Top scam highlights of 2017 and predictions for 2018: Internet Scambusters #784
Almost out of the blue, ransomware swept into the higher reaches of annual review of top scams this year.
Will it be more of the same in 2018 or are there other trends that scam-savvy consumers need to be aware of?
We'll tell all in this week's issue, along with a warning about a fake jobs offer connected with a major golfing championship.
Let's get started...
Ransomware and Data Breaches Head Up Top Scams Review
Was 2017 the Year of the Data Breach or was it the Year of Ransomware? Then again, perhaps the year's top scams were just as much about ongoing grandparent imposter scams, IRS tax tricksters, and lonely hearts falling for crooks who could spin a good story.
Together, these hacks and con tricks made the biggest headlines during 2017, teaching hundreds of thousands of Americans an expensive lesson in the world of scams.
In fact, imposter scams in general -- from fake calls from relatives supposedly in trouble to bogus tech support and phony tax collectors and police officers -- have now passed identity theft as one of the biggest sources of complaints in the United States, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
But, of course, it was the huge Equifax data breach, which resulted in the records of more than 143 million consumers being exposed, that turned out to be the most impactful Internet security event of the year.
And the consequences of that awful breach will probably be felt for many years as the stolen records find their way into the hands of criminals.
At the individual level, the growth in ransomware was probably the most notable scam event of the year, not because it was the biggest but because it seemed to come almost from nowhere.
From just a handful of incidents a couple of years earlier, 2017 saw a huge surge in this crime, which involves unintentionally installing malware into your PC then being locked out of access to the machine unless you pay a ransom.
No final figures are yet available for the number of incidents, but they likely mirrored 2016, when ransomware incidents leapt by 600 percent. Losses from this crime alone are running at more than $1 billion a year.
Scammers and hackers have discovered new ways of tricking people into downloading this type of software, and people who have fallen for it AND have failed to make a backup of both their computer system and their data have found themselves in serious trouble.
According to a recent report from the online technology news service Tech Republic, ransomware was found in almost two-thirds of malicious emails identified in the third quarter of 2017.
The site quoted David Dufour of cybersecurity specialists Webroot, as saying, "This past year was unlike anything we've ever seen. (Ransomware) attacks such as NotPetya and WannaCry were hijacking computers worldwide and spreading new infections through tried-and-true methods."
He said there was further evidence that cybercriminals would continue to target those who haven't taken steps to protect their computer systems -- individuals, businesses, and other organizations.
"Although headlines have helped educate users on the devastating effects of ransomware, businesses and consumers need to follow basic cybersecurity standards to protect themselves," he added.
The worrying thing is that ransomware incidents may not yet have peaked. 2018 could be even worse, as professional gangs look for ways of circumventing security software, or creating new malware so fast that security firms struggle to keep pace.
So, just to repeat, the only way to defeat these scammers is to regularly back up your systems and data, so they can easily be restored for free if you fall victim of a ransomware attack.
We can probably also expect to see further growth in imposter scams in the coming year. According to the FTC, crooks posing as government officials are the main reason for this trend.
They pretend to be trustworthy and tell victims that they owe money. Then they try to scare them into paying by untraceable money-wiring services, gift cards and prepaid debit cards.
If anyone asks you to pay a supposed debt by these methods, you can be almost certain it's a scam.
One other worrying scam trend we think you'll be hearing a lot more about in 2018 is the incidence of fake news.
Although it grabbed political headlines in 2017, fake news is just as virulent among small-time scammers trying to trick people into clicking links to malicious websites or just a site crammed with advertisements.
We've reached the point where users often can't tell the difference between what's real and what is untrue. We can all only be on our guard, be skeptical, and take steps to check out these stories before clicking links or passing them on to others.
Other scam highlights of the coming year are likely to include:
- More cases of hacking of all manner of connected home devices -- the Internet of Things as it's called -- as the technology continues its spread.
- Increased targeting of cell phones with fake SMS text messages, spam calls, and location tracking.
- Social media scams seemingly from friends telling you about a great new grant or financial boost that you're entitled to -- if you pay first.
- eBay, Amazon, and Craigslist scammers either selling products they don't have or buying from you and then claiming the goods were never received -- an unfortunate side effect of the growth in online commerce.
And we can be pretty sure that identity theft will continue to be a top scam in 2018 -- driven by phishing... and more of those data breaches.
Alert of the Week
Are you a golf fan looking for work? If so, you may be excited to receive an email offering part-time jobs promoting next summer's U.S. Open Golf Championships in Southampton, New York.
Forget it. It's not clear what the scammers behind it are up to but they are certainly sending out fake checks to victims in return for personal information -- then demanding some or all of the cash is returned before the dud check is discovered.
But no jobs.
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!