If January has seen you pledge to get into online dating, get fitter using an app or get control of your money with smart banking on your phone, listen up.
While tech has made our lives more efficient, we all know our phones and gadgets are bursting with personal information that can not only be hacked but sold on the dark web for all sorts of nefarious activities.
In the past, the most we had to contend with was dodgy phone calls from scam artists, but these days there is also phishing (via emails), smishing (via texts) and even quishing (via QR codes).
According to a study this month by Nationwide, men are far more likely to have their identity stolen than women (something 23% of men have experienced it, compared with 11% of women). The poll of more than 3,000 people revealed that more than two thirds are worried about their having identity stolen.
Despite this, 7% of people confess to ‘never’ checking bank statements for suspicious transactions and 24% never check credit files.
The impact of being hacked can be devastating, whether money is stolen, a reputation is tarnished or an online profile is eradicated.
‘Motivation for hackers is primarily financial, but it’s not the only incentive,’ says Jenny Radcliffe, who is known as the People Hacker. ‘Ideology is another one if people have a social or political axe to grind. There can also be bribery and coercion involved or ego – a hacker wants to break in because it’s there, it’s Everest.’
Jenny is what is called a ‘social engineer’ – someone who uses psychological tactics such as manipulation and deception to gain unauthorised access to resources that in the wrong hands could be catastrophic.
Her mission is to educate people on how to avoid becoming victims of identity theft and cybercrime.
‘People often say, “I’m not rich or famous or important enough to be hacked,” but an opportunistic hacker is just looking for an in. It can simply be because you’re unlucky,’ says Jenny.
‘At the very least, being hacked is going to inconvenience you and, at most, it affects everything because our online life is our life,’ she says.
Jenny recommends thinking about what you’re revealing on social media. Nationwide’s research found women were more likely to protect social media and less likely to have friends they’ve never met and share details – a risk factor for identity theft.
Regardless, 70% of us share personal details on social media profiles and 22% of profiles are open, so they can be viewed by anyone. The study also found that 45% have friends or followers on social media that they’ve never met.
‘People tell us everything about themselves on social media – what their house looks like, their favourite places, their fears, their workplace, colleagues, friends, family,’ says Jenny.
‘It’s something hackers can use to make generic phish emails more tailored and therefore more likely for you to react to. Sharing everything makes you an easy target. Make personal accounts private and don’t include anything personal if it’s an open account,’ she says.
‘There have never been more hacks, breaches or targets as now, but there are things we can do.’
Tips for preventing identity theft
Neil Smith of Norton, the consumer cybersecurity brand of Gen digital (gendigital.com), shares essential advice about how we can all stay safe.
Think before you click
- Be suspicious about any unusual emails, texts or direct messages on social media.
- Stay vigilant about any messages you receive that specifically ask you to act immediately, offer something that sounds too good to be true, or require you to provide personal information.
Focus on prevention
- Make passwords as complicated as you can manage (a sentence or phrase rather than a word). Don’t reuse them.
- Update apps regularly for security improvements.
- Always use two-factor authentication.
- Keep an eye on accounts, credit reports and bills, and verify unusual activity.