Follow easy steps to avoid cyber theft

Recent cyber breaches at Home Depot and possibly with Apple’s iCloud have dominated headlines. While shoppers might not be ready to carry cash instead of credit cards, they can take a few simple steps to protect themselves.

"Shoppers cannot afford to be complacent because shopping at online and brick-and-mortar stores has become hazardous," said Bill Barge, assistant professor and chair of the Department of Mathematics & Informatics at Trine University. "The good news is that an investment of your time can ward off a loss or enable you to learn more quickly if there's a problem."

Barge suggests these tips:

  • Use different passwords for different websites and social media sites.  Using the same user ID and password for every website gives the savvy hacker the opportunity to use the login credentials from a benign site to gain access to your credit cards and bank accounts.  Do you really know if that online retailer’s site is secure? If that site is breached, the hacker now has the keys to your bank account.  At a minimum, use different passwords for different types of accounts.  However, it is best to use strong, unique passwords for each of your financial sites.  According to Microsoft, a strong password should be at least eight characters long, contain at least one upper case letter, contain at least one lower case letter, contain at least one number, and contain at least one special character. 
  • Use a credit card rather than a debit card. Under federal law, personal liability for fraudulent charges on a credit card can't exceed $50. However, when a debit card is used, the bank account can be drained. The amount of liability depends on how quickly the victim reports fraudulent charges.
  • Sign up for fraud controls at the bank. Many banks will send text message alerts when there are withdrawals over a set amount. Set the amount high enough to avoid alerts about every purchase, but low enough to catch unauthorized purchases. An amount between $100 and $500 would be a good starting point.  While these fraud controls might not catch each fraudulent transaction, they will alert victims if someone makes a large purchase.
  • Check your statements. Verify that all charges on bank and/or credit card statements are valid charges. If something does not look right, contact your bank or credit card provider immediately.
    “Using a free service from my bank, I have it set up to get a text message when I have a large withdraw from my account. For added security, I also have the online account set up so that I receive a text message with a secret PIN that I need to enter into the website in order to access the account online," Barge said. Check your financial institution's website, or talk with a bank representative to learn what fraud services are available, he said.
  • Think twice before posting photos or personal information online.  Once content is uploaded to an online service, you no longer have control over who has access to the content. Do not post anything that you would not want the general public to see. 

Security breaches and identity theft are growing concerns that have increased demand for individuals with cybersecurity skills. The Jannen School of Arts & Sciences at Trine University now offers a Bachelor of Science in cybersecurity. The major is grounded in science and mathematics in addition to courses in criminal justice, psychology, ethics, communication and electives. The Department of Homeland Security defines cyber security as the protection of computers and computer systems against unauthorized attacks or intrusion.

For more information about Trine University’s major in cybersecurity, call the Office of Admission at 260.665.4100 or contact professor Bill Barge at or 260.665.4298.