Warning about online fraud as information theft rises

 
A selection of security devices provided by banks Since banks brought in "two-factor" authentication, fraud has fallen significantly

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Fraudsters traded 12 million pieces of personal information online between January and April this year, according to research.

The figure represents a threefold increase on 2010.

Credit-checking company Experian, which produced the figures, said the increase was partly due to consumers having a growing number of online accounts.

Consumers now have an average of 26 separate online logins but just five different passwords.

Experian said many people were unaware their identity had been stolen until they were refused credit cards or mobile phone contracts.

It advised people to change their passwords regularly and make them more complicated so they are harder for fraudsters to crack.

WHAT MAKES A GOOD PASSWORD?

  • Use a password checker, such as this one, from Microsoft, to see whether your password is strong or weak
  • Strong passwords contain a mixture of letters and numbers, the more random the better
  • Users worried about remembering obscure passwords can use random password generators
  • Online random password generators should not be used for secure services such as bank accounts
  • Using first letters of a speech from Shakespeare or a favourite poem offers one way to keep it obscure but memorable
  • It is OK to write passwords down as long as the paper copy is kept safe
  • Avoid dictionary words, words spelt backwards, sequences or repeated characters
  • Never use personal information such as date of birth

Two thirds of people have accounts they no longer use but have not closed down, leaving them vulnerable, the research found.

This was borne out last week when hackers broke into Yahoo's servers and stole 450,000 passwords, many from defunct accounts.

Those who had been victims of the growing issue of identity fraud suffered:

  • refusal of loans or credit cards (14%)
  • debts being run up in their name (9%)
  • refusal of mobile phone contracts (7%)
  • being chased by debt collectors for money they did not owe (7%)

Every week brings fresh headlines about stolen IDs. Last week, alongside the Yahoo hack, it was revealed that one million user IDs had been stolen from the Android forum and graphics hardware maker Nvidia said 400,000 passwords had been stolen from its forums.

This led Microsoft to reveal that 20% of Microsoft account logins are found on lists of compromised credentials as a result of hacks into other websites.

Writing on the Microsoft blog, Eric Doer said "These attacks shine a spotlight on the core issue - people reuse passwords between different websites."

 

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