Protect your personal data from spam texts and emails as £1.7billion lost to scams in 12 months.

This article appeared in The Sun on Sunday on 4th July as well as online. Charlie Shakeshaft, IPS Founder, describes how a data breach could leave you at risk of being scammed.

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If you have ever received a spam text or email, it is likely your private details are being sold on the secretive “dark web”.

Criminals are flogging millions of people’s personal data — including email addresses, passwords, phone numbers, date of birth and even full credit card details — all for as little as 98p.  The data is normally stolen by hackers targeting companies with weaknesses in their security systems. It is then sold on the dark web, the shadowy part of the internet not indexed by search engines. A total of £1.7billion has been lost to scams over the past year, according to Action Fraud.

Hackers steal such huge amounts of data that two in three people using the IPS Data Breach Checker tool have found their own private information for sale online.

Links can install viruses

The typical victim has had their email address stolen by hackers four times and their password compromised three times, says Individual Protection Solutions (IPS).

When a Sun reporter entered their personal email address into IPS’s data-breach checker, they found their details, including passwords, were caught up in nine different breaches and for sale on the web.  Their private data was stolen when hackers targeted networking site LinkedIn, online file-storage site Dropbox and health app MyFitnessPal between 2012 and 2018, the tool said.  Hackers bundle together all the information they have on an individual then sell it via the dark web to fraudsters, who use it to target people for scams.  Criminals buy the information and use it to create “phishing” emails or texts, which look like they are from legitimate organisations.

But links in messages divert targets to websites which look genuine but trick victims into divulging further personal details or transferring money.

FRAUD expert Charlie Shakeshaft’s top tips for keeping secure online:

  1. Change your passwords. Make them all different, lengthy and with a range of characters. Use a password manager to keep track.
  2. Use two-factor authentication. Employing two methods to log in to a site, such as entering a password and a PIN code sent to your phone makes life harder for scammers.
  3. Do not hand over your personal details by default.  Where possible, shop online as a ‘guest’ rather than via a registered account. Don’t subscribe to every newsletter you see out there, as they just add your email address to a database that could be compromised.
  4. Beware of public Wi-Fi. It is often not encrypted, so scammers can use it to steal passwords and private information. Instead, use your phone’s data allowance.
  5. Keep your device up to date. Many free updates include security fixes, helping to block known hacking loopholes.

Emails can also contain attachments or links designed to install viruses on a target’s computer and steal their passwords.  Fraudsters sometimes even send messages pretending to be from an organisation that has suffered a recent hack.  One of this year’s most successful phishing scams involved thousands of people receiving texts claiming they had an outstanding payment to make regarding a Royal Mail parcel.  Another scam asked people to call a number because of a tax-fraud claim on an HMRC account.

Fraud expert Charlie Shakeshaft, who founded IPS, said: “There has been an explosion of scams during the pandemic.  They damage the emotional wellbeing of victims, particularly those who rely on technology to stay in touch. But most people do not know how to protect themselves.”

“No time to see red flags”

Drama student Emmeline Hartley, 28, received a text just before her birthday saying she owed a small fee for a parcel.  She assumed it was a present and entered the details requested but her phone number had been sold on the dark web to scammers posing as Royal Mail.

Emmeline, from North London, soon received a call claiming to be her bank, saying the text was fake and she had been scammed.  But that call too was part of a scam.  She was told to move her money into another account to ‘make it safe’.  She transferred £1,000 – which was then stolen.  Emmeline said: “I was in survival mode and didn’t have time to look at the red flags.”  After a stressful battle, her bank eventually refunded her.   Some scams chiefly target older people but Emmeline believes younger people are just as vulnerable.

Unfortunately Emmeline didn’t stop to think about handing over her details.  That form she filled in was the trigger for the scam but the phone call suggesting she move money was the biggest sign. Sadly for her, and thousands of others living a busy life, it was all too convincing.  IPS will keep reporting on these stories to keep more people aware of how easy is to fall into the traps these scammers set.

IPS View

The article above features a lot of basic but essential advice on the steps you need to take to stay ahead of the scammers.  If you haven’t done so already you should try our free DATA BREACH CHECKER.
If you find you have been breached you should consider taking advantage of all the tools IPS have packaged together inside 360 Protect to secure your personal information and reduce your risk of being scammed.

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