Most Americans’ financial data has been put at risk by two massive hacks that compromised large swaths of personal data – the 2017 Equifax data breach that affected more than 145 million Americans and the breach of the Starwood guest reservation database at Marriott International – which affected up to 383 million people.
Now that the personal information of most Americans is vulnerable, an increasing number of scams are being leveraged by a different type of criminal, Tom Kellermann, chief cybersecurity officer for Carbon Black, told FOX Business.
“[There are] guilds of cybercriminals who are now selling access to this information to traditional criminals,” Kellermann said. “You’re seeing a true economy of scale.”
Kellermann said sophisticated hackers are selling access to personal information as a migration occurs of traditional crime onto the internet – meaning criminals with barely any cyber knowledge are now engaging in schemes to not only steal people’s money and identities, but to potentially disrupt their entire financial futures.
Personal data is available for purchase on the dark web, where any criminal can get sufficient information on a victim to carry out a scam – from phone, email and text scams, to laundering money through existing bank accounts. Personal information is available for purchase for as little as 19 cents in some cases.
Additionally, regular criminals can essentially buy “how-to” kits from hackers that allow them to distribute ransomware created by sophisticated cybercriminals. You can also hire a cybercriminal to create identity theft scams, Kellermann said.
The problem for victims is that criminals aren’t simply looking to steal your money, they’re looking to “own your financial future,” Kellermann said.
Through someone’s tax documents, or credit report, a criminal can see that a person has a mortgage for example, and they can take out a secondary home equity loan that the victim is completely unaware of.
“They can continue to rob you and that’s what’s scary,” Kellermann said. “They can do everything under the sun when they have full access to your PII [personally identifiable information].”
More Americans reported losing money in 2018 to fraud and scams when compared with the year prior, according to a report from the Federal Trade Commission. The agency said it received 3 million consumer complaints last year, and Americans lost $1.48 billion overall. That’s a 40 percent increase in losses when compared with the year prior.
The good news is that there is an increasing focus on combating cyber threats. Tax-related identity theft reports, for example, were down 38 percent in 2018.
In order to protect yourself, there are a few steps Kellermann recommends taking:
Practice cyber self-defense
Lock your credit
Have next-gen anti-virus protection on all of your devices
Use Mozilla as your browser
Don’t click on links, particularly ones asking for personal information
Don’t use public Wi-Fi unless you are using a VPN