Keeping Yourself Safe From Cyber-Criminals
By Jennifer Kraus
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - If you don't normally check your bank or credit card statements, you'll want to now. People across the country are finding charges on their latest bills that aren't theirs.
When Crystal Weeks looks at her latest bank statement, she found a $74 charge from a company called Digital Star.
"And then when I started looking down my bill, they hadn't hit me once, they'd hit me twice," Weeks told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.
Two charges for a total of $150 from a company she had never heard of.
And, it turns out, she's not alone. NewsChannel 5 Investigates found online forums filled with complaints about the same mysterious charges, all appearing on statements within the last month or so.
And there are victims across the country and even in Canada. Many, like Weeks, had multiple charges.
"Apparently nobody's safe," Weeks said.
"This is what we call cyber-crime," said the FBI's Scott Augenbaum.
Augenbaum said this is likely the work of criminals overseas who have used the Internet to tap into people's accounts and steal their money.
"How big of a problem is this?" NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Augenbaum.
"Our director, Robert Muller, said in the next two or three years, cyber-crime will be the number one priority for the FBI. Right now, it's the number three priority behind terrorism and counter-intelligence," he responded.
Perhaps even scarier, according to Augenbaum, is just how easy it is for you to wind up with fraudulent charges.
Crystal Weeks recalled, "I was like how on Earth did they get my information?"
Weeks said she rarely uses her bank card online.
But the FBI's cyber-crime chief said it's what else we do online that makes us vulnerable to cyber-attacks.
The cyber criminals, he said, know how to use email and social media to infect our computers. All you have to do is open an email you think is from a friend or click on a link supposedly posted on a friend's Facebook page and you can wind up with a malicious virus on your computer and probably not even know it.
And since so many people do their banking online these days, the cyber thief then has access to all of your account information.
"Whenever you receive emails, the best tip that the FBI has is think before you click. If you get a link in the mail from a friend, put your cursor over it. See if it's from your friend and if it says instead of .com, it says .ru which is Russia or .cn which is China, think would your friend have any reason to send you emails from those countries?" Augenbaum added.
It's hard to say where the folks behind Digital Star are. When we ran the company's address, we found a Mailboxes Etc. location in London. But mail sent there could easily be forwarded anywhere in the world. And the company's London-based phone number, we found, doesn't work.
Crystal Weeks said, "It's an atrocity is what it is."
There are some other ways to keep this from happening to you:
- Be sure to keep your Internet security up to date.
- Use a credit card, not a debit card. A debit card is anything directly linked to your bank account, even if it says Visa or MasterCard on it.
- And be sure to review your statements regularly. The sooner you catch any fraudulent charges, the sooner you can stop them and keep the thieves from running up more.
- If you do find fraudulent charges on your account, contact your bank or credit card company immediately to dispute the charges.
- You should also file a complaint with the FBI's Internet crime center, IC3.