Sophisticated criminals victimize millions through online scams

August 10, 2017 - 6:19 am

The KMBZ Cover Story for Thursday is "When Hackers Hit Home," all about criminals who use technology to steal peoples' identities and property.

One victim in the Kansas City Metro is Scott, who found that he and his family were victimized when he tried to file his taxes.

"When we filed our tax returns we were told by the IRS that we had already filed, in fact, we had already received our refund," Scott said. "When we checked into it we found out that we were part of a much larger group of tax returns that were compromised."

A lot of hackers use email as a way to get into someone's information. It is not uncommon for victims to click on emails that look like they have come from a big company, or even the FBI or the IRS.

Aaron Reese with the Better Business Bureau says the threat comes in the form of viruses.

"Scareware, malware, all sorts of things get on your computer," Reese said. "All you do is click, and when you do, too late."

People can be victimized by going online to buy something. When they think they are finalizing a purchase, they are really handing a criminal their credit card number. 

A lot of fake retail websites come with red flags, Reese said.

"Spelling errors, grammar errors, things that just look unprofessional, bad graphic design."

Individuals are not the only victims of hackers. Big companies like Chipotle and Target have stepped up their cyber security protection after their corporate information was compromised.

Sometimes criminals target people who grew up decades before the internet age. 

Margie, who lives in midtown Kansas City, received an unexpected telephone call shortly after her husband died. She is 73. The caller informed her she had a problem with her router.

"I said what's wrong with my router, how do you know there's something wrong with my router," Margie said. "Go to your computer and pull up whatever, and you'll see you have all these errors."

Margie became concerned when the caller asked about her bank account. 

"Later, of course, I realized the whole time he was telling me he didn't want anyone hacking me, he was somewhat hacking me," Margie said. 

The thief gained access to Margie's bank accounts. She was able to stop the hacker with a telephone call to her bank.

Another form of technology used by hackers is the skimmer, a device that reads banking information on a credit or debit card to be used at an ATM or a self-pay gasoline pump.

"The devices have gotten a lot more miniaturized and you can insert some of these devices right inside the part where you put your card in," said Jeff Lanza, a local security expert and former FBI agent. 

Tiny cameras can be used to watch the victim enter a PIN number. 

Lanza says ATMs in banks are usually more secure than the machines in airports or grocery stores. 

Some advice: check bank balances frequently and immediately report suspicious activity. The faster a victim informs the bank, the better the chances their money will be refunded, Lanza said.

Less than three percent of all computer records hacked are accessed through mobile apps, but experts believe that could change.

Banking analysts believe half of all customers will do some of their business on their mobile devices by 2021. 

Hackers tend to look for people who get too comfortable sharing their information, said Raqibul Huq, vice president at JMA Information Technology in Overland Park.

"It's very easy to fool people with things that they are already accustomed to, and making them think that they are going to a trusted site or a trusted email," Huq said.

Huq believes there is no way to completely prevent hacking.

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