Leona O'Neill

Leona O'Neill has been a journalist in Northern Ireland for over 20 years working with, among others, the Belfast Telegraph, Sunday Life, Daily Mirror and the Irish News. She is also a news reporter on Q Radio, a weekly columnist with the Irish News and a commentator for the BBC. She is a mother of four children - two of them teenagers - and as such is also a full-time professional worrier.

Last year some five million people had money stolen from their bank or credit card accounts in the UK. According to shocking figures, each of these people lost around £840 each, not exactly small change when you calculate it all up.

We are just four months into 2019 and it is expected that millions more have already fallen victim to this stealth crime.

It seems that every day we are being told of yet another cyber attack or breach that could possibly encroach on and impact our lives.

Millions and millions of cyber attacks happen every day across the UK. It was recently reported that UK small businesses are targeted with 65,000 attempted cyber attacks per day. In the end small businesses bore the brunt of £17 billion worth of cyber-attacks last year.

It is more difficult to calculate how many cyber attacks happen in homes up and down the country.

Long gone are the days when hackers were some tech savvy kid in their bedroom causing mischief. Cybercrime has even gone beyond the rather nefarious figure in a dark basement, hunched over a bank of computers in his hoody, up to no good.

Cybercrime is now a very lucrative business with money, resources, tech, sophistication and investment being pumped into it daily. Cybercrime is turning criminals into millionaires. It’s a tale as old as time – criminals love money and cybercrime makes people money. This crime is easier to undertake than physical bank robberies, is easier to cover up and get away with and can be conducted hundreds of miles away from the scene. It is the perfect environment in which the criminal can thrive and grow so therefore the situation is going to get much much worse.

Over the last number of years an underground economy which thrives on data breaches and selling information has been allowed to flourish. People are buying and selling our stolen credit card details and financial information as simply as purchasing a new pair of shoes online.

Data from customers of major brands such as Visa and Mastercard are readily available on the underground for £10 or less. Further personal information including national insurance and bank account numbers as well as hotel and airline reward points are also bought and sold freely. Even passport and driver’s licence details exchange hands on the black market.

Cybercrime has increased in some areas of the UK by up to 80 per cent in the last year, many of these crime clusters are situated around areas with ‘less tech-savvy’ residents, according to police.

Every day we are being bombarded with fake emails from our councils, from the HMRC or TV Licensing authorities. Action Fraud says victims across the UK have already lost more than £830,000 to fake TV Licensing emails in 2018.

TV Licensing Phishing email
Source: MetaCompliance

We are being targeted by organised criminals who are picking on our older population and perhaps more vulnerable citizens to make their money.

The police can only do so much with regards crime, since many of the criminals involved are based in Europe or further afield. Police are more or less powerless to stop internet crime from afar. Therefore it is up to us to put a barrier in front of ourselves and our family and friends to stop them doing us any harm.

Knowledge is power and knowledge can act as a ring of steel around our cyber worlds.

Tips to protect yourself

1 Always use a full-service internet security suite such as Norton which acts as a barrier against malware including ransomware and viruses.

2 Use strong, complex passwords and change them regularly

3 Social engineering cybercriminals can get into your personal information with just a few data points so don’t share everything online – think of your pet’s name or mother’s maiden name that people often use in passwords. Keep them to yourself.

4 Keep your contactless card safe and in your sight. Criminals can scan these cards even when they are in your back pocket. Be sensible.

5 Keep an eye on your bank account – this will help you spot any fraudulent activity.

6 Keep up to date with security breaches and change your password immediately if it is a company you have used in the past. If you are business, get the best software and advice on the market to protect yourself.

7 Be smart. Don’t get tricked into giving away your personal data by fraudsters. Trust no one, avoid public Wi- Fi and always be cautious. If something doesn’t look right, chances are it’s not.

Fighting cyber crime is no longer solely the responsibility of big companies, it is now everyone’s business. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.