In the game of chess, ‘defensive thinking’ is a strategy that showcases a cautious and deliberate mentality. A player utilizing this approach will view his chess pieces from the perspective of the opponent in order to locate weaknesses in his own game and to establish an appropriate defense. This tactic can transcend the chess board to include everyday life, specifically in the defense of fraud-related attacks. That’s right; I am proposing that we all begin to think like criminals. Ask yourself, ‘how can somebody take advantage of me today?’ In pondering this question, you might be surprised with the answers.
Are Your Defenses Up?
Chances are, you already think defensively on some level. For instance, studies show that fraudsters are having an increasingly difficult time acquiring personal data using traditional email phishing attempts. This isn’t to say that phishing attempts are declining (quite the opposite is true), just that people are becoming more critical of unwelcome emails due to the increased prevalence of the threat. Their defenses are up and for good reason.
My Wake-Up Call
Many years ago–well before choosing a career in fraud prevention–I was the victim of credit card fraud. After dealing with the initial theft, I worried that there would be repercussions. Thankfully, nothing else occurred. However, since that time, I have taken on a defensive mindset with regard to fraud prevention and identity theft. I began to research fraud topics to gain insight into mitigating the possibility of future attacks. I then established a routine of spot-checking my defenses by thinking of scenarios that could lead to a compromise. If I didn’t know how to defend myself from the scenario I imagined, I researched the issue until I found a solution, then put the defense in place.
What Are Your Weak Spots?
Some areas in which you might be compromised may include the following:
- Skimming at the Pump – Before swiping your card at an ATM or a gas pump, take a moment to look for anything unusual around the area in which you physically swipe your card. Skimming is a hacking technique by which a skimming device is illegally placed on the card reader to secretly collect card information. Hackers try to disguise the skimmer as much as possible. If you’re not sure the card reader is clean, go somewhere else.
- Lurkers. Before entering your PIN number on a card reader, imagine there is someone in line behind you who is trying to figure out the number sequence you entered. Make a practice of covering the keypad and using your body to obstruct their view.
- Dumpster Diving. Do not throw away paperwork that contains personal information without shredding it first. I recommend purchasing a crosscut paper shredder because it slices the paper into smaller pieces than common shredders which only cut the paper in one direction. If you don’t have a shredder, ask yourself, “How could someone use this document to take advantage of me?” Then at least tear up the area of the document that makes you vulnerable. And before you ask: yes, people do sift through disgusting garbage to look for this stuff!
- Weak Words. It is always wise to create complex, non-relevant passwords for your accounts. And spread the risk by using non-related passwords for various accounts. This is especially true with email accounts and online banking where sensitive information and financial data is stored. The same goes for PIN numbers. Though inconvenient to have multiple passwords and PIN’s, doing so can limit the impact hackers will have if they successfully break down one of your barriers.
The purpose of thinking like a criminal is not to suggest we all become paranoid conspiracy theorists. I am simply proposing that we become a little more cynical. The threat of fraud and identity-theft is ever-present. Vulnerabilities that seem little today might not be so little when you analyze the situation or if you are ever faced with a compromise. So take a moment now to shore up your defenses—check passwords and PIN’s, shred documents, be wary of people watching too closely, and look for devices out of place. The time you take will be well spent and just might save you from unwanted stress down the road.
~~ Mike Tchirkow