How to Protect Yourself From Cyber Theft

Cybertheft has become one of the most popular forms of fraud. The curious thing is that, in most cases, for it to occur, criminals need our collaboration. How do they get it?
How to Protect Yourself From Cyber Theft
Sergio De Dios González

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist Sergio De Dios González.

Written by Edith Sánchez

Last update: 08 November, 2022

In today’s world, cyber theft has become an increasingly frequent and sophisticated reality. That’s because, gradually, we’ve been moving many of our activities to the virtual world. This includes purchases and financial transactions. For this reason, and many others, the Internet has become a scenario in which fraud and theft are increasingly being committed.

The success of much of cyber theft is due to so-called social engineering tactics. The vast majority of these crimes are committed with the collaboration of the victim. Criminals trick you into carrying out certain actions that allow them to defraud you.

In general, cyber theft involves unwittingly revealing confidential information to criminals. For instance, you might find yourself handing over your personal details to obtain a promised discount on a certain subscription. Cybercriminals put you in compelling or compromising situations and create fictitious scenarios. In other words, they distort reality but make it believable for you. We’ll take a look at five of these tactics below and tell you how to protect yourself.

Passwords are like underwear: don’t let others see them, change them frequently, and don’t share them with strangers.

-Jeff Jarmoc-

Man with a computer at night
Most cyber thefts are committed with the collaboration of the victim, even though they might be unaware of it.

1. Phishing, the most used tactic in cyber theft

Phishing is one of the most frequent techniques in cyber theft. It’s simple but effective. It consists of impersonating the administrator of a system and requesting your passwords to fulfill a legitimate objective. The most common scenario is that you receive an email asking for your password to reactivate a configuration or solve a problem with your bank account or credit card.

These emails often seek to generate a state of concern or alarm. “They tried to hack your account” they might tell you, “You must log in right now and change your password”. Naturally, when you’re nervous you’re more vulnerable. You might even act on impulse, click the link that comes with the email, and that’s it.

If you want to protect yourself, make sure you never use the links that come in these messages. Always open the page of your bank or your financial product separately and carry out any action from there.

2. Scareware

The use of scareware is another common technique in cyber theft. It basically consists of alerting you to a suspected virus or infection on your computer and offering you a solution. The criminals usually invite you to download or buy some software to protect yourself. However, the software is actually a program designed to steal your data.

As a rule, on your computer or device, you’ll see a pop-up window, with the misleading information we mentioned above. As in the case of phishing, what the scammer is trying to do is make you carry out certain actions that make their job easier. In effect, they need you to open the door for them.

Don’t do it. Or, only do it under circumstances where you’re absolutely certain that what you’re letting in won’t be a Trojan horse.

3. Baiting

Cybertheft with the baiting technique occurs in two ways. One of them is by making you a really attractive offer. For example, they might say that you have the chance to acquire something at a really low price or tell you you’ve been awarded a prize. Sometimes, you enter the link they send you, make the purchase, and the product arrives. However, in exchange, they get what they need: your payment method details. They’ll use them later to rob you.

Another less common method is to insert malicious software through a USB. When you insert one into your device, it installs scripts that open the door to whoever’s trying to enter your computer. So never, ever try to access those super promotions, or pick up any USBs being offered for free you might find out there. Only buy them in recognized stores.

4. Vishing

In vishing, the cybertheft is carried out through a phone call or a voice message. The offender communicates by posing as an official of a trusted entity. Sometimes, they give you an entertaining survey and, in the course of it, or at the end (when you’re already convinced how nice they are), they extract confidential data from you.

At other times, they’ll give you warnings like your bank account has been incorrectly charged or invite you to buy great products and tell you they’ll text you to fix the problem or get the deal. In the message, there’s a link that takes you to a fake page.

By logging in there, you’ll inadvertently be handing over your sensitive data. So, once again, we repeat, don’t give your personal information out under any circumstances, and be extremely cautious with alarming or overly attractive ads.

Phone with the word vishing on the screen
Cybertheft is based on psychological manipulation.

5. Quid pro quo

Quid pro quo means ‘a favor for a favor ‘ and is another way in which cybertheft takes place. It’s based on the psychological premise that, as humans, we’re inclined to return a favor when we’ve received one. The most common scenario is for criminals to pose as officials of a technology company and, through emails or calls, offer you a free service. For instance, they might say “Follow these instructions and your computer will run much faster”.

It’s possible that, during the process, you’ll be asked to turn off the antivirus or download an application. This gives them the opportunity to fill your devices with malware. Therefore, be wary of all strangers who offer to do you a ‘free favor’ on the Internet.

As you’ve seen, cyber theft is based on psychological manipulation. So make sure you double-check any threat or reward notification you receive online, especially if it encourages you to act quickly. As a rule, don’t enter any links from emails. Write down the address of the site and try to access it from an official link. Also, keep your antivirus updated and change your passwords frequently.

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  • Barbat, A. S. (2019). Ciberriesgos: Su dimensión social, funcional y ética. Revista Ibero-Latinoamericana de seguros, 28(51).
  • Giles, J. (2010). Scareware: the inside story. New Scientist205(2753), 38-41.

The contents of Exploring Your Mind are for informational and educational purposes only. They don't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment of a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.