Imagine receiving a text from your 'bank' about a prize you have won; all you have to do is click on the link in the text and provide some information to claim your prize. You may be tempted to click the link. However, if you do, you will find yourself ensnared in a cyber trap. As the festive season approaches, the digital space becomes a playground for cybercriminals, and you need to be on the alert to protect yourself and your money.

According to the findings of a 2023 cybercrime report by Cybersecurity Ventures — a prominent research organisation that provides insights, and statistics related to cybersecurity — cybercrime will inflict damages totalling US$8 trillion across the world this year, before reaching US$10.5 trillion annually by 2025.

Jamaica has not been insulated from these cyber threats, in fact, we are far from it. Although the Cybercrimes Act of 2015 was introduced to criminalise unauthorized digital activities, the very nature of the digital space, with its cloak of anonymity, makes it fertile ground for criminal activity. The first line of defence is therefore an empowered, knowledgeable customer. It means that you must be aware of the ways in which cyber criminals try to deceive you in a bid to relieve you of your money. You must also be always vigilant, and even more so during the approaching holiday season.

While financial institutions are obligated to safeguard your personal financial information, as it relates to your savings and investments, you, the customer, have an important role to play as well. Not all scams are obvious, and some even mix real and fake data in a bid to lure you in. It is therefore important to understand how customer account takeover and theft of personal financial information can occur and then take steps to minimise your risk.

What is a customer account takeover?

Imagine a scenario where a cyber-attacker gains unauthorised access to your account. That is a customer account takeover. It occurs when cybercriminals either steal customer information, such as usernames and passwords, or trick you into divulging this information, thereby gaining unauthorised access to personal accounts, including online financial accounts.

How do they strike?

There are different ways your account can be attacked. These are some popular ways:

1.Phishing: A digital trap where seemingly trustworthy emails lure individuals into revealing sensitive information. Often, these emails play on urgency or emotional triggers, such as a family member or friend being in a crisis, desperately requiring financial assistance or even that your account has been compromised and your password needs to be changed.

2.Vishing: This is the audio version of phishing, involving dubious phone calls or voice messages from alleged reputable sources, seeking personal data.

3.Smishing: Think of it as phishing via text. Scammers dispatch deceptive messages, often camouflaged as official notifications, to bait individuals into actions that compromise their accounts. Authentic financial institutions will not send alarming texts about locked accounts or prizes to claim via a click.

Some safety measures you can put in place:

•Be careful of what you click. In navigating the internet, if you are not 100 per cent certain of the link, do not click. It only takes one click to let the malware in. Importantly, National Commercial Bank (NCB) will never send you links. Always bear in mind that a reputable financial institution will never ask you to divulge your sensitive personal information and account details via email or text.

•Fortify your passwords. Use a combination of capital and lowercase letters, numbers and symbol and change it occasionally.

•Always use your own device. It is tempting to check accounts on the go, but public devices can be rigged. Always use personal devices to ensure your information remains confidential.

•Surf with caution. Browse carefully when you access your financial accounts online. Ensure the site is secure because you can unintentionally expose yourself to scam artists, especially if you do not log out of your account properly. Avoid distractions and always click the logout button to terminate access to your account.

•Exercise Wi-Fi caution. Public Wi-Fi zones, such as restaurants, airports or even hotel lobbies, are the watering holes where digital predators lurk. If possible, wait until you can access a trusted, encrypted network to access your financial accounts.

•Stay vigilant. Regularly scrutinise account activities. Report discrepancies to your financial institution promptly.

Stay Alert, Stay Safe!

As the holiday season approaches, it is crucial to remember that cyber threats can intensify. Unexpected calls, emails, or texts asking for personal information should always be approached with caution. If something feels off, it probably is. Always verify requests with your bank or financial institution directly. This season, prioritise your digital safety and ensure peace of mind for the festivities ahead.

Nadine Thomas, assistant vice-president – Private Wealth, NCB Capital Markets Limited (Photo: Paul Mullings)

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