Police warn residents to stay vigilant online to ward off cyber attacks

By: Mary Beth Almond | Birmingham-Bloomfield Eagle | Published November 8, 2023

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BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP — Protecting against cyber threats has never been more important, especially as people begin to 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.

Bloomfield Township Police Department Public Information Officer Nick Soley said computer-based identity theft is among the most prevalent crimes in the township.

“Once a week I get a call from a resident about a new scam. They are mainly informing us — not necessarily that they fell for it or became a victim — just notifying us that a scam is coming through,” he said. “Some of the things we see — especially when we get to our mature community, but really everybody — are the online emails, phishing scams and just your information being put out there.”

Common scams involve antivirus software, where the victim has a pop-up window 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.

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.

“Be wary of shopping online and not using secure websites, or following links in emails that you think take you to one site, maybe for a store like Target, but isn’t actually Target, gives access to credit card information and addresses for a product you will never receive because you are becoming a victim of scams and identity theft. It’s ever evolving,” Soley said. “Of course, these can lead to financial ruin, identity theft, credit ruin, all sorts of things that aren’t easy to reverse.”

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 Wi-Fi 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, local law enforcement officials say.

“A lot of the identity theft victims don’t realize they’ve been a victim until they go to do something else,” said Soley. “So if you ever think something is suspicious and you’re not sure if it’s a scam, definitely give us a call, get the advice, talk to an officer, let us walk you through it.”

Bloomfield Township investigates every report and has a detective assigned to the FBI Identity Theft and Fraud Task Force.

“We do that because it is so prevalent and it gives us so many more resources working in conjunction with the FBI to work on these,” Soley said. “We do investigate all of them, but they do become very difficult to investigate, oftentimes leading overseas and out of state.”

If you do believe you are the victim of cybercrime, contact the Bloomfield Township Police Department at (248) 433-7755.