Police warn of cyber attacks

‘There are so many right now that are going on that it’s unbelievable how many people are falling for it’

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published December 18, 2023

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ROCHESTER HILLS — Protecting against cyber threats has never been more important, especially as people head online to purchase holiday gifts.

In the U.S., Michigan ranked eighth among states with the most reported victims of cybercrimes — totaling 13,566 reports, according to the FBI’s 2022 internet crime report.

Last year, the FBI estimated Michiganders lost $181 million to cybercrimes.

Captain Russ Yeiser, of the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office Rochester Hills division, said computer-based fraud is prevalent in Rochester Hills.

“We’re having a ton of cyberfraud in Rochester Hills,” he said.

Common scams involve antivirus software, where the victim has a pop-up with a message saying the computer has been infected with a virus; social media relationships, where the victim is contacted by a scammer via social media who says they are interested in starting a relationship; lottery winnings, where the victim is contacted about winning the lottery and is asked to pay a fee to collect the money; tax collection, where the scammer impersonates an IRS agent and attempts to get bank information from the victim; and many more.

“You’ve seen the box that pops up on your computer saying, ‘Your computer has a virus, click here,’ and then they get you to remote in, and once you remote in, they can get access to your computer and they can get access to your bank account,” Yeiser said.

Yeiser said residents are reporting scammers impersonating major companies like Amazon, UPS and more.

“There are so many right now that are going on that it’s unbelievable how many people are falling for it,” he said. “We just had one the other day where a lady gave scammers $30,000. Obviously, they take advantage of the elderly a lot. They are even getting smarter, because they are doing it through text messages now and emails. There are so many ways to get scammed.”

Hackers attack computers every 39 seconds, according to new research by the University of Maryland, so it’s important to stay protected whenever and however you connect.

Experts advise making sure any website address you visit starts with “https,” since the “s” stands for secure; looking for the padlock icon at the bottom of your browser, which indicates that the site uses encryption; and typing new website URLs directly into the address bar instead of clicking on links or cutting and pasting from an email.

To protect against hackers, security experts advise choosing longer, more difficult passwords with combinations of upper- and lowercase letters. Passwords should be changed regularly, should not be based on users’ biographies, should mix letters and numerals, and should be hard to guess.

When it comes to social media, experts advise limiting the amount of personal information you post online and using privacy settings to avoid sharing information widely.

Bloomfield Township Director of IT Wil Babinchak urges everyone to stop and think before they click, to delete emails with links they are unsure about, and to download the Michigan Secure app — a free security app for Michigan residents that can be downloaded via Google Play and the Apple Store. The application states that it will protect devices from unsecured WiFi networks, phishing emails, unsafe apps and more. If a threat is detected, the user will be sent a notification.

“We do encourage people to stay off of public Wi-Fi that is unsecure. The Michigan Secure app will alert you of that as well. There may be people doing banking or something like that on a public Wi-Fi, if they are sitting at their doctor’s office or a coffee shop or something like that. That should always be avoided,” Babinchak said.

The weakest link in the chain is the human reaction, he said, so be very cautious about everything when it comes to emails.

“When you get emails that have links, always be suspicious of them. If you have any questions about them, the best thing to do is delete them. If somebody really needs to get a hold of you or needs some information, they will find a different way,” said Babinchak.

When information seems too good to be true, there’s a good chance that it is, experts say.

“Don’t trust anything you see or hear unless you initiate contact with a company. That’s the unfortunate reality,” Yeiser said.

If you believe you are the victim of cybercrime, contact your local police agency.