7 ways to avoid falling prey to cyber criminals


With over 16 million Facebook users alone in South Africa, social interaction increasingly involves the conscious – and also unconscious – exchange of personal information online.

Social media users often don’t realise that insurers also view their accounts and profiles to verify information and claims data.

Apart from the obvious security risks, “social media users often don’t realise that insurers also view social media platforms and posts to verify client information and claims data,” says Christelle Colman, insurance expert at Old Mutual. In time, the industry is also likely to begin using the vast pool of personal information that exists online, “to build risk profiles and even to price cover,” she adds.

From a security perspective, the point is not to make a target of yourself.

Telling people where you are going on holiday or when you will be leaving your home or, in an age of home invasions and kidnappings, when you will be having friends and family over exposes you to risk. It is also very important that location services on devices are turned off, “especially when the whereabouts of children are concerned, but also to avoid digital eavesdroppers from establishing your routines and other patterns,” says Colman.

A short-hand check is to simply to ask yourself, “how can the information that I place on social media be used against me? And then don’t place this information online,” advises Colman.

Colman suggests that consumers consider the following precautions to avoid falling prey to criminals in an age of social media:

  1. Make sure all features and applications are password protected on mobile devices, such as phones and tablets
  2. Regularly update passwords and never divulge them to anyone
  3. Never post your home address or any other personal information, such as home phone numbers on social media platforms
  4. Turn off any location-based applications unless necessary
  5. Do not follow people you don’t know on social media sites
  6. Block people who you don’t know from viewing personal information
  7. Supply insurers with accurate and truthful claims and personal information

Cybercriminals can also use publicly available data, like Google Street View, to ascertain the security features of a home, like; spikes, electric fencing, walls and the entire perimeter of a property.

Despite these instances, insurers in South Africa are not currently using social media in a ‘scientific’ way, to build risk profiles and calculate premiums, for example. The sheer volume of personal information online, however, offers insurers with the right algorithms the potential to use social media and other publicly available data to assess behavioural patterns for risk, pricing cover accordingly.

This is already happening in a few developed markets. “It is just a question of time before this becomes general practice in South Africa’s insurance market as well,” predicts Colman.

Simple things, like mobile phone records, can locate people. “Most insurance application processes obtain permission for insurers to access policy-holders’ mobile phone and other records as a matter of course,” cautions Colman. Smartphones only increase the amount of personal information potentially available to insurers, “but also to criminals if these phones fall into the wrong hands,” she adds.

The trick is to be aware of the information that you and your family members share on all the platforms and devices that you use, “and then take deliberate steps to protect the data that you absolutely have to share,” concludes Colman.

Staff writer 

Edited by Jenna Delport

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