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Consumers sick of identity theft and ready to fight back…are you?

2013 could go down in history as the Year of the Hack, or the Year of the Counter-Attack. The choice is up to us.

Not only are businesses and the government finally taking measures to stop identity theft, consumers are waking up as well.

It doesn't matter if you're the Fortune 500 banker cashing a hefty check or the teller at the front desk: everyone's personal information is valuable. The risks to businesses and major companies, even giants like Apple and Google, are pretty well-known by now. But the threat of a breach looms over everybody, regardless of occupation.

The Federal Trade Commission recently revealed that identity theft was the number one consumer concern of 2012.  There were more complaints over different types of identity theft than things like fraudulent lenders and fixed gas prices. That's no fluke: it's the sign of a major threat. 

Out of the millions of total reports the FTC received, identity theft complaints added up to around 20 percent. Some of the worst states to have been hit were California, Georgia, and poor Florida, which has seen astronomical amounts of particularly ugly tax fraud in recent years. 

Part of this is the nature of the crime. If a company that a user trusts suffers a breach, even temporarily, that soils the entire relationship with the patrons they're trying to reach. One broken step on the ladder is all it takes to start a big fall. No wonder we're all taking more notice.

This may not sound like good news, but it is. Stats like this mean we're starting to take this crime more seriously. It is no time to let your guard down, but let's hope that this swell of unrest starts the backlash against digital saboteurs. There's never been a better time to consult an identity theft expert on ways to fortify yours and your company's secrets.

John Sileo is an identity theft expert and keynote speaker on privacy, cyber security and reputation protection. His clients included the Department of Defense, Pfizer, and Homeland Security. See his recent media appearances on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business.  

Tax Fraud Can Happen With Anyone's Data…Even Yours

Fraud prevention isn't just about building a wall: It's about making sure you have the right bricks.

During tax season, anyone who sees your pay stubs or tax forms could put them to nefarious use, and could do so without you being aware. As former clients and relatives of one California tax preparer were shocked to find out recently, the stability of their "brick walls" against fraud were filled with weak spots.

Imelda Sanchez of California confessed to using the names and personal data of other people to file fraudulent tax returns. She also used other falsified tax documents to apply for a loan worth more than $1.5 million. Her sentencing is scheduled for May, when she could be slapped with a prison sentence upwards of 30 years or more. As a tax preparer, she was in a unique position to set this plan in motion. Sanchez could also be given a fine around $1.25 million – just a touch under the amount of money she tried to steal. 

In this case, the criminal ended up in cuffs. But tax fraud like this happens all the time, and the bad guys don't always get caught. 

Doing taxes can be a headache for anyone, but as this incident shows, it can also be a time of great risk. There are many different types of identity theft, and while some thieves are content simply to swipe your credit card numbers or bank passwords, others have bigger goals. Someone could use fraud to try and beat the system – with your information.

It's important that you ensure your information and the corporate information you're responsible for is in the hands of someone trustworthy. Anti-fraud training can help a company be prepared to identify the weak points of their security fortresses before it all falls down. 

John Sileo is a fraud prevention expert and keynote speaker on social media privacy, identity theft and fraud. His clients included the Department of Defense, Pfizer, and Homeland Security. See his recent work on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business.

Protect yourself and your business from the dangers of malware

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How sure are you that your company’s computers aren’t being used against you for purposes of fraud and identity theft?

Recently, Bloomberg.com reported a case in which Microsoft and the antivirus company Symantec joined forces to take down a massive botnet group. Known as Bamital, this ill-intentioned family of bugs is believed to originate from somewhere in Eastern Europe, and operated by distributing malicious software to unsuspecting computers. Once the targets had been infected, the hackers on the other end could take control of Web browsers and drive them wherever they wanted, re-routing searches and addresses to dubious websites that could infect them further. 

According to the article, at least a quarter of a million computers were hit in this most recent attack. Globally, Bamital’s victims are reckoned to number in the millions.

Microsoft and Symantec were not only successful in rooting out the bots: they also turned the tables by using Bamital’s own methods against them redirecting users to special warning pages. They were given information about the virus and then guided through a clean-up process step-by-step. And Symantec says that they took care not to gain unauthorized access to their clients’ information by doing so. 

Malware and spyware are frustrating foes and they’re among the trickier types of identity theft to fight. Like real-world viruses, they can lie dormant for long periods of time without you knowing you’ve got them until they strike. The nastier specimens could track your keystrokes and record your passwords and PINs, dangerously compromising your online privacy. So what can you do to make sure your information and network are secure?

Fraud prevention can be an intensive process – but sometimes the solutions are right under your nose. Some of the best bets against the internet’s more insidious threats are common sense and fraud awareness training

Not all cyber security systems are created equal, so make sure yours is updated with the latest definitions and prepared to deal with serious problems.  Don’t click on suspicious email links, and be wary of any site that asks for your private information. Most importantly, be sure to scan your entire hard drive and back up your data regularly. 

John Sileo is an online privacy expert and keynote speaker on social media privacy, identity theft and fraud. His clients included the Department of Defense, Pfizer, and Homeland Security. See his recent work on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business.