COVID-19 sent cybercriminals into overdrive - how to protect your personal finances

Cybercrime is on the rise through phishing scams and other means. And as fraud increases, so does the need to protect your identity. (iStock)

With the onset of COVID-19 and the move to remote work, emerging threats like cybercrime skyrocketed. And the types of cybercrimes also increased: Phishing campaigns increased 11% over the past year while ransomware attacks increased 6%, according to the Verizon Business 2021 Data Breach Investigations Report. Organized crime-like instances of misrepresentation surged by 15 times compared to 2020.

"People never think they’ll be targeted," said John Bauer, president and chief revenue officer of IDIQ, an identity theft, credit monitoring, and data breach management company. "But when it comes to cybercrime, it’s not a matter of if but when your personal information is put at risk. Credit report and identity theft monitoring is essential when it comes to protecting yourself. These services can come with identity theft insurance and identity theft restoration assistance, so you are protected if you do become a victim.

"You have insurance when it comes to your automobile and your house, but you are much more likely to become the victim of identity theft than you are to have your house burn down," Bauer said. "Identity theft protection is something you shouldn’t be without."

To start fighting cybercrime and monitoring your credit, contact Credible to help you monitor your credit score and history and alert you to potential fraud and more.


Anyone could be a target for cybercriminals

It is not just individuals who are targets of internet fraud. Private sector businesses experienced more cybercrime attacks on the cloud, with attacks on web applications accounting for 39% of all data breaches, according to the Verizon report. Cybercriminals could obtain your information through a data breach, or conversely, target you to gain access to your company.

"Criminals don’t just target your money," Bauer said. "They can pose as you on social media or other platforms and target friends and family members. They also can target you to access your workplace. Once they have your credentials, they can target anyone who trusts you.

"Criminals can also impersonate you offline," he said. "If they have your personal information, they can get an ID, such as a driver’s license, in your name and use that ID when they are pulled over or even arrested. It can take months or even years to restore your identity."

Verizon’s report found that amid growing cyber threats, 85% of all data breaches involved a human element. And in some industries, like the financial and insurance industries, the majority of the information obtained (83%) is personal data.

"With the sheer number of data breaches, it’s safe to assume your information is already at risk," Bauer said. "What you can do is be proactive by monitoring your credit report and identity. This empowers you to see changes as they occur and act quickly if there is possible fraud."

To ensure you're protecting yourself from criminal activities such as cybercrime threats, enroll in a credit monitoring service. Visit Credible to help you get started.


Cyber attacks are on the rise

Cybercrimes today are becoming multi-layered and coming from multiple angles as types of cybercrimes increase, Bauer explained. Fraud of all kinds skyrocketed during the pandemic, with 93% of all fraud attacks occurring online, according to the Financial Crime Report Q2 2021 from Feedzai, a cloud-based financial crime management platform. Overall, the report showed cyber attacks increased by 25% in the first four months of the year.

"The world may have paused in 2020, but financial criminals did not," said Jaime Ferreira, Feedzai senior director of global data science. "Reliance on digital forms of shopping, banking and payments actually made it easier for fraudsters to attack more people, more quickly. As fewer consumers feel the need to walk into a bank branch or a mall we need to adapt financial services and payments to protect consumers. And as consumers, we need to continue to be vigilant and educate ourselves on how to stay safe."

COVID-19 created a perfect storm for criminal activities like ransomware attacks to thrive, accelerating an already growing trend, one expert explained.

"The pandemic accelerated the shift to working and shopping remotely," Bauer said. "This sent cybercriminals into overdrive, attacking personal computers and creating fake websites to gain access to personal and business information. The COIVD-19 pandemic provided an ideal platform for cybercriminals to exploit."

Of all types of cybercrimes, phishing campaigns continue to grow and are one of the biggest cyber threats Americans face today.

"Phishing continues to be one of the biggest threats, and this is coupled with the use of stolen credentials and misrepresentation," Bauer said. "There has been the biggest increase in misrepresentation. This happens when personal credentials get stolen and hackers not only target your personal accounts but they can then login to your work network and begin stealing or holding files hostage for a ransom."

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There’s something you can do to prevent identity fraud

The best offense is a good defense. With an emerging threat of crime involving cybercriminals looking to gain access to your personal information, staying vigilant is more important than ever.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on many of the security challenges organizations are currently facing," Verizon Business CEO Tami Erwin said. "As the number of companies switching business-critical functions to the cloud increases, the potential threat to their operations may become more pronounced, as malicious actors look to exploit human vulnerabilities and leverage an increased dependency on digital infrastructures."

Many companies are working cybersecurity training into their workflows to increase security and awareness and some require antivirus software to prevent malware attacks and general internet security. Individuals should also monitor their own credit closely to ensure they have not become a victim of identity fraud.

"If you aren’t in the habit of monitoring your credit report and identity daily to look for suspicious activity, that’s the first place to start," Bauer said. "A credit report and identity theft monitoring service will immediately alert you to potential fraud, so you can stay in front of identity thieves. Using a service that monitors your personal information in real-time is the Fort Knox to prevent your identity from being stolen."

See your options for monitoring credit and protecting yourself from identity fraud, contact Credible to get started today.

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