Cybercrime has cost more than $10 trillion; how you can protect yourself

FORT MYERS, Fla. Equifax, an agency that’s tasked with protecting your credit, announced it was the victim of a data breach affecting around 146 million Americans. That’s more than half of the U.S. adult population.

Financial Planner Sean Rogers  knows how to protect sensitive information. So it was a bit of a shock when he discovered he was the victim of identity theft.

“I saw one email from Bank of America indicating that I had changed my email address associated with my account and I thought that looked a little funny.” Rogers  said.

Two more emails came in directly after, alerting him that his password had changed and that his mobile pay information was changed.

He said “It all happened within less than 24 hours.”

Acting quickly, Rogers was able to work with the bank, minimize the damage and in the end get his money back. But making sure the rest of his finances didn’t take a hit was daunting. He said in all he spent between 30 and 40 hours making sure all the proper authorities were notified.

“It was pretty overwhelming.”

Breaches by the numbers

There is really no way to know who got their hands on Rogers’ information, or how. But the number of data breaches suggests all of our personal information is out there.

“Just assume your information is already out there and take the necessary steps,” said Hodges University Identity Fraud Institute Director Carrie Kerskie.

According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, more than 8,000 data breaches have been reported over the last 12 years leading to more than 1 billion records being exposed.

Dire situation

With cybercrime costing our society more than $10 trillion, the need for qualified cyber experts is only getting bigger.

LINK: Find jobs in cyber security

“I don’t if anyone can meet the demand that’s out there right now,” explained University of South Florida Associate Professor Dr. Joni Jones. “…We’re trying our best. We’re increasing our enrollment – almost doubling from this semester to next semester.”

In the last five years, cybersecurity jobs grew 70-percent. USF offers a master degree program in cyber security where Dr. Jones says three of the four concentrations focus on stopping the crime before it happens. But no matter what, cybercrime is here to stay.

“[Cyber professionals] come up with a mouse trap and [criminals] come up with a way to get in the backdoor. So it’s going to be a constant struggle.”

Cyber Security

Wendi Fowler, President and CEO of The Client Server in Bonita Springs, is just one of many people trying to keep businesses safe from the bad guys.

“A huge percentage of our time is spent making sure our clients and their networks is safe.”

Besides protecting clients from criminals, she also makes sure that her clients are safe from themselves.

“It’s kind of specialty in our company,” she said. “… We offer training sessions and seminars on security.”

Fowler and her team make sure all employees in a business are cyber smart. They develop an internet usage policy and teach employees how to avoid making mistakes that could let the criminals in.

Kerskie says making sure everyone is cyber smart is a big step in the right direction.

“If you look at all the major data breaches, while they were able to hack via technology, it wasn’t the technology itself that was the weak the link – it was the human factor that often caused it.”

For example, people not updating security patches, putting the wrong information on the wrong website or clicking on a bad link are all ways Kerskie said could lead criminals to where they shouldn’t be.

How do you protect yourself?

You might not be able to entirely avoid becoming a victim, but there are steps you can take to minimize your chances.

“Watch your data out there whether it’s your business accounts, your credit lines, it’s really on a daily basis, you need to monitor it yourself,” suggested Fowler.

Also, read emails, texts and Facebook messages closely before you click on any link. Accounts have been known to get hacked.

Also, ask businesses if they can offer you two-factor authentication. When you log in with new devices or change something on your account, you’re asked to provide two pieces of information.

No matter the precautions, Rogers knows ID theft can still happen.

“I was already very carefull with security as far as internet, security names and passowords.”

After his experience, he put together a podcast (or blog) to educate everyone about identity theft and how to recover if it happens to you. To listen, click here.

Protecting yourself

There are three main credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. It is advised to establish a credit freeze with each one. Otherwise you leave your exposed for new account fraud. Below are the websites for each credit bureau to initiate the freeze.  Set up fees vary by state. Equifax no longer charges a fee to initiate or temporarily lift a credit freeze.

LINK: Equifax credit freeze
LINK: Experian credit freeze
LINKTransUnion credit freeze

There are two other companies where you can freeze your credit report.
Innovis – this is a smaller credit bureau
NCTUE – National Consumer Telecom & Utilities Exchange – a credit bureau for the utilities industry. This one must be initiated by mail or phone.

More information

Podcast: Gen X & Millennial Money Radio: Competent, Conflict Free Financial Advice for Gen X & Millennials

Blog Post: Is an Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure?