Sometimes it seems like every new day brings a new frontier in the murky world of online crime.
Your morning newspaper details the newest email scam going around town. The nightly newscast reports on the latest corporate data breach. Hackers and phishing over here. Identity theft over there.
It’s enough to make your head swim. Unfortunately, you can’t just ignore it and hope it goes away.
No, protecting your privacy and personal information on the Internet is a daily battle, which is why City Club of Central Oregon titled its June forum “You’ve Been Hacked! Privacy and Security, Obsolescent Values in the Digital Age.”
The event happened last week at St. Charles hospital in Bend and featured a panel discussion and lively Q&A session. The panelists were Sgt. Dan Ritchie, Administrative Patrol Sergeant with the Bend Police Department, Chris Akenson, Senior Security Analyst at Redhawk Security Solutions of Bend, and BendBroadband’s Director of Business to Business Marketing Stephanie Senner, who moderated the forum.
Early on, Senner offered a colorful way to think about the Internet: It’s both a “transcendent idea” and “something a squirrel could chew on,” she said.
“Everything about (the Internet) was built to share,” she added.
Senner touted both the Institute for Responsible Online and Cell-Phone Communication’s Public and Permanent program and, locally, the KIDS Center’s Internet Safety training for children as excellent resources for folks looking for more information about staying safe on the Web.
Ritchie, the police sergeant, put the issue into perspective on a local scale. He said the most common forms of online crime in Bend are identity theft, credit card fraud and theft by deception, such as phishing and phone or mail scams. Cases of identity theft in Bend jumped from 135 in 2013 to 152 in 2014, he said. (That’s in line with the fast-rising rate of identity theft statewide.)
Ritchie spends lots of time talking to area groups about the ever-increasing importance of guarding against these kinds of crimes.
“With heightened awareness of the situation and a little preparation, you can protect yourself,” he said.
Ritchie offered a few tips to reduce your risk of being scammed: Google the companies and individuals you deal with. Don’t use your debit card online. Don’t trust a site because it claims to be secure. Promptly reconcile credit card statements and report unauthorized transactions to your bank or credit card company as soon as possible.
“We say you’ve got to be sure to verify and validate all information when you’re out there doing these kinds of activities,” he said.
During his section of the forum, Akenson, the security specialist, focused on Personally Identifiable Information (PII) such as your name, social security number, address, date of birth and contact info. When your PII is compromised, people can commit crimes in your name, open new (or drain existing) accounts, and more.
“Protecting your Personally Identifiable Information is not just the responsibility of the community or the government or business,” Akenson said, “but it’s also yours.”
To protect yourself, Akenson suggested checking your credit report at least once per year, shredding any mail that contains PII, and registering with the IRS and Social Security Administration before someone else does it for you. He also urged avoiding questionable websites, using updated antivirus software and not clicking on emailed links. Last but not least: Password-protect your cell phones and set them up to wipe clean if they’re lost, Akenson said.
Senner also provided her own set of tips for being safe online, including regularly changing your passwords, posting to social media in the past tense (after your vacation, not during), and logging out of everything, every time.
But it was her final tip that hit closest to home, assuming you’re a living, breathing person with a heart and brain: Stay human. Remember, you are you. You are not your phone.
“We are the first human era to enjoy a vast digital experience,” she said. “Enjoy the Internet, but enjoy it responsibly.”