Protecting yourself from cyber crime

Posted at 12:00 AM, May 17, 2017

One of the most common crimes being committed against Americans in 2017 is hacking. Cyber crime is fast becoming a global industry. With cellphones, cameras and even refrigerators now connecting to Wi-Fi, hackers now have more ways than ever before to steal your personal information. But, as ways to steal your information grow, so do ways to keep it safe.

Like most mothers, Melissa Adkisson's iPhone is filled with pictures of her kids. Memories of her three daughters, she once took for granted four years ago, browsing the internet on her phone, a strange pop-up suddenly took over her screen.

"Something saying if I clicked out of the browser that everything in my account would be deleted," Adkisson told FOX40.

Startled, she turned off her iPhone. But when she turned it back on her text messages were gone. Also missing was something more personal.

More than 5,000 pictures and 2,500 videos started to disappear.

"My brother's wedding, my daughter, my first born. Experience of being pregnant from week to week to week, I was literally taking pictures of... everything that she did from her first walk to her just playing around," Adkisson said.

Priceless memories, stolen by hackers.

“The information we put on the internet, in terms of being posted somewhere, isn’t safe at all," said former FBI Special Agent Don Vilfer, who is now the director of digital forensics and e-discovery at Sacramento-based Capitol Digital. His firm specializes in helping businesses protect their networks.

"As things get more convenient, it becomes more convenient for the hackers as well," he said.

While some hackers may attack from thousands of miles away, today cyber crimes may be happening close to home, and your money is the biggest target. Vilfer said passwords can be cracked within seconds, giving hackers access to photos, emails and even bank accounts. In the end, after reimbursing their customers, banks end up footing the bill for fraud.

"Industry wide, they estimate $2.3 billion since 2013 has been lost to these types of scams in the United States, so it's big money," said Kathy Flynn, the vice president of account services at Golden 1 Credit Union in Sacramento.

She says these days cyber criminals are also using texts to lure their victims.

"They know that Golden 1 has a lot of members in the 916 area code, so they'll blast out a text message saying this is Golden 1, call us immediately," Flynn said.

The number sends customers to a fake automated system.

"You enter your card number your expiration and your pin, and then it asked you to re-enter your pin so that it sounds official, within an hour those cards have been created with all of your information and the criminals are taking out up to your available balance out of your account," Flynn said.

While in the past thieves would withdraw the money wherever they are, now they withdraw the money here in Sacramento.

"So they come up here when they're performing these scams, so the card transactions look like our member at a Sacramento ATM, and it's virtually impossible for us to counter it," Flynn said.

Flynn said always call the number on your ATM card instead of calling the number sent in the text or email.

"We want you to call us the minute you see anything that looks unfamiliar," Flynn said.

Vilfer also warns public Wi-Fi can be fishing holes for hackers.

"There are people that just drive around looking for Wi-Fis with weak passwords," Vilfer said.

At home, he recommends changing your router's password and to hide your personal Wi-Fi.

"Hide your SSID, instead of having it broadcast that there's an SSID or a Hotspot, your Wi-Fi with the name "Linksys" or "Doug's house" or whatever it may be, hide it so it's not visible, you know what it is but it's not visible to the rest of the world," Vilfer said.

Adkisson's attitude toward online safety has changed. She now prints her digital pictures, as well as backs them up in multiple cloud servers and social media sites.

"I will not lose any more of my pictures or videos," Adkisson said.

She didn't lose any money. But Adkisson said the hackers got away with something far more valuable.

"One of the hardest ones was my two oldest Makayla and Miabella jumping on the bed and they were singing '3 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed...' I wish I could get them back," she said.

Right now the federal government is considering a proposed bill on cyber security. Known as the “Active Cyber Defense Certainty Act,” introduced by Congressman Tom Graves of Georgia, the bill would allow victims of online crime to “hack back” against their cyber attackers.