McAfee, Inc. has released a white paper from McAfee® Avert® Labs warning of a “dramatic increase” in online identity theft over the past two years. In addition to a 250 per cent increase in instances of key-logging malware to capture passwords and other private information between January 2004 and May 2006, additional findings show that the number of phishing alerts tracked by the Anti-Phishing Working Group has multiplied 100-fold during that same time period as well.
Identity theft extracts a high toll upon its victims. Recent humorous commercials depicting the concept of identity theft portray vignettes such as two mature women speaking in the voices of bikers who have used their identities to illegally purchases goods. But the high toll that identity theft exacts on national economies around the world is far from a laughing matter. According to the Federal Trade Commission, the annual cost for consumers and businesses reached $50 billion annually in the United States and has reached $3.2 billion during the last three years in the United Kingdom.
“Identity theft is a global phenomenon that threatens all of us, which means we all need to become more aware, more vigilant and less trusting to protect ourselves,” stated Jeff Green, senior vice president of McAfee’s Avert Labs, in an article published on vnunet.com (for a link to that article, see Additional Resources at the end of this article).
“By learning where we are vulnerable, and how and why criminals engage in identity theft, we can take the necessary precautions to avoid being victimised.”
Identity thieves use techniques such as sophisticated keyloggers that monitor computer keyboard keystrokes to steal online usernames and passwords and even the non-technical technique of “dumpster diving,” according to McAfee Avert Lab’s white paper. Identity thieves motives may include profit of facilitating acts of terrorism.
The white paper concludes with practical guidelines for preventing identity theft and mitigating victimization risks. Key prevention tips for computer users are presented below, quoted from McAffee’s web site (for a link to this list, see Additional Resources at the and of this article):
• Watch out for phishing scams – fraudulent emails and Web sites that impersonate legitimate businesses to trick people into revealing personal information
• Avoid clicking on links in emails to visit Web sites, but instead manually type a company’s correct Web address into the browser
• Install comprehensive security software or services – including anti- virus, anti-spyware and firewall protection – and keep it up to date
• Use caution when opening email attachments, regardless of who sent them
• Take care before sharing email addresses
• Permanently erase computer hard drives before disposing of old computers
• Make sure Web sites are secure before visiting and providing personal information
• Use strong passwords
• Use caution when communicating through instant messaging