Dave Crouse was on the road to retirement. He was building up a healthy amount of savings and was proud of his finances. Fast forward to six months later and Crouse had lost almost $1 million and his finances were in shambles. Identity theft cost him $900,000 in merchandise, gambling and telephone services, drained straight out of his debit card, and he was forced to spend almost $100,000 to try to repair the damage. Today, his identity, including Social Security number, address and phone number, is still being used to open credit cards and bank accounts.
Dave Crouse was most likely the victim of malware. A hacker had managed to infect his computer, whether via a clicked link or a malicious website, and installed software that collected data whenever Crouse used his computer.
Malware is an invisible threat. Like most forms of identity theft that emerged after the introduction of the internet, malware easily slips into computers and other devices if users are not taking measures to protect themselves.
There are a vast variety of malware in existence, but three threats in particular are on the rise:
- Ransomware: This type of malware is very much what it sounds like: a software that holds computers for ransom. According to InfoSecurity Magazine a lot of current ransomware disguises itself as an update to reputable software. In the Critroni scheme, users receive emails that tell them their version of Google Chrome is out of date and “potentially vulnerable.” Clicking the associated link executes malware, which infects the computer. The malware then encrypts all data on the computer, leaving one folder open and available for viewing, with instructions for users to make payments to decrypt their information. Hackers not only get their hands on sensitive information, they also get a pay day.
- POS malware: Point-of-sale malware targets retailers, bypassing security systems and firewalls to collect information on customers, including credit and debit card numbers. In some cases malware is so advanced that it can encrypt itself to ensure that point-of-sale computers cannot detect it, and then continually download updates for itself through the host computer.
- Adware: Many people think that mobile devices and tablets are safe from malware threats. Most smartphones come with their own security and don’t have any associated anti-virus protection to install, so individuals assume they are protected. This is a misconception and one that could cost you. One of the ways smartphone operating systems are vulnerable is adware. This type of software renders advertisements on a phone or tablet, and generates revenue for the adware’s creator. Advanced adware also track and collect personal data.
Protecting your devices against malware is a matter of installing anti-malware security software. In addition, limit your downloads to software that is trusted and made by a reputable company, and avoid clicking on email links from sources you don’t recognize.
It is also a good idea to sign up for a credit monitoring service, in case any malware does manage to get past your protections and gather your data. Such services can alert you when certain activity occurs in your credit files that may indicate fraud.