Westchester attorney advises how to protect your identity when Email has been hacked

This week a friend’s email was hacked badly.  It was one of those free email accounts you get from Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, etc.  He was annoyed that it happened but seemed to shrug it off when I suggested what cautionary steps he needed to take immediately to protect his identity.  I would hate to think it will be live and learn for him.

However, it is happening with more and more frequency (The FTC estimates as many as 9 million people a year are victimized) and has more dire implications.  The hackers start with a tiny bit of data which they collect from a site you have visited previously.  Once they grab your password there, it is a good bet they can use that code to wreak havoc on your life because most of us use the same predictable password for ALL of our online activities.  That is red flag number one because the hacker will then enter your email account and change your password, virtually locking you out of your own account and making it pretty damn difficult for you to contact the email host, such as Hotmail or Yahoo, to let them know that you have been hacked.

Now let’s just imagine all of the data the cyber thief will find once inside your email account:

1.  name and at least city, if not full address

2.  most likely your birthday

3.  your security question prompt

4.  the names of all of your friends, relatives and business contacts with account numbers

5.  perhaps photos of everyone who is important to you

There you go – your entire life spread out before someone with nefarious purposes and you are still not taking this seriously.  Snap out of it! Once you’ve been hacked, take it very seriously and take action immediately.  If  you use the same password for everything and the hacker now has that password, he/she can enter ALL of your accounts and retrieve your personal data and stored credit card information.

The first thing to do is to change your password at ALL of your other accounts and make it something no one can figure out.  DO NOT use your birthday, address, children’s birthday, etc.  This is paramount but still so many people fail to take this easy step to protect their identity from hackers.

Photo: Danilo Rizzuti/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There are plenty of other steps to take but these few should be your top priority:

1.  Notify those people on your contact list if you have an alternate email account to do so.  Chances are they may already know because they’ve been contacted by the hacker posing as you, but notify everyone nonetheless.

2.  Use your alternate email account to notify the host of the account which was hacked.  For example, if your hacked account was with Gmail, then send an email with as much information as possible to their “spoof” or “fraud” department.  If someone on your contact list actually received an email from the hackers then forward that to the fraud department as well.

3.  Do a mental inventory of everything you had in your hacked account, inbox, saved file, sent mail, etc. and take steps to protect that data.  For example, if you recently booked a vacation through Expedia and all of your data resides in a confirmation email, the hacker now has that info, as well as access to your Expedia account.  Contact Expedia and change all of your information with them.

4.  If you are a small business, contact all of your customers at once and let them know that their info might have been compromised.

5.  Monitor your credit credit cards and online accounts for unauthorized for activity and report it at once.

6.  Notify the credit reporting agencies and ask them to place a temporary fraud alert on your account.  Better to be safe than sorry.

7.  Never let a merchant site store your credit card info online.  Opt out of that when given the choice.

It is cliche but it is so true that these are dangerous times we live in.  Thirty years ago, the most we worried about was someone stealing our checkbooks or credit cards.  Today, they can steal one little password and take control of our lives.

Westchester attorney warning social surfers to protect against Granny Scam

Several months ago this Westchester attorney advised my social networking friends, readers and assorted other surfers against revealing too much about your personal lives and relationships on Facebook, Myspace, Twitter and the like.  Many of you reading this think it’s great to tell the world about your cousin’s reunion or post photos of your baby’s Christening but I am telling you again that this is a HUGE mistake and now well-meaning grandparents are paying the price.  The Better Business Bureau says scammers are culling info from these “social networking” sites and preying upon Granny and Gramps to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.

The way the scam works is that the thieves troll cyberspace……they find the names of a web of relatives and then call Granny and Gramps posing as their loving grandchildren in need of money.  Unsuspecting grandparents in 19 states and Canada have fallen victim so far.  Don’t become another sad statistic.

PLEASE LISTEN TO ME THIS TIME.  Delete your birthday and family info from your profiles.  Ignore all of those family linking applications which create your family tree for your profile.  Don’t you think your grandparents and Cousin Mary already know they’re related to you?  Do you really need to tell everyone on Facespace or Mybook that your related to these people?  Why not give the scammers and the identity thieves a roadmap to your house with the  password to your bank accounts?  You’ve given them everything else except your social security number………….oh no, don’t tell me, you’ve profiled that as well!!!

Use social networks for promoting businesses or reconnecting with old business acquaintances and friends and leave the personal data for those closest to you IRL (in real life).  Get the picture?

Westchester attorney says social networks offer up Christmas gifts for identity thieves

‘Tis the season for giving – we open our hearts, our minds, our pocketbooks…………and thanks to social media, we open our lives to the world.  However, when is enough too much?  I see it happening more and more at an alarming rate, especially on Facebook.  My friends love broadcasting their lives to cyberspace:  birthdays; hometowns; high schools; relatives; and listing all of their relatives.  The biggest thing now seems to be telling everyone the names of your parents, especially if they’re on Facebook so that it is now a truly incestuous little network.

OK, STOP RIGHT THERE.  Are you people insane?  Almost every secure bit of information about you is tied into three things:  your birthdate; your mother’s maiden name; and your social security number.  Often, your “hint question” for data retrieval is also your hometown and/or high school mascot.  Congratulations!  By wrapping it all up and tying it with a neat little bow on Facebook, you have just made it that much easier for identity thieves to steal your lives.

Trust me.  I am an investigative reporter, still, at heart.  I can find anything about almost anyone in most corners of the globe.  I honed those skills over 20 years as a journalist.  The only people who can likely trump my sleuthing abilities are those with nefarious purposes like identity thieves.

The FTC estimates that as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year. Now, you are making it that much easier.

Let me put it in simpler terms – erase the personal data and contact info from your social networking profiles.  The friends and relatives who know your birthday and your Mom’s name will wish you a happy birthday anyway.  The people who don’t know you – well, do you really care if strangers and acquaintances are going to make your day?  Are we 12 and crave that much attention?  I am suggesting that the best New Year’s resolution you can make is to use social networks like Facebook and Twitter for promoting businesses or reconnecting with old business acquaintances and friends and leave the personal data for those closest to you IRL (in real life).