Target For CybercrimeCalifornia is the top U.S. target for cybercrime, according to a recent report released by the state’s Attorney General, Kamala D. Harris. The report, titled “California and the Fight Against Transnational Organized Crime,” details the state’s struggles with transnational organized crime, or organized crime that involves groups of people throughout various countries. One of the the major topics discussed in the report was high-tech cyber crime that’s targeted at California businesses and residents.

It’s no surprise that The Golden State is the target for the most cyber crimes, considering its vast population and business successes in Silicon Valley as well as the expensive cost of living in larger cities in the state, yet it’s still alarming how many breaches actually impact the state, when compared to the number of overall U.S. breaches. For example, the Privacy Right Clearinghouse recorded at least 331 breaches in 2012. Of that total, 16 percent (around 53 breaches) occurred in California and put a total of 2.5 million Californians at risk of identity theft.

How do these breaches occur?

The transnational organized crime report details four main causes of data breaches, including phishing, malware, skimmers and breaches by insiders.

Phishing occurs when a consumer or employee of a company is tricked into providing sensitive information — such as account numbers, log-in information or other personal information. Victims of phishing attacks usually enter their information into a phishing website because they are unaware that the site is unsafe, since phishing sites are designed to look similar to the trusted site and are complete with logos and legal disclaimers.

Malware, or malicious software, is a program used by identity thieves to log the keystrokes and even take screenshots on the victim’s device with the hopes of gathering sensitive information, such as the victim’s social security number or personal sign in information. The victim falls for a malware attack by clicking on a suspicious link on an email or on a website. Clicking on the link causes the malware to infect the user’s device, giving the thief complete access to anything on the user’s device.

Skimmers are devices that are attached to credit or debit card terminals with the intention to copy all of the card information as well as gather consumers’ PINs. Learn more about skimmers including how to avoid accidentally using a skimmer.

Breaches by insiders occur when the employees of a company abuse the access they have to sensitive material, such as customers’ payment information, with the hopes of supplying the sensitive information to thieves in exchange for profit. These types of attacks are usually the least sophisticated of the group.

What can people throughout the U.S. do to protect themselves?

Even though California is the top target for cybercrime, all consumers should know how to protect themselves from these attacks. And although the types of attacks detailed above are specific to businesses, the reality is that anyone can fall victim to any of those attacks. The tips below will help make you less vulnerable to them as well as help you detect when you’ve fallen victim to a data breach.

1. Monitor your bank statements regularly: Each month when you receive your bank statement, you should open it up and make sure all of the transactions are correct and verify that you were the one to complete all of the transactions. If you notice any transaction that you don’t recognize, then you should contact your bank immediately and report it as potential fraud. A customer service representative from your bank will be able to walk you through the fraud-reporting process. By actively monitoring your statements each month you’re making yourself less vulnerable to thieves because you’re more than likely to catch any fraudulent transaction before it gets out of hand.

2. Ask questions before you provide personal information: Anytime you’re in a store you should ask questions before you provide any personal information, such as your phone number or your date of birth. Don’t be afraid to ask the employee why the company needs this information, how it will be stored and who will have access to it. If the company requires the information to sign up for some sort of loyalty program that allows you to get a discount on your purchases, then you may want to consider not signing up for the loyalty program because in the long run paying a little more money for goods is worth more than falling victim to identity theft.

3. Be skeptical: When you’re on the Internet it’s important to be skeptical of anything that seems too good to be true or of anyone who’s asking for personal information, especially if you’re being offered free money or free services for no reason. Never click on anything with these claims and remember that if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is. By being a skeptic online, you’re making yourself less vulnerable to fall for any sort of online marketing scams.

4. Use Internet security software: This software is designed to protect your computer and personal information while you’re using the Internet. It’ll warn you if you clicked on something that could be a phishing website and even let you know if a website is safe. Internet security software protects multiple computers for one year and usually costs less than $80 per year.

5. Consider identity theft protection: Even though there are steps that you can take on your own to protect yourself from identity theft, such as shredding documents containing personal information or checking your credit card statements regularly, sometimes there are steps that you can’t take on your own — such as monitoring the use of personal information on public records. That’s where identity theft protection steps in.

These services take protection your identity to the next level by monitoring the selling, trading and buying of your personal information — such as your social security number, birth date and credit card numbers — on the Internet black market on top of monitoring the use of your personal information on public records and applications for services, such as utilities. If your information is found on any of these three scans, you will be immediately alerted via email, text, phone or traditional mail (depending on your preferences and service you select) to warn you of the potential threat and inform you of the steps that you need to take to protect yourself.

On top of identity monitoring detailed above, most identity theft protection services also monitor the activity on all three — Experian, Equifax, TransUnion — of your credit reports. If anything is added or changed on the reports, you will be alerted by the service immediately and provided with steps that you need to take to safeguard your credit reports.

In the event that your identity is stolen while you’re signed up for identity theft protection, you will have complete access to identity theft restoration specialists that will assist you throughout the identity theft restoration process.

And, the best part of the identity theft protection services is that most of them offer a free trial so you can test out the service prior to making a financial commitment. Visit our identity theft protection reviews to see which service will best fit your needs.