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Brookhaven police offer advice to protect against cyber crime

The best way to protect yourself from becoming the victim of a cyber crime is be aware.

Brookhaven Police Capt. Clint Earls said individuals using personal information with electronic devices should use caution always.

Clint Earls

Clint Earls

“Cyber criminals love the internet and the world of computers. That’s their business,” he said. “You’ve got a group that wakes up each morning and sees how much they can extort. That’s their job.”

In recognition of Cybersecurity Awareness Month, which is observed annually in October, Earls and state Attorney General Jim Hood offer some valuable advice to consumers and businesses about how to protect themselves from cyber criminals.

“Cyber crime in its many forms can jeopardize a victim’s reputation, threaten personal safety and lead to financial ruin,” Hood said. “We encourage consumers to do as much as possible on the front end to prevent the possibility of becoming a victim of cyber crimes such as identity theft, financial fraud, e-mail spoofing or intellectual property crime.”

Hood urges businesses and consumers to look for ways to be more secure online by applying safe cyber security practices.

“Companies and agencies must take basic precautions to block cyber thieves from their computer systems and electronic data to prevent a potential data breach. It is very important to train employees and not just assume they know computer security basics,” Hood said.

Earls said the cybercrime most frequently reported in Brookhaven comes through emails. Someone will report that he’s received an email that he’s won a huge jackpot and needs to pay the shipping and taxes to get it or they’ve inherited a large sum of money from a long lost relative and needs to pay the taxes on it to be able to get it.

“Usually, If it’s too good to be true, it probably is,” he said.

The emails are usually generated from outside the U.S.

“If you believe you have won something, come down and let us verify it and we’ll be happy to celebrate with you,” he said. “If you haven’t, we’ll let you cry on our shoulder. At least your personal information will be safe.”

He said the reports come in spurts. His department will get a report about an email scam from someone in Nigeria, then they’ll get a few more. Then it’s quiet for a while, he said.

If an individual has any concerns, they should bring the information to the police department and they’ll check it out, Earls said.

“We’ll be happy to assist them in any way possible, to check the legitimacy of the claim,” he said. “Someone who’s legitimate isn’t going to get upset if you ask to validate their identity. If they’re not legitimate, they’re real pushy.”

Phishing is also a common scam. It’s where someone sends an email that resembles something official, like from the IRS, the USPS or Paypal but includes a link that the receiver needs to click on to get into their account.

“What they’re doing is fishing for information,” he said.

He said legitimate organizations will not ask for personal information they’ve already got on file. “They’re not going to call to ask personal questions. They won’t text you. They won’t email you,” he said. “No legitimate business is going to ask you to go to Walmart and get a Green Dot credit card and load it up and call them back with the card number.”

That’s what some scammers propose for their potential victims to do, and in those cases, it’s hard to track the money once the card number has been given to the cybercriminals, he said.

“They need nothing but a number to have access to those funds,” he said.

Hood’s office offers some tips for avoiding cybercrime:

• Keep your private information private. Avoid sharing your full name, address, and other personal information online unless you are providing that information to a trusted recipient in a secure online transaction. Don’t email personal or financial information. Email is not a secure method of transmitting personal information unless it is encrypted.

• When in doubt, throw it out. Links in emails, tweets, posts, and online advertisements are often how criminals compromise your computer or mobile device. If it looks suspicious, it’s best to delete it and do not click on any portion of the link. If appropriate, mark the message as “junk email” so that future messages from the sender do not end up in your inbox.

• Set strong passwords. Setting passwords that are long, unique, and hard to guess is one of the most important things you can do to protect your online accounts. Changing passwords regularly and using different passwords for different accounts goes a long way to protecting your online information.

• Secure your accounts. Ask for protection beyond passwords. Many websites now offer additional ways for you to verify your identity before you conduct business on their sites, such as two-factor authentication.

• Secure your mobile device. In order to prevent theft and unauthorized access, use a passcode to lock your mobile device and always lock it when it’s not in use. Never leave your mobile device unattended in a public place.

• Timely update antivirus and other cybersecurity software on  your home and work computers.

• Monitor your online bank and credit card accounts regularly.