FBI expert offers tips on avoiding online identity thieves - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

FBI expert offers tips on avoiding online identity thieves


Major retailers Target and Neiman Marcus were both recently hit by hackers, compromising millions of customers' personal information.

But you might be surprised to learn just how easy it is for a thief to get access to your credit.

The FBI says usually by the time you contact authorities, it's too late and your money is gone. That's why the head of the FBI's cyber security division in Nashville is focusing on prevention.

FBI agent Scott Augenbaum says 95 percent of the hacker cases he sees could have been prevented, so he is sharing tips to keep you from becoming the next victim.

"Now, since we are doing a lot on the home computer, it's making it a lot easier for bad guys. And that's what I deal with on a regular basis is online identity theft," Augenbaum said.

As someone who specializes in cyber security, Augenbaum says the data breaches are far too easy.

"It's an open-market bazaar, but it's by invitation only. So there is a deep, dark underbelly to the internet, and this is where the bad guys are buying and selling large blocks of data," Augenbaum said. "And you'd be surprised credit card information is not that expensive out there. We have seen examples where the bad guys are selling a social security number, date of birth and a credit card and the mother's maiden name for maybe $5 or $10."

Over the past few years, the FBI has seen a big increase in what it calls computer intrusion for profit.

"A lot of them are located overseas, and they're targeting big firms who have a lot - lots and lots of data," Augenbaum said. "The FBI considers trans-national criminal enterprises from Eastern Europe to be probably one of the biggest threats to the financial services sector in the United States right now."

So here's what you need to do to protect yourself:

  • Make sure you have strong, separate passwords. Don't use the same password for all of your accounts.
  • Don't use dictionary words for your passwords. Instead, use a variety of upper and lower-case letters as well as a special symbol and number. It only takes a thief about 15 minutes to crack an eight-character password.
  • Have an intrusion detection system working on your computer. But, the FBI says, even this is only 30-percent effective because virus writers are writing 60,000 new viruses every day.
  • Be careful of the apps you are using. They could have malicious code on them. If you are an Android user, only go through the Google store, and if you have an iPhone, only use the Apple App Store.
  • Use your credit card over your debit card when shopping. Credit card companies usually offer better protection if your information is compromised.
  • Check your bank statements regularly to make sure there are not any fraudulent charges.
  • And think before you click. "Take your cursor and put it over the link. Don't click on the link, but if it says 'RU,' which is Russia, or 'CN,' which is China, you know American big-box stores are not going to send you to websites that are located overseas," Augenbaum said.

Many of you may have received an email from Target offering free credit monitoring after the recent breach. Some of you may have been wondering if it's safe to click on the link in that email. The FBI recommends you actually go to the store's website and sign up for it that way. Don't do it through the email. That way you don't click on a link that could be a scam.

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