Identity Theft

The Big Scams & Security Threats to Watch Out for in 2015

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If 2014 was the year of the credit card hack, what will 2015 be? Here’s an early look at candidates — the scams, hacks and hiccups that could trip up the most consumers next year.

1. Hacked Kitchen Appliances and the Internet of Things

Even as our cellphones get bigger, technology will shrink throughout 2015 and the coming years — shrink into the background, that is. You’ve probably heard a lot of noise about the Internet of Things recently, but next year, it will likely find its way out of trade shows and into your home.

Unlike the huge, ultra-conspicuous “phablet” your geeky friend carries around, Net-connected gadgets are likely to be invisible. They will hide inside a normal-looking thermostat, a camera, even in a slow cooker. (Yes, a slow cooker.) And collectively, they are creating a new threat consumers should heed next year.

“Internet of Things attacks move from proof-of-concept to mainstream risks,” warns security firm Sophos. Hacking an Internet-connected Crock-Pot slow-cooking a stew sounds like child’s play, but hacking home security cameras is scary business. Last year, a website hosted in Russia posted links to 73,000 cams that were broadcasting content openly to the Internet. The Associated Press spotted children playing at home, baby cribs and a whole bunch of other spooky scenes.

“Security conferences have been filled with demonstrations of these issues but as yet it has not translated into widespread interest from cybercriminals. We expect you will see more serious examples outside the proof-of-concept playpen of security researchers soon,” Sophos said.

2. Mobile Payment Attacks

Thanks to a lot of ApplePay marketing, and Starbucks’ continued real-world success with its payment app, consumers will get used to paying for things by waving their phones. It’s easy to argue that doing so is safer than whipping out a credit card, but widespread adoption of mobile pay will create new attack vectors for criminals. While most of the attention has been focused on James-Bond-like threats, such as stealing wireless communication between phone and merchant terminal, criminals will find easier ways to make their money. For example, rogue payment apps will be easy to create. Consumers tricked into downloading them will be tricked out of their money, too.

3. Student Loan Desperation

The student loan crisis shows no signs of going away, and the fraudsters won’t, either. Just recently, federal regulators have begun turning their attention to firms that offer false hope to former students desperate to lower their monthly student loan payments. With more than $1 trillion in outstanding debt, expect plenty more where that came from. Why? Debt relief actually is possible. Consolidations can be legitimate. Banks are beginning to offer rate reductions. There are real income-based repayment programs. Mix a grain of truth and desperate consumers, and you have a recipe for victims.

4. New Chip Credit Cards Bring New Scams

Without a doubt, 2015 will be the year of change in the way people buy things. Many credit cards that reach their expiration date in 2015 will be replaced with chip-enabled cards. Millions of other cards with account numbers yet to be compromised will also be re-issued as chip cards. And finally, by next fall, merchants will either be set up to accept the chip payments or face additional liability. So things will change — in fact, it can’t be overstated how rarely such a fundamental change in the way consumers spend money comes along. This is mostly a good thing. But as consumers struggle with learning to insert instead of swipe, expect opportunists to pounce. Criminals will send out emails asking consumers to register the new kinds of cards, phishing-style. There will be botched payments from human error, creating other opportunities for phishers. And there will also be a lot of mail about the new cards being sent to cardholders’ homes, creating ID theft opportunities.

There there’s the mugging problem: Because U.S. banks will permit chip-and-signature transactions, chip cards will be easy for in-person criminals to steal and use (as opposed to, say, a debit card that requires a PIN code). So old-fashioned muggings may get a new lease on life.

5. More Sony-Like Attacks

Criminals bent on chaos are learning a lot while watching Sony squirm after theft of its intellectual property and email by computer criminals. Who’s next? Merely stealing and leaking a week’s worth of emails would be an epic disaster for most corporations, even just from the potentially embarrassing (racist? sexist?) chatter found there. Bank on criminals exploiting this chaos more than ever in 2015. Extortion, or a public relations disaster, is sure to follow.

Also: Everything Old Is New

Consumers can be sure they’ll see a lot more of the same scams in the coming year. There will be more fake IRS threats, more bogus computer technical support calls, more sweetheart scams. Why? Consumers keep falling for them. As long as the money is easy, the scams will persist.

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