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2017’s Safest and Most Dangerous Countries for Travel

The world is smaller than ever before. Cheapening costs, the unprecedented ease of communication and spread of information complements of the internet and social media, (relative) global peace and competition for the most striking, exotic Instagram posts have all contributed to a dramatic surge in international travel in recent years.

International tourist arrivals hit a record 1.2 billion in 2015, the sixth year in a row to see growth in the category, and the trend shows no signs of slowing. As travel to countries once considered remote and mysterious, such as Vietnam or Burma, has grown increasingly common, the buildup of tourist infrastructure, i.e., hostels, pizza restaurants, homestays, and internet cafes to accommodate the emergent hordes of young backpackers and capitalize on the profit potential, has boomed in tandem. Travel destinations that once felt daring and adventurous now seem mundane and overly congested with likeminded, wanderlust-stricken millennials.

Consequentially, more and more travelers are hoofing it to far-flung, distant locales off the well-trodden backpacker itinerary in search of novel experiences and interaction with alien cultures. In essence, there’s nothing wrong with this, but the bottom line is that there are some countries that people just shouldn’t visit as the potential dangers are just too great. On the opposite side of the spectrum, many find any and all international travel daunting, treacherous and beyond their capabilities.

In order to educate and guide people on both sides of this divide, we’ve ranked 121 countries in terms of their safety for travelers. We’ve based our findings on a number of factors, including crime rates, government travel advisories, the potential for natural disasters, and the competitiveness and sustainability of each country’s tourist industry.

You can find the whole list below, but first we’d like to go in-depth on the top ten most dangerous places to travel, and what makes them so dangerous, in order to dissuade reckless thrill seekers. After that, we’ll run through the top ten safest places to travel in hopes of convincing those wary of 12 hour flights and salads that make liberal use of fish sauce that international travel can be safe and relatively stress free.

Top Ten Most Dangerous Countries for Travel

10. Colombia

While the beautiful, ecologically diverse South American nation has come a long way from its violent late 80’s/early 90’s nadir--when the Pablo Escobar-led Medellin drug cartel waged open war with the federal government, earning it the title of murder capital of the world--tourists heading to Colombia should still take caution.

Despite that fact that formerly dangerous cities such as Bogota and Medellin are now considered safe for travelers, drug cartels and the paramilitary group FARC (boasting an estimated 10,000 members) still maintain control over many remote and forested regions of the country. Even in recent years, FARC has openly battled with the Colombian military, committing kidnappings, trafficking drugs and executing large scale terrorist attacks. Because of this, much of the country is considered off-limits for tourism. Additionally, bus travel on certain highways is strongly discouraged as gangs and guerillas have been known to hijack buses, robbing and even murdering the passengers within.

However, a recent ceasefire between FARC and the Colombian government is cause for hope, as the group has promised to lay down its arms and discontinue its terrorist practices. What’s more, Colombia’s 2016 homicide rate of 24.4 out of 100,000 is the lowest since 1974. Tourists should not be discouraged from traveling to Colombia and enjoying its beautiful landscapes and vibrant cities, but its best to stick to the beaten path and not venture into high risk areas.

9. Lesotho

The diminutive African nation of Lesotho, located entirely within the confines of South Africa, is a very dangerous destination for tourists. While organized crime is not a serious issue in the country, high levels of poverty and unemployment have led to extremely high crime rates and travelers are frequently targeted in assaults and robberies, even in heavily populated areas in broad daylight.

Furthermore, Lesotho has one of the highest HIV rates in the world: an estimated 25% of the adult population are carriers of the virus. Engaging in sexual activity in any fashion is a huge no-no. Compounding the hazards, medical facilities in Lesotho are very poor and ill-equipped. In the case of injury or illness, receiving adequate treatment in the country is a very difficult prospect.

8. Nigeria

In recent years, travel to the West African nation Nigeria has been extremely hazardous and ill-advised. In April 2017, the U.S. Government issued a travel warning cautioning all citizens to avoid all but the most necessary travel to the country due to the high frequency of robberies, sexual assaults and other dangers.

The Islamic fundamentalist group Boko Haram is a dominating presence in the northwest part of the country, and frequently targets churches, schools and government offices in sweeping and catastrophic attacks. In 2015, the fearsome organization achieved the dubious honor of unseating ISIS as the most dangerous terrorist group in the world. Responsible for an unbelievable 6073 deaths in 2014, Boko Haram’s reign of terror should be enough to dissuade anyone from traveling to Nigeria.

It’s a shame since the country’s landscape is rich and biodiverse, offering savannahs, tropical rainforest and mangrove swamps. Moreover, Nigeria’s traditional of art and music is deep and endlessly fascinating. Nevertheless, tourists ought to wait until the threat posed by Boko Haram and other militant groups is dramatically reduced before even considering travel to the country.

7. Burundi

Burundi is another African nation that poses serious dangers to propective tourists. The U.S. State Department issued a warning in June urging Americans against travel to the country due its shaky political situation and high threat of violence.

Burundi’s borders are porous and poorly defended, resulting in many roving gangs and militia groups from neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo entering at will and launching attacks against Burundians and visitors to the country. The threat is so great that 325,000 Burundians have evacuated their home nation in the past two years for safer neighboring countries.

Because of the chaos and unpredictable vehicular ambushes, roadways are heavily restricted and automotive travel throughout the country is severely limited, if not impossible. That should be enough to discourage travelers from visiting the country for the foreseeable future.

6. Mali

Sadly, Mali is yet another African nation with such a high risk for attacks, armed robberies and other dangers that tourism is simply infeasible. Extremist organizations with links to Al-Qaeda and other jihadist groups have waged an open war of terror in the capital city of Bamako, targeting foreigners in hotels, nightclubs, mosques and other places once considered safe. The Mali government has recently extended its state of emergency due to the situation and, unfortunately, hope for an end to the violence is dim, as terrorist activity in the country is expected to continue or even increase in the near future.

Kidnapping, either for ransom money or for religious motives is also an omnipresent threat, and a number of U.S. citizens are believed to be held captive in the country. In short: stay the hell out of Mali.

5. Mauritania

Mauritania, just west of Mali, is another nation that has been plagued by terrorist violence during the past decade. ISIS and other lethal terrorist groups have a strong foothold in the country, they are known to attack and murder foreigners affiliated with aid groups and western governments without prejudice and have openly declared their intention to continue such practices. Members of christian missionary groups are targets, as well.

The high density of terrorist activity in several portions of the eastern half of the country has provoked the government to declare it a restricted area, and people must obtain special permission from the government in order to travel into the region, although it’s highly unlikely that anybody would like to do so. Best to avoid Mauritania entirely until the situation improves.

4. Chad

Like many of its neighbors, the impoverished Central African nation of Chad is experiencing a wave of violence and terror at the hands of jihadist fanatic groups like Boko Haram and other fearsome paramilitary organizations.

In 2015, Boko Harem kick started a vicious campaign in Chad with an attack on a fishing village on the banks of Lake Chad resulting in several deaths. The Chadian military has engaged in war with the group ever since, to little positive effect. For those not wishing to get caught in the crossfire of this conflict, it is strongly advised that you stay away from Chad for the time being.

Other potential threats to foreign visitors include the regularity of kidnapping for ransom collection and the numerous minefields near the Sudanese border. Plus, it’s really, really hot, disease is rampant, and food is scarce.

3. Pakistan

In a welcome break from impoverished African nations enveloped in conflict with terrorist groups, number three on our list of most dangerous tourist destinations is Pakistan, the South Asian nation known for its decades-old rivalry with neighboring India and as the final hideaway of Osama bin Laden.

However, Pakistan has something in common with the aforementioned beleaguered African countries: it is awash in ideologically motivated violence. Sectarian skirmishes and terrorist bombings targeting civilians are depressingly routine. Suicide bombings with death tolls in the dozens are the norm, not the exception.

This year, several high profile attacks--including a devastating suicide bombing outside a shrine in the historic city of Sehwan took the lives of 90 people and injured over 300 more for which ISIS took responsibility—have brought the country to its knees and prompted the U.S. State Department to issue a stern travel warning urging foreigners living in or traveling to Pakistan to exercise extreme caution. It is clear that foreigners are specifically targeted by terrorist groups in both killings and kidnappings.

Violence is so out of control and unpredictable that many areas of the country are simply off limits to travelers—and significantly—for U.S. government officials as well.

The unfortunate thing is that Pakistanis, by large, are a peaceful and friendly people. The country’s murder rate is considerably lower than that of other countries that many would consider safer, such as Russia, along with many urban areas of the United States.

Nevertheless, strong anti-western sentiment, a pervasive contempt for LGBTQ folks and numerous environmental hazards, including the potential for flash floods and earthquakes to cause serious damage and loss of life in major cities like Karachi (due to crumbling, inadequate infrastructure and nonexistent drainage systems) contribute to Pakistan’s precariousness and instability. Definitely not a backpacker hotspot.

2. El Salvador

A small nation with a infamous reputation for violence, even by Central American standards, El Salvador is a place where danger lurks around every corner.

In part due to a long, demoralizing civil war between El Salvador’s right wing military-centric government (backed by the U.S.) and a number of leftist rebel groups that lasted for twelve years between 1979 and 1992 and resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands, El Salvador is inundated with surplus weaponry and at the mercy of vicious and sadistic street gangs, notably MS-13 and Barrio 18.

These gangs openly engage in kidnapping, drug dealing, car jackings (as well as bus jackings) to a degree that law enforcement simply cannot cope with. Unsurprisingly, El Salvadorians themselves are the biggest victims of the chaos, and a 2016 Central American University poll found that 24.5% of Salvadorians became victims of a violence crime in 2015. While foreigners are not specifically targeted, it’s easy to get caught in the crossfire of a gang war or be preyed upon in a random attack.

In addition to the threat of violence, El Salvador is vulnerable to hurricanes and tropical storms, which cause floods and sudden mudslides.

Even though its murder rate has dipped in recent years, owing to a nationwide military campaign to combat gang activity, backpackers heading through Central America are strongly advised to skip this stop.

1. Honduras

Perhaps it’s no surprise that Honduras comes at number one in the rankings for most dangerous travel destinations. For the past decade, the Central American nation has suffered from one of the worst homicide rates in the world. Since 2017, there have been 47 murders of U.S. citizens in the country, including 4 in 2016, and many more tourists have been robbed or assaulted, even in resort areas and other places considered safe.

Much of the violence is attributed to the presence of dominant street gangs such as MS-13 unhesitant to use extreme measures such as kidnapping, home invasion and even holding up public buses in order to amass funds. The gangs even control a number of the taxi services, and use that to their advantage to rob and extort unwitting customers. While criminal organizations in many countries tend to leave tourists alone, in Honduras, everyone is a target. What’s worse, the underfunded, ill-equipped police force does not have the resources to effectively fight back.

Honduras’s roads are another hazard: they are poorly maintained and traffic signs are imprecise or simply nonexistent. Local drivers often fail to obey traffic rules, speeding and passing in dangerous situations. Defense driving is a must.

Although there signs of improvement; the 2016 homicide rate of 59.1 murders per 100,000 people is down from 2011’s whopping 86.5 per 100,000, its best for tourists to avoid this country altogether.

Now that all you thrill junkies are sufficiently chastened, let’s count down the top ten safest countries for tourism.

Top Ten Safest Countries for Travel

10. Australia

The “land down under” is one of the safest destinations in the world for travelers. Compared to the United States, crime rates are very low, particularly for violent crime, as the U.S.’s rate of 4.7 incidents per 100k is a whopping four times higher than Australia’s. Furthermore, Australia’s homicide rate has steadily decreased in recent years, hitting a record low of 1 per 100,000 in the most recent findings. Tourists can rest easy knowing that the chances of being assaulted or killed in the country are next to none.

Australia is also generally safe from the threat of natural disasters, although occasional heat waves and bush fires in the country’s arid interior have been known to take lives. And while the country is infamous for being home to some of the most poisonous animals in the world, like the box jellyfish, with venom that can shut down a person’s nervous system in minutes, as well as 21 of the 25 most poisonous snakes in existence, very few people die each year from animal bites or stings. Exercising the proper caution should keep you safe. Perishing in a car crash is far more likely.

9. Norway

Norway--along with the rest of its Scandinavian neighbors--is extremely safe and violent crime is nearly unheard of. Police in the country don’t even carry guns. Despite the one dark spot in the nation’s recent history, travelers to the icy northern land can count on safety and the opportunity to interact with some of the most friendly and helpful people on earth.

The one area for concern is Norway’s frosty climate. According to the U.S. State Department, road conditions outside of Oslo can be treacherous, depending on weather conditions. Exposure is another concern, so don’t get drunk and pass out in a snow bank.

8. Canada

It is often claimed that that Canucks have a rate of gun ownership comparable to that of the United States, but with a drastically lower homicide rate. This is not quite true, as the U.S.’s 89 guns per 100 residents is far higher than Canada’s 31 per 100k, but it is true that the discrepancy in murder rates is significant. At around 2 per 100k, Canada’s homicide rate is less than half of its southern neighbor.

While there are some pockets of Toronto that might be considered less than safe, tourists would really have to go out of their way to find themselves in a dangerous situation. Canada is an overwhelmingly safe travel destination.

Reading that thousands of avalanches occur in Canada each year may seem concerning, but they mostly occur in remote northern areas where no reasonable person would set foot and pose no significant threat to travelers. Like Norway, the one noteworthy concern is the temperature. It can get pretty cold, so be sure to pack those long johns.

7. Germany

Yes, the recent influx of Syrian refugees into Germany has perpetuated something of a panic, but the actual threat posed by the recent migrants is drastically lower than sensationalist news media outlets would lead you to believe. Germany is a very safe country, and its people are honest to a fault and most would not think of scamming or misleading a visitor to the country.

Additionally, its geographical location protects Germany from any sort of natural disaster. The country is so short on threats that the U.S. State Department actually warns about roving bands of “hooligans” (their words, not mine), so I suppose that’s something to lookout for. Perhaps it’s best to steer clear of the area around Volksparkstadion stadium in Hamburg after the beloved Hamburger SV football club suffers a heartbreaking loss against traditional rivals, Werder Bremen.

6. France

In recent years, France has suffered several devastating terrorist attacks, the most severe of which being the heartbreaking 2015 mass shooting at the Bataclan theatre that coincided with several other bombings in Paris on the same day.

With these notable incidents in mind, it may be hard to believe that France belongs in a list of the top ten safest tourist destinations. However, France is the most visited country in the world, attracting over 80 million tourists from all over the world in a given year. The overwhelming majority (99.99% or more) of these travelers enjoy their trips in complete safety, thanks to a well-developed tourist infrastructure and a very low crime rate.

Of course, terrorist attacks command public attention and stoke fear; that is what they are designed to do. Nobody should be criticized for factoring these incidents into their travel plans, but it’s important to consider the extreme statistical unlikelihood of becoming a victim in such an attack. By most statistical measures, American visitors to France are safer during the duration of their trip than they are in their daily lives back home.

5. United Kingdom

As with France, several high profile incidents of terror have rocked the U.K. in the past half-decade, yet also like France, the country (yes, it’s technically one country, but also, like, several countries at the same time?) is overwhelmingly safe, statistically speaking, drawing tens of millions of visitors a year that tour the country without incident.

From 2000 to 2017, 126 people were killed in the United Kingdom as a result of terrorist attacks. By contrast, 372 were killed in such attacks in 1988 alone.

It may seem like I’m beating this to death, but it’s important to stress how media coverage and fearmongering distorts our perception of the actual potential for danger.

By any approximation, the U.K. is a safe place: the homicide rate is super low, gun ownership is practically non-existent (handguns are completely illegal), temperatures are mild (if a bit nippy), and dangerous and/or poisonous animals are nowhere to be found unlike its former prison colony across the globe.

4. Spain

Analogous to its Western European neighbors, Spain is a very safe country for tourists to visit. The birthplace of flamenco music and cold, refreshing gazpacho reported a 2016 homicide rate of just 0.66 people out of 100,000, good enough for second lowest in the EU and besting those of the eminently safe East Asian nations of Taiwan and South Korea. Also, Spain has somehow avoided steered clear of large scale terrorist attacks like those occurring in France and the U.K recently.

Considering the sheer of volume of foreign visitors Spain attracts each year without incident, Spain has a remarkable safety record. Travelers to the nation have very little to worry about, other than a heightened risk of pickpocketing and other petty crime in some touristy areas.

3. Japan

There are few countries on Earth where one can leave a bike unlocked in public for a week and come back to find it untouched, but Japan is one of them. For myriad reasons, the Land of the Rising Sun is one of the safest travel destinations on the planet. Theft is nearly unheard of, drug use is extremely scarce (and heavily punished) and the homicide rate of about 0.3 people per 100,000 is among the lowest in the developed world. Crime and murder are so suspiciously rare that a wealth of academic studies have been published in hopes of determining the reason behind it.

With an uber-friendly, polite (albeit shy) populace and virtually zero chance of becoming the victim of a crime, it goes without saying that Japan is nearly unparalleled in terms of safety for tourists. The only knock against it is its vulnerability towards earthquakes and tsunamis.

2. Singapore

World famous for its spotless sidewalks, broad-spectrum orderliness and--let’s face it,--draconian punishments for relatively minor crimes, Singapore is definitely one of the safest countries in the world. As long as people don’t spit gum out on the street or spray paint a train car—criminal offenses that may illicit a caning in the small city state--travelers would be hard pressed to find a more secure travel destination on the planet.

Whether you agree with the Singapore government’s authoritarian approach or not, the fact that its crime rates are basically the lowest in the world are evidence that it is effective. The one area of concern, according to Singapore law enforcement, is the recent increase in online scams, particularly sex-for-credit scams, but only lonely suckers fall for those.

1. Hong Kong

Technically a part of China, but with its own distinct laws, government and culture, Hong Kong is another East Asian destination where a woman or man can walk any street at any time of day or night without fear. With low (and continually declining) crime rates comparable to those of Japan and Singapore, yet without the authoritarian government of the latter or the risk of natural disaster in the former, Hong Kong is the safest place for tourists on Earth.

With a substantial and well-developed tourist sector, widespread use of English, and a fast, efficient and modern subway system, travelers to Hong Kong will continuously feel at ease.

The one strike against Hong Kong’s safety rating is its vulnerability to disease epidemics, as in the case of the 2003 SARS scar. This vulnerability stems from its humid, subtropical climate, high population density, and proximity to the Guangdong Province of China, where people eat anything that has four legs that isn’t a table and everything that flies that isn’t an airplane, culinary tendencies that increase the likelihood of a virus transferring from animal to human. Still, such outbreaks are few and far between, and not enough to knock Hong Kong off from its perch as the safest place to travel.

The following metrics were taken into account when creating this ranking: Crime, Security, Tourism, and Natural Disasters.

Rank (safest to dangerous)Country
1Hong Kong SAR
2Singapore
3Japan
4Spain
5United Kingdom
6France
7Germany
8Canada
9Norway
10Australia
11United Arab Emirates
12Sweden
13United States
14Italy
15Switzerland
16Finland
17Austria
18New Zealand
19Ireland
20Iceland
21Malta
22Denmark
23Netherlands
24Luxembourg
25China
26Greece
27Portugal
28Malaysia
29Qatar
30Belgium
31Estonia
32Croatia
33Czech Republic
34Panama
35Indonesia
36Chile
37Cyprus
38Bulgaria
39Poland
40Barbados
41Slovenia
42Bahrain
43Costa Rica
44Mauritius
45Hungary
46Azerbaijan
47Lithuania
48Latvia
49Argentina
50Brazil
51India
52Thailand
53Peru
54Morocco
55Turkey
56Jordan
57Armenia
58Kuwait
59Bhutan
60Kazakhstan
61Montenegro
62Oman
63Georgia
64Romania
65Tunisia
66Botswana
67Sri Lanka
68Albania
69Ecuador
70Vietnam
71Uruguay
72Rwanda
73Saudi Arabia
74Tanzania
75Trinidad and Tobago
76Serbia
77Gabon
78Zambia
79South Africa
80Senegal
81Ghana
82Israel
83Mexico
84Namibia
85Bosnia and Herzegovina
86Uganda
87Cambodia
88Benin
89Bolivia
90Malawi
91Tajikistan
92Mongolia
93Ethiopia
94Zimbabwe
95Moldova
96Ukraine
97Lebanon
98Dominican Republic
99Kenya
100Nicaragua
101Cameroon
102Nepal
103Sierra Leone
104Madagascar
105Paraguay
106Mozambique
107Bangladesh
108Jamaica
109Philippines
110Guatemala
111Algeria
112Colombia
113Lesotho
114Nigeria
115Burundi
116Mali
117Mauritania
118Chad
119Pakistan
120El Salvador
121Honduras

The Most Dangerous States for Online Dating

dangeronlinedating_op1

The use of online dating services and mobile hookup apps is so commonplace and socially accepted these days that it’s hard to remember that merely decade ago, using a service like OkCupid or Match.com carried a heavy social stigma. The internet dating scene was widely viewed as the last resort for the hopeless, terminally undesirable dregs of society. Circa 2007, hardly anyone would fess up to using an online dating service, and those that did– or were caught in the act by a pal or coworker– would claim that “it’s just for fun, nothing serious, no expectations. I mean, take look at these people!”

Obviously, this is no longer the case. In our post-Tinder world, not only has the use of online dating services and hookup apps become widespread and socially acceptable, by some accounts it is the most common way couples people meet.

According to a Pew study, the percentage of 18-24 year olds that use online dating apps has nearly tripled in the past four years, from 10% in 2013 up to 27% in 2017.

In the same study, 80% of people who have used online dating agree that it is a good way to meet people, while only 16% participants agree with the statement, “People who use online dating sites are desperate.”  

Furthermore, despite the data being incomplete, we can confidently say that anywhere from 7% to a full third of modern marriages are between couples that first met online. In a few short years, online dating has gone from a punchline-slash-last resort to the surest bet in the search for a soulmate or one time booty call.

It’s almost too easy: whether you’re gay, straight, or transgender; a middle-aged divorcee or sophomore in college, have a preference for brunettes or cue-balled Sinead O’Conner lookalikes, you can find exactly what you’re looking for by browsing through scores of potential candidates with the mere swipe of  the thumb. It’s no longer necessary to post up next to a cute girl at the bar, banking on your best pickup line, or skillfully interpreting subtle body language and conversational cues in order to determine if someone is interested or not. Nope. All that is the way of the past.

Unfortunately, the use of online dating apps is by no means safe, or predictable. The risks and potential dangers inherent to these apps are very real and not to be taken lightly. Tinder, Grindr and similar apps allow users to cultivate and tweak their profiles as they see fit, authenticity be damned. Alongside the users that are honest about their looks, interests and other personal info, there are scores of others engaging in deception, both mild and absolute, users might post misleading pics, or lie about their age or profession, and in some cases create totally fictitious profiles from the bottom up in order to troll, exploit or even physically harm users of the app. Incidents of rape and assault resulting from online dating encounters have become depressingly commonplace, as have money scams and other forms of identity theft.

While there’s always an element of danger in meeting a stranger from the internet–particularly for women –being informed about hazards and their probability helps users to use Tinder and other apps cautiously and wisely, avoiding potential dangers and pitfalls. Knowing the likelihood of a Tinder date ending in panic or disaster is a significant factor in making the right decisions.

The United States is vast, and rates of violent crime, sexually transmitted diseases and identity theft–all risk factors for a single person to consider when choosing to date a stranger from the internet–vary a lot from one state to another. Some places are much more dangerous for others. That’s why we’ve created this list. In order to help people make more informed decisions in using these services, we’ve ranked all fifty states according to how dangerous it is to use online dating services and hookup apps, with one #1 being the least dangerous and #50 being a veritable minefield. In determining our ranking, we used relevant factors including statewide violent crime rates, infection rates for the most common STDs, and the frequency of identity theft.

Dangerous States for Online Dating HeatMap

Coming in at the top are two northeast states: Vermont at number one followed by Maine at number two. We can’t vouch for the nightlife options in these heavily forested, sparsely attended states, but with low rates of STD, violent crime, and identity theft, online dating in the area is a much safer bet than elsewhere.

The top five is rounded out by Idaho, Utah and Wyoming, three western states all known more for sprawling, rugged landscapes than bustling entertainment sectors, or the kinds of places people meet on dates. There seems to be a correlation between quiet, peaceful wilderness and safe online dating.

Filling out the top ten are New Hampshire, two Southeastern states, West Virginia and Kentucky, and two Midwestern States, Iowa and Minnesota, with safe and friendly reputations.

At the bottom of the list is Missouri, owing to a whoppingly high risk of identity theft. Two southern states, Florida and Louisiana are at #49, and #48, respectively. Both states have thriving urban centers notorious for partying and hedonism. Anyone using Tinder in New Orleans, or Miami, beware.  

Two of the most populated states in the U.S., Illinois (#44) and California (#43) also hold the dubious distinction of falling into the bottom ten. Unsurprisingly, Nevada’s high rates of STD infection and violent crime push it down to #46.

So if you live in any of the dangerous areas for online dating, exercise caution. Make you minimize all possible risk factors. Residents in the safer states, you can breathe a little easier, but it never hurts to be a little extra careful.

Overview of U.S. Crime Statistics, 2017

Because crime affects different areas in different ways, looking at and trying to make sense of crime statistics for the population as a whole can be incredibly confusing. After researching a variety of fact sources, we had quite a bit of uncertainty about what these facts actually meant. We wanted to provide clear answers about what might (or might not) be contributing to crime in the U.S.

Below you'll find our summaries of a few of the most frequently cited crime facts. These were drawn from what we deemed to be the most common pattern amongst our sources.

Cities over 1,000,000 residents have the biggest increase in crime rates.

In 2015, violent crime rose by 3.9 percent while property crimes have decreased by 2.6 percent. However, this increase has not occurred uniformly throughout the U.S. Cities such as Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington D.C. have had 244 more murders which make up around half of the rise in murders. In fact, Chicago alone has seen a 59 increase in murders which accounts for 40 percent of the rise. With this information, one would expect to see Illinois having the highest violent crime rate of all the states, but Alaska has the highest (730 per 100,000 people). Bigger cities have been impacted by decreasing populations and higher poverty and unemployment rates than the national average.

Drug addiction causes people to commit crimes.

Drug use has always been a problem in the U.S. with 12.7% of all arrests being for drug abuse violations. In 2004, 17% of state prisoners and 18% of federal inmates said they did their crime in order to have money for drugs. For violent crime, only 3.9% of homicides were narcotics related. With the opioid crisis becoming a bigger national problem, similar crimes could be on the rise. In 2015, opioid deaths and heroin deaths increased by 15% and 23% respectively.

More cops mean a decrease in crime rates.

There is much debate over whether having more cops decreases crime rates. According to a Princeton study, an additional officer prevents 2.9 violent crimes and 16.23 property crimes annually. However, this depends on the training of the police officer, the amount of money spent on policing, and how the officers are used in their communities.

More prisons cause inverse effects.

Within three years of release, about two-thirds (67.8 percent) of released prisoners were rearrested. Within five years of release, about three-quarters (76.6 percent) of released prisoners were rearrested. Of those prisoners who were rearrested, more than half (56.7 percent) were arrested by the end of the first year. It has also been shown that harsher prison sentences increases the likelihood of a reoffense.

Property crimes are decreasing.

Even though there was a slight increase in violent crimes, property crimes have been decreasing consistently. Property crime decreased 3.9 percent in nonmetropolitan counties and 1.5 percent in metropolitan counties. The state with the highest property crime rate in 2015 is New Mexico with 3697 property crimes per 100,000 people.

The Ultimate Guide to Dating Safely

In the United States, 44% of adults are single – with 40 million Americans using online dating services.

Although online dating may be a relatively new concept, dating itself is an age-old method of getting to know someone before committing to anything more serious. But with the growth of the Internet, new technologies, chat facilities, and the acceptance of meeting people online, there has also been a rise in the number of risks people are exposing themselves to.

In this guide, we’ll explore the potential dangers of dating before offering some helpful tips on how you can stay safe when meeting someone online or going on a date for the first time. We’ll also include some apps that help you date safely, and additional resources you can explore for more sound advice.

Statistics About the Dangers of Dating

Cast your mind back 50 years, and you’d find singletons donning their best suits and dancing shoes, cruising around discos and bars to find “the one.” However, today, only 9% of women and 2% of men find a long-lasting relationship in a bar.

Instead, 63% of married couples say they met each other through a friend, while 27% of 18- to 24-year-olds have turned to online dating (an increase from 10% in 2013). A sign of the times, perhaps?

However, with this growth of online dating and meeting people you’ve never met (and neither have your family or friends) comes risks, which are added to with other risks many people who are dating face, particularly if they’re teenagers.

Here are some statistics about the risks and threats posed by dating:

Dating Abuse in Adults

Teenagers and Adolescents

  • Every year, physical abuse is suffered by almost 1.5 million high school students from their dating partner
  • A third of adolescents in the US are a victim of verbal, emotional, sexual, or physical abuse at the hands of their dating partner (far outweighing any other forms of youth violence)
  • A tenth of high school students have been purposefully slapped, hit, or physically hurt by their girlfriend or boyfriend
  • Girls and young women between 16- and 24-years-old account for the highest rate of intimate partner violence (this is almost three times the national average)
  • 43% of women who are dating at college report experiencing abusive and violent dating behaviors
  • When it comes to dating abuse, college students aren’t able to deal with it, with 58% saying they don’t know what to do to help someone going through abuse and 57% saying it’s difficult to identify it
  • 16% of college women in a dating relationship have been sexually abused
  • Only 33% of teens have told someone about the abuse they suffered when they’ve been in a violent relationship
  • A study in Hong Kong found those using dating apps were twice as likely to be sexually abused than non-users
  • 14% of women and 4% of men report being sexually assaulted while being incapacitated
  • Before an incident of unwanted sexual contact or sexual assault in college, 62% of students had been drinking alcohol

Online Dating

  • 53% of people admit to lying on their online dating profile – men tend to add up to two inches to their height while women take around 10 pounds off their weight
  • 42% of women and 17% of men have had a bad experience with online dating
  • 28% of online daters have felt uncomfortable or harassed by the way they’ve been contacted by someone on a dating app or online
  • 10% of sex offenders use online dating to meet new people
  • 53% of people say they’ve dated more than one person at the same time
  • In 2016, the number of cases of romance scams or confidence fraud reached almost 15,000 (a rise in 2,500 cases from 2015) with the losses from these scams exceeding $230 million
  • The average financial loss from an online dating scam ranges from $5,000 to $10,000 but many victims have lost as much as $400,000

Top Tips for Staying Safe on Your Date

Even though the above statistics make for worrying reading, it shouldn’t stop you from going out there and meeting people. Instead, they should just emphasize how important it is to remain vigilant at all times during the dating process – no matter how long you’ve known the person for.

To stay safe, there are a number of things you can do:

  • Always Keep Friends and Family Up to Date – Never go on a date with someone without telling a loved one where you’re going, who with (even giving them your date’s name and number), and what time they should expect you home. If something does change while you’re out, be sure to update them straight away.
  • Use Your Own Transport – This is particularly important if you’re meeting someone you don’t know, and it could save your life. Get in your own car or Uber it so you have a quick escape route if things aren’t going to plan – and it means your date won’t know your home address.
  • Meet in a Mutual, Safe Environment – As fun as it may be to “Netflix and chill” with someone you can’t wait to meet, it’s not a good idea to go to someone’s house if you don’t know them. Always meet them in a public place (a coffee shop or restaurant you’re familiar with, for example) where you know there’ll be plenty of people around. This not only reduces your risk of finding yourself in an unsafe situation but it also means other people may remember seeing you at this location if something does go wrong.
  • Never Leave Your Drink or Food Unattended – Although you might need to powder your nose or ring your friend to tell them how hot your date is, never leave your food or drink unattended when you first meet someone. Roofies (Rohypnol) and GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate) are common date rape drugs and are colorless and odorless, which makes them hard to detect. Once consumed, they make you feel incredibly disorientated, so always watch your drink being made by the bartender, never accepting something you aren’t sure about.
  • Limit Your Alcohol Intake – As much as the above date rape drugs are an issue, the number one date rape drug is alcohol. So, limit yourself to a couple of drinks at the most while you’re out with someone. Alcohol can lower your inhibitions and make you more susceptible to a predator’s motives – e.g. taking you away from the public place you’ve met in.
  • Organize a Group Date – Although this might not be possible, going on a group date can significantly reduce the risks of meeting someone you don’t know. If you can, take your mate along with you so you’ve got two pairs of eyes on drinks etc. Plus, you’ll have their second opinion on whether your date is worth seeing again or not.
  • Take Some Protection with You – Even though a third of singletons have had sex BEFORE their first date, the protection we’re referring to isn’t just condoms. Rather, we’re talking about good, old-fashioned pepper spray. OK, so this may seem a little over the top, but having that reassurance when you’re heading out on a first date will make sure you’re prepared for all eventualities.
  • Don’t Tell Any Lies – We’ve already seen how common it is for people to lie on their online dating profiles, but try to refrain from overselling yourself on your dating app or site. Sharing pictures that are years old or elaborating the truth isn’t impressive when the real you comes out and could lead to aggressive or angry behaviors from your date.
  • Focus on the Here and Now – When we’re dating, it’s easy to get carried away, especially when we really like someone. Are they “the one,” have you found the father of your unborn child, and will you finally be walking down the aisle… Don’t let your thoughts run away with themselves and focus on getting to know the person first. Lust can often cloud our initial judgments, so try to use some caution, especially on the first few dates.
  • Do a Google Search – Finally, if all else fails, do a Google search for your date. Find some questionable information or start to get a bad feeling about them? Then it’s probably worth ditching this person before you get yourself into a sticky situation. Don’t forget to check out LinkedIn and Facebook pages, too, just to make sure they are who they say they are (and if they’ve only got one or two friends on these pages, that should tell you something as well).

Top Tips for Staying Safe When Dating Online

By 2040, it’s anticipated that 70% of us will have met “the one” online, and one study revealed that online dating leads to happier, longer marriages. So things ain’t all bad in the world of online dating!

However, along with the above tips, there are a few extra steps you can take to stay safe:

  • Choose an Anonymous Username – Never include your surname or any other personal information in the username of your profile.
  • Never Reveal Your Personal Information – You may need to give out your contact number and name when you decide to meet someone but try to limit how often you do this. You can always contact them on the site until you feel comfortable you know who they are – and if you do want to give out an email address, think about setting up a specific “dating email address” they can contact you through, making sure no personal details (i.e. your surname) are included in the address.
  • Trust Your Gut Instinct – If, during your chats online, something makes you question your potential date or they say something inappropriate, listen to your gut instinct. Anything that rings alarm bells should be taken seriously.
  • Speak to Them on the Phone – Firing emails and chat messages back and forth can be exhilarating but it doesn’t often give you a good overview of a person – and it doesn’t confirm they are who they say they are. So, before you meet them in person, ask to speak to them on the phone first. Practice your banter and get chatting.
  • Be Mindful of Unusual Language – Unfortunately, there are a lot of scammers out there, which is why you’ll want to keep your eyes peeled for any unusual language your online daters are using. When their English sounds broken, think about those dodgy “Nigerian prince” emails we’ve all received and delete the contact.
  • Look for Mutual Friends on Facebook – Once you know the name of your potential date, search for them on Facebook to see if you’ve got any mutual friends. If you have, consider contacting this mutual friend to see what they think to your date. Having someone’s second opinion can really boost your confidence and give you the reassurance you need that this is a legitimate person who doesn’t have a chequered past.
  • Delete and Block Anyone You’re Not Sure Of – If you start to feel uneasy about someone, block and delete them from your profile. Receive an inappropriate or abusive message? Report them straight away.
  • Be Wary of Scammers – If someone declares their love for you a little too quickly or they ask you for money (or offer you money for that fact), be very wary. These are common behaviors of scammers and there’s only one thing they’re after – money. As hard as it may be, always hold back when you meet someone and try not to fall for any cliched sob stories. And never give out your bank details.
  • Take Your Time – It’s difficult to know how quickly you should arrange to meet up with someone you’ve met online, which is why there’s no given rule as to how long you should leave it before you arrange your first date. However, a study suggests you shouldn’t wait too long. American researchers found that, after the first message is sent, the tipping point for your first meeting comes at around 17 to 23 days into your conversation. The longer the respondents of the survey waited, the more disappointed they were with their first date.
  • Tread Carefully with Long-Distance Rendezvous – Due to the large number of people around the world who are dating online, it’s highly likely you could meet someone who’s not from your neck of the woods. Therefore, when you do decide to meet, you may be staying away from home. And if you are, always stay in a hotel rather than at your date’s house or somewhere they recommend. Never meet at this hotel and don’t tell the person where you’re staying.

Top Tools Apps for Dating Safely

Thankfully, a number of companies have made it much easier for you to date safely, whether they help you check out how legitimate someone is or reassure you that you’ll be safe on your date.

Here’s our top pick of dating tools:

TinEye A lot of scammers will try and be clever with the photos they use, often stealing them from Facebook. So, use TinEye to search for this image on the Internet to see where else it’s appearing. If you see a result that suggests your hot date isn’t who he said he is, proceed with caution, they’ve probably created a catfish profile. You can also use Google’s Reverse Image Checker in much the same way.

PiplAs the largest people search engine, Pipl allows you to find out what person’s behind a phone number, social username, or email address. It can be incredibly accurate but can also pull up other potential profiles (especially if someone has the same name or a similar social username to someone else), so don’t jump to conclusions straight away if you can’t find the person you’re looking for.

Find My Friends AppThis app allows you to track people through their phone, and while this might sound uber-stalkerish, it’s a great way of making sure you and your friends are safe. Install this on your phone before you go on a date and make sure your friend or family member can track you at all times. That way, they’ll be able to see you are where you should be – and can always book a cab if you need them to in an emergency.

Watch Over Me AppAvailable for free on Android and Apple devices, this app is turned on when you aren’t feeling safe. All you need to do is switch it on, specify how long you want the app to watch you for, share some details, and then tell the app when you’re safe. If you don’t hit the “I’m Safe” button before the end of your specified time, the app will notify your loved ones. They’ll be given your precise location along with any videos or pictures you’ve uploaded.

And if you aren’t able to call someone when you are in danger, you can shake the phone to activate alerts to your emergency contacts. It’ll even notify you when you’re entering a high-crime area!

Whitepages If you get hold of your date’s phone number, you can do a check on Whitepages to see if their name matches what they’ve given you. Just use the reverse phone search to find out more information about the person who has that mobile number. You can also search by their name and state/city.

Scam DiggerLook through a list of online profiles that have been found to be scams.

Email Address of ScammersOn datingnmore.com you can see a list of email addresses that have been flagged as scammers.

CriminalCheck.comWhen you’re really unsure about someone, you can use this website to do a national search for sex offenders. This is free to do and all you need is a name and zip code.

Additional Resources

Want to read more about dating safely or need some advice on how to protect your teen in the dating world? These further resources are jam-packed full of useful information:

Dating for Dummies Cheat Sheet – Here you’ll not only find tips for making safe connections online but advice on how to ask for a first date, too. It also includes some tips on how to flirt on your first date and how to date with confidence.  

Staying Safe in Relationships – Produced by the NOAA Workforce Management Office, this relationship safety guide shows you how to stay safe in relationships. It also provides some safe dating tips for teens, which are great for parents, too.

How to Protect Your Online Dating Profile – This guide provides some incredibly useful tips on how you can protect your online profile from hackers and stalkers. It includes things you need to look out for, how to protect your images, and the importance of not oversharing your information.

How to Use the Internet to Investigate Your Next Date – If you think you need to play detective, this guide tells you just how to do this. It offers great tips on where you can check out how legitimate someone is without them knowing.

How to Spot a Dating Scam – Wary about being caught up in an online dating scam? This guide tells you what warning signs there may be, what communication issues to look out for, and when to delete this contact from your profile.

A Mom’s Guide to Protecting A Teenager When They’re Dating – Because dating has changed so dramatically since most parents were teenagers themselves, it can be difficult to relate to the experiences teenagers are going through. This guide explains some of the ways things have changed and how, as a Mom, you can deal with these and protect your child.

Protecting Teens from Abusive Relationships and Teen Violence – As a parent, you don’t want to think about worst-case scenarios, but it’s important to be clued up so you can protect your child. This guide explains the risks of teenage relationships, the warning signs your teen may be in an abusive relationship, and how to effectively help your child.

Which? Guide to Staying Safe on Dating Websites and Apps – Read advice on how to stay safe while online dating. You’ll also find some helpful information on how to spot and report fake online profiles (in the UK).

Poll: College Sexual Assault – For more statistics on the growing issue of sexual assault and unwanted sexual contact in college, read this article by the Washington Post. It revealed that a fifth of women report having been sexually assaulted while at college.

History of Labor Day

The wrong reputation

Summer is technically over on the Autumn Solstice (between the 21st and 24th of September) but for many, Labor Day (September 4th) heralds the beginning of the end, causing many to view it through a bittersweet lens. Many forget that Labor Day was not created to signal the end of a season, it was meant to signal the end of worker oppression.

Labor Day honors the long and toiled history of labor in the United States. Before the 8-hour workday, people typically worked 10 to 16 hour days, 6 days a week and -- despite laws being passed -- endured years of poor working conditions and strikes for their rights. Labor Day recognizes the strength and appreciation of the American workforce.

In an effort to spur and support worker’s rights, the first Labor Day celebration was held on September 5, 1882. In 1887, the first state to make Labor Day a holiday was Oregon, with New Jersey, New York, and Colorado following suit. In 1894, after public outcry over the death of workers during the Pullman Strike, President Grover Cleveland made it a national holiday and a symbol of the Labor Movement.

The wrong representative?

There’s still debate over who actually founded Labor Day: Peter J. McGuire (the man with the plan) or Matthew Maguire (the man who acted on the plan).

Peter J. McGuire was the founder of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and co-founder of the American Federation of Labor (AFL). He led a series of strikes that led to the enforcement of the 8-hour workday law (originally passed in 1868, by the way). On a trip to Toronto, he observed a Canadian Labor Day celebration where 1/10 of the population of Toronto marched for unions and better labor laws. Inspired, he suggested that the Central Labor Union of New York do the same.

Working as Secretary of the Central Labor Union of New York, Matthew Maguire (note the different spelling of the last name) organized that very first Labor Day parade. A machinist and radical figure in the Socialist Labor Party of America, he also led strikes in the 1870s against working conditions and long hours.

Whether a conflict of interest or an interest in avoiding conflict, Samuel Gompers, co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, gave the “founder” title to his other co-founder, Peter J. McGuire.

Regardless, wrong finally goes right

The early hours of the first Labor Day parade saw low attendance due to worried workers losing money - or their jobs. However, it’s said that once the band started playing, an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 people showed up. After the parade ended, some went back to work while others continued the celebration in Wendel’s Elm Park. The party lasted until 9 p.m. and included food, speeches, and a lot of beer.

Parades were the common way to celebrate holidays and were typically followed by festivals around town - after parties if you will. The Labor Day festivals eventually grew so big that they became hard to maintain. To solidify the meaning or simply maintain order, organizers began to focus less on beer and more on speeches about the economic and political significance of worker achievements. Labor Sunday was also established to focus on the spiritual and economic achievements of the Workers Movement.

The beginning of the end

Through the past century, Labor Day has seemed to achieve the opposite of its intended effect. Relaxation has become rushed and an “enjoy it while you can” mindset has taken over (perhaps that mindset was always there, but for a different reason).

  • Many take their vacation days to have one last getaway with family before the school year begins.
  • Less summer means less time off, and so amusement parks and other harbingers of fun close after Labor Day.
  • Somehow Labor Day signifies when people switch to their fall and winter clothes, so hurry up and wear out the white.
  • Fall’s favorite sport, NCAA football, holds its first games during Labor Day weekend, the NFL the weekend after.
  • Recently, Labor Day has become an important weekend for end-of-summer and back-to-school sales - the ultimate rush.

Although the way Labor Day is celebrated has changed, it’s important to take the time to remember and appreciate the fact that we don’t work 12-hour days and have better working conditions, so enjoy that day of rest before it’s back to being “busy.”

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How to Survive Identity Theft and Fraud Online

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If you’ve never been a victim of identity theft, consider yourself lucky. Millions of people have had to fight their way out of serious financial trouble because of one wrong person getting hold of their personal information.

Identity theft is possibly the worst cybercrime of all, one that can easily destroy a lifetime’s worth of reputation, finances, and credit history, which can take years to recover from.

A 2017 study by Javelin Strategy & Research found that about 15.4 million consumers in the U.S are victims of identity theft in one form or another, with an estimated total of $16 billion stolen – and the numbers keep rising each year.

If you’ve fallen victim to identity theft, this resource is your survival guide on how to gain back control, steps to recover from fraud and identity theft, as well as many useful tips and helpful information to protect yourself from being a victim of cybercrime in the future.

Identity Theft: The Facts

  • Statistics from the Bureau of Justice Statistics states that about 7% of people over the age of 16 were victims of identity theft. That may not seem like a lot, but when you take into account that there were 242 million people over 18 in the US in 2014, that would mean over 17 million people were taken advantage of.
  • The bureau also reports that 14%, or 2.5 million, suffered financial loss from identity theft.
  • Women are more likely to have their identity stolen than men, at 9.2 million women compared to 8.3 million men.
  • When dividing by race groups, Caucasians have a rate of 8%, African Americans are about 5% – as are Hispanics. Incomes of $75,000 or more annually were targeted most, at theft rate of 11%.
  • 52% of victims reported they were able to resolve the issues in a day or less, but 9% spent more than a month working on fixing the damage done. 29% of victims that spent more than 6 months resolving problems due to identity theft reported severe emotional distress.
  • Surprisingly, children are 51x more likely to have their identity stolen than adults would be. They are vulnerable to someone who might try to manipulate them because they don’t realize the risk. The vast majority of child identities stolen are used to open credit accounts and to substantiate loans, often by family members or relatives. Parents usually warn children about sexual predators and being modest on social media, but what they don’t usually think about is people who might pray on their naivety online and get them to give up pertinent information that would compromise their identity security.

Statistics Around The World

  • According to NASDAQ, “Data breaches totaled 1,540 worldwide in 2014 – up 46 percent from the year before – and led to the compromise of more than one billion data records.”
  • 55% of breach incidents are from a malicious outsider who was intentionally trying to get in and steal information. 25% came from accidental loss and 15% came from a malicious insider.
  • The most hacked area was North America, accounting for 76% of the known breaches around the world. 72% occurred in the United States alone. The United Kingdom accounts for 8% of the breaches, Canada carries 4%, Australia accounts for 2%, and Israel and China both carry 1% of the burden.
  • As for credit card fraud, the United States only carries about 24% of the credit cards in the world, yet 47% of credit card fraud. Countries that have adopted the EMV or “chip” card have shown significantly lower occurrences of fraud. The United States’ slow adoption of the technology is suspected to be the reason their rate of fraud is much higher.

Identity Theft

Different Types of Identity Theft

Before delving deeper into understanding identity theft, let us first look into some of the common terminology used in reference to these crimes:

Phishing 

Misleading emails that manipulate people to enter confidential information. This could be someone pretending to be a bank representative, a health service or medical assistant, or even a credit card company.

Perhaps the most notorious incidence of phishing in recent memory was the 2016 hacking of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign chairman John Podesta’s e-mail account by Russian hackers. The email in question asked for Podesta’s account password, and was in fact spotted by an aide and marked as suspicious, however in the aide’s memo he made an unfortunate typo, writing that the email was “legitimate” rather than “illegitimate”. This costly error resulted in Russians gaining access to tens of thousands of emails which were the then handed over to the organization Wikileaks, who released the emails in calculated intervals over the course of the campaign, causing a public uproar and potentially costing Clinton the election.

Smishing

The same concept as phishing, but done through SMS or text messaging. This type of scam has grown more and more prevalent in recent years as criminals directly target people’s’ principal means of accessing the internet and email. A person may receive a text message requesting private information like a bank PIN number or email account password.  

Another common scam is a text tailored to resemble a personal message with a request to view the presumed sender’s social media account. Clicking the link will result in the user being directed to a hazardous URL where his or her information may be compromised. The results of smishing can be just as devastating as any other identity theft, as in this 2016 scam when three Santander customers lost a combined £36,200 ($46,772) within a month, money that the bank declined to refund.   

Wardriving

When someone hacks into a wireless network and installs spyware. This allows them to see what IP addresses are being used and what each device is doing, including personal information, usernames, passwords, and much more.

Surprisingly,  wardriving itself is not illegal in the United States, depending on the techniques used for one to gain access to a network. There is an active debate within the internet community over the ethics of the practice.

Keylogging

Software installed either by a hacker or virus that logs every keystroke done on a computer. This key logging software reports each keystroke to the person who planted the software and can easily be deconstructed to provide them your usernames, passwords, social security information, and any other personal data they find interesting. Keylogger malware is not very complex, yet it does not have to be in order to be effective.

In 2016, cyber criminals using the keylogger program Olympic Vision were able to hack into the computers of employees of companies spanning 18 different countries in Asia, the United States and the Middle East. With a technique similar to a phishing scam, the criminals sent emails posing as business partners requesting pertinent information, yet with the malware attached. Once the malicious software was installed, it used keystroke analysis obtain all types of confidential information and login passwords.

Skimming 

Devices designed to be placed over ATM and gas pump card slots that still allow the card to work, but also store the credit card information. When the person who placed it retrieves the device, the information of every credit card used during the time it was installed is then accessible by the thief. The thief then uses that information to create duplicate cards and make purchases.

The continued rise of skimming, particularly at gas stations, has prompted companies to update their payment devices with EMV technology, which reads a small chip inside the card, rather than the card’s magnetic strip. However, skimmers are still ubiquitous; typically found installed at small, isolated fueling stations at pumps farthest from the cash register.

Shoulder Surfing

When a person looks over your shoulder at an ATM or other place you may be using a debit card and entering your pin number. They can get your card account number and then learn your pin number by watching you enter it. From there, they would be able to use your debit account anywhere they want.

There is little concrete data on the frequency of shoulder surfing or the most vulnerable situations where one is susceptible to the practice, however a 2017 case study conducted by Media Informatics Group of LMU Munich, Germany concluded, based on a survey given out in the United States, Germany and Egypt, that the overwhelming majority of shoulder surfing involves strangers reading text conversations on the smartphones of strangers for the sake of boredom and curiosity without malicious intent or dangerous consequences.

Companies

In the first half of 2016, there were a record-breaking 621 mass data breaches reported worldwide. These are hackers who are attacking large companies and corporations, attempting to break into their databases and pull out any stored financial or personal information on their customers and clients.

  • Target – In 2013, the US store was compromised and 40 million credit cards were stolen along with 70 million customer accounts’ information.
  • Anthem – in 2015, they reported a data breach that had been going on for weeks. Someone had broken into their IT department’s records, potentially exposing each client’s name, birthdate, social security number, income data, etc.
  • Home Depot – in 2014, they were attacked via a vendor through their computer’s network and 56 million credit card numbers and 53 million email addresses were stolen.

Major companies may have better security but can also be a more tempting target for potential hackers because of the wealth of information that could be retrieved if they were successful. Obviously, the attacks on Target, Anthem and Home Depot were a huge pay-off for the hackers and a catastrophic financial nightmare for the companies and, at minimum, a significant inconvenience for their customers.

How Identity Theft Happens

Emails

So how does personal information get out into dangerous territory? 23% of identity theft begins with phishing emails. Potential scammers send emails posing as a legitimate business that a person may or may not already be associated with (i.e.: a bank or credit card company) and manipulate the victim into giving them pertinent confidential information. This release of information ultimately leads to their financial accounts and/or identity being used without their permission. A phishing email is usually recognizable because the sender is asking you to verify your information through a non-secure online source. Also, generally speaking, a legitimate business would not contact you through email if there were any sort of breach of security on your account; they would either call a customer directly and/or just shut down their card.

Websites

Sometimes, scammers will set up legitimate-looking websites that are really just a ploy to acquire the user’s information. This could be in the form of a merchant website online where the user thinks they are buying an item that they never receive and, instead, have their information stolen. Other times, the scammer will make a page that looks and acts just like a well-known or reputable bank or credit institution but with a slightly different web address. The user trusts the site because it looks like a real one, enters their information, and never hears back from the site, only to find out that their information was stolen and misused.

Third parties

In addition, many people don’t realize that large corporations and popular businesses routinely sell their users’ information. These companies are required by law to put into their terms and conditions that they are able to sell your information but very few people actually look into that information when filling out forms online. By selling that information to third parties, it opens people up to spam emails, mail, phone calls, and a whole host of other problems. In recent years, major companies such as Google and Facebook have come under fire for these practices and it has becoming increasingly difficult to avoid your browsing history being exploited for market research and financial gain.

IRobot, the company behind the automated vacuum Roomba, has recently courted controversy when details leaked that it may begin to sell the data gathered by higher end Roomba models in the process of cleaning a home. Roombas use these data about the location of furniture and household appliances to more effectively tidy up a room. However, experts speculate that a Roomba would also be able to determine information about owners private lives based on lack of certain household items, or, for example, the presence of a baby chair in the living room, and sell it to advertisers who would be able to target people with alarmingly specific offers catered to their speculated needs.

Phone

In 2014, 54% of people reported that their fraudulently used information was initiated by a phone call. Most commonly, a scammer will pose as a representative from a financial institution and tell the victim that they have had suspicious activity on their account and that they need to have the victim verify information. It is only later that the victim realizes that they’ve been lied to and that they basically handed over their entire security to a stranger on the phone.

Physical collection

Another way your information can be compromised is by physical collection. If you’ve ever lost your purse or had your wallet stolen or even left a credit card behind at a restaurant, you are in danger. Additionally, personal information can be acquired by dumpster diving or digging through trash to find anything that was discarded without being shredded. Most banks and doctors’ offices have policies in place where they are required to shred personal information, but it may not occur to people that their trash from home might be gone through either by people they allow into their home or predators who could dig through your trash bin out by the road before it is collected. Any acquisition of a physical piece of identification puts someone at risk.

Information accrued from items thrown out in the trash–whether it be a gas bill or a grocery list–can allow a scammer to learn highly specific information about a homeowner’s personal life. The thief can then use the knowledge in a very convincing phishing or phone scam.

This type of scam seem far-fetched and highly unlikely, but it has been documented:

Through the years, I have been amazed at the things you can find in the trash. There is big business for identity thieves in personal garbage. More importantly, once you put your garbage out on the street for trash pickup, it usually becomes open to the public. This means that if I am so inclined, I can take that garbage and bring it home, which is exactly what I did. Each week I would snap on my rubber gloves and go through every item of trash: grocery store shopping lists, sticky notes with phone numbers, a private invitation for a little girl to a friend’s birthday party, and much more. As I continued to go through the managers’ trash, I was able to compile a list of their service providers: water bill, phone bill, gas and electric, cable, and so on. I could use this information not only to gain access into their lives but, if I wanted, to take over their lives.

Ultimately, I decided to use the billing information for the bank managers’ Internet service providers as an access point for my attack. Using the information I gained from the bills, I contacted the managers and explained that I was from that company. I told them that we were updating our services and that, for them to continue to have Internet service, they would be required to install updated software. I explained that the software would be arriving within the next week.

Because I was also able to reference their past billing information during the call, the victims never suspected a thing. Within a week, they each received a package in the mail that contained “upgrade software” and instructions. One by one, the managers installed the software.

Of course, the software they had just installed was actually malicious and designed specifically to allow me to access their computer via the Internet from anywhere in the world. Shortly after they installed the software, I was on their computers going through all their files. Within a few short days, I had usernames and passwords to corporate systems and even VPN access, which allowed me to connect directly to the financial institution’s internal network.

Prevention Plan Checklist

There are a few warning signs that personal information is or could be compromised. If a red flag is raised, a lot of damage can be avoided.

Debit/Credit Card

  • Make sure that no one seems too close or nosy when entering a pin number into an ATM or other debit machine.
  • Turning the card reader away from prying eyes or shielding a pin code when entering it should be done every time.
  • If anyone seems nosy, wait and let them go first and then finish after they leave.
  • Beware of people snooping through personal documents at home or work as this could lead to a compromise of security.

Web Safety

  • Notice that there is a difference between https:// and http://. The “s” will tell you if the site is a secure, or encrypted, site. This means that potential thieves cannot easily pilfer information you provide on this site.
  • In addition, a secure site will show a picture of a closed padlock next to the domain name.
  • Check to see if the link presented to you in an email or text message is legitimate. Any text can become a clickable link but what it links to is obscured. Most popular browsers allow the user to hover over the link and it will reveal the true link at the bottom of the page or next to the link. This way, the user can see the link they’re presented with before clicking and accidentally exposing themselves to danger.
  • Another precaution to take is to enter the link into com which, “analyzes a website through multiple blacklist engines and online reputation tools to facilitate the detection of fraudulent and malicious websites”.
  • For shortened URLs, like bit.ly/ addresses, use Sucuri, which will expand the short link and search the actual destination link to make sure it is safe.
  • Do not click on any attachments in emails from unknown senders as they could automatically download malware software onto your computer that can be nearly impossible to remove.
  • Use trusted browsers that have built-in phishing protection. Firefox, Google Chrome, Internet Explorer and Edge are all designed to alert you of phishing websites before they are entered.
  • Any site that utilizes pop-up advertisements and has obnoxious ads should raise a red flag. These sites are usually created to generate income for the owner and more filler than actual useful information. Sites like these are more likely to be used for phishing and tricking the user into downloading malware.

Phishing

  • If anyone calls and requests personal information, immediately be suspicious of their identity. If they are truly from a bank, they should be able to verify your information to you, not require that you verify it with them.
  • If you did not initiate the call, you can’t be sure that they are being honest about who they are. A good way to check that they are able to confirm multiple points of information about your account, including current balance or recent purchases.
  • Avoid any ploy that is emotionally charged or tries to create a sense of urgency, especially where scammers might try to make you feel scared or vulnerable. This is the easiest way for them to make someone give up personal information.
  • Be aware that any emails that come to your inbox from an unknown user with an emotional plea for help is likely a scam. No, there isn’t a prince in Nigeria that needs help unlocking his multi-million dollar inheritance and needs your bank account information so he can reward you with a financial gift for helping him. While cultural familiarity with the old “Nigerian Prince” scam may lead one to conclude that it’s no longer an effective means of identity theft, the FBI reports that millions continue to be taken each year in such scams, and they come in a number of guises, so beware.
  • Check the email address from seemingly reputable companies. Generally, you will find a noreply@amazon.com or similar return email address. If the domain name after the @ symbol is not the corporation’s name, raise that red flag and proceed with caution.
  • When using Gmail, utilize the “authentication icon for verified senders” which will show a key symbol next to verified users. This should automatically be enabled with each account.
  • Be concerned if the “To:” and “Cc:” fields are addressed to multiple users. This generally means that random email addresses were generated using a computer and they’re just hoping someone bites on their scam.
  • Notice misspellings or improper grammar usage. Any legitimate company will not use poor grammar and punctuation. If it sounds fishy, it probably is. Oddly enough, the obvious misspellings and typos in an email are occasionally part of the scam. By ensuring that clever people trash the email, they are isolating the most credulous targets for follow-up emails.
  • Always check the domain name of the site you are on. If you think you are on twitter.com but the domain name is T V V rather than TW, it is likely a scam site setup to mirror a real site.
  • If an email claims to be from law enforcement and states that you are legally required to provide information, immediately call your local authorities. Law enforcement does not use email to contact people. Ever.

Strengthen Your Data Security

  • Be aware of which network you are logging into. People are susceptible of scams in public places such as coffee shops that offer open wireless networks as hackers often create “evil twin” networks with names that are nearly identical to those of the establishment’s to lure unsuspecting people into logging in and then stealing their information.
  • As a rule, avoiding malware in any form is integral to security. Malware is identified as any software that is intended to damage or disable a computer. Apple computers are generally regarded as safer from malware because viruses are harder to create for their operating system along with them being less appealing because they are less used globally than windows computers.
  • However, they are not impervious to spyware, which is software used to retrieve a user’s personal information by covertly stealing data from a hard drive. Installing a network protection program such as Norton Anti-Virus can block infected downloads, warn you about known social media scams and flag suspicious content. Regular operating system updates also protect against the latest spyware.
  • Using encrypted sites was mentioned in passing before but it is of utmost importance and needs to be remembered. If a website begins with http:// it is NOT encrypted and any information entered on it is subject to being public information. Only sites that begin with https:// are encrypted.
  • Alternatively, if you would like to take a more proactive stance at protecting online predators from getting your IP address, you could utilize a VPN, or Virtual Private Network, service.

VPN services mask your IP address and give you a generalized IP address from anywhere in the world you choose. Hackers won’t be able to use your IP address to access your confidential information any time you are utilizing this tool. Even better, it can be used on any computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone via a downloadable desktop application or smartphone app.

  • Passwords should be changed every 4-6 months, especially those linked to financial and medical institutions.
    • Use a complex and unique password, utilizing capitalization, numerals, and symbols wherever possible.
    • Also, passwords should not be the same across the board for every login.
    • As complicated as it can be to remember each password, there are mobile apps for smartphones as well as desktop applications that keep track of passwords for you.
      • One highly recommended one is called LastPass, which is available for Android, iOS, and Windows Mobile for free. It not only stores your passwords in a safe place but also has a strong password generator. It is integrated into your phone’s browser and will automatically fill in login details for you. Users can choose to generate new, secure passwords and it will automatically add or update their list for them. This makes changing passwords easy to keep track of. It also syncs with your other devices seamlessly, allowing family password sharing.
      • Another app option is called Keeper and is available for free on iOS, Windows Phone and Android. Not only does it keep passwords but it also can secure personal information and share it with trusted contacts directly from the app. It, too, has a password generator and can auto-fill login information. It offers iCloud backup and syncing for a charge but gives you a free 30-day trial.
  • If trusting apps isn’t appealing or if you don’t own a smartphone, you could also keep a written list of usernames and passwords in a secure location.
  • As technology progresses, more secure technologies are becoming available. This includes, but is not limited to, voice recognition, iris-scanning, and fingerprint recognition.
    • The fingerprint is already being utilized in iPhones, the HTC One M9+, the Samsung Galaxy A8, and a handful of others.
  • Even better, apps that allow purchasing or could benefit from added security are using the fingerprint software built into these platforms.
    • Already, Amazon.com, eBay, the iTunes store and many others are encouraging users to utilize the fingerprint in place of a password not only for ease of use but increased security. It doesn’t hurt that it is much quicker to press your finger to the sensor than to type a username and password.
  • Security extends far beyond the digital realm, too. Making sure that personal documents are shredded rather than just discarded is something most people don’t think about but should. If you don’t have a shredder, there are companies like UPS or The Office Depot that will shred documents for a nominal fee.
  • Finally, make sure you review your credit report annually. Under the FACT Act, Federal law allows you a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus once a year. Make sure to run that report every year and review any flags for accuracy. Any incorrect information or reports can be disputed and an audit can be requested to review the information. Yes, it is time-consuming and often arduous but it is absolutely worth the effort. Each of the major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — offer a subscription service that allows you to check your score whenever you want but you can access your free reports by going to the Annual Credit Report website. This is a secure, federally-assembled website that asks you for your social security number so make sure you are on a secure computer and in a private place where no one might snoop over your shoulder while entering your information.

Recover Your Identity Checklist

Because it can be embarrassing to admit that you have been scammed, often times (and surprisingly) victims will let their pride get the best of them and will not submit a report – this what a lot of scammers hope for.

The Bureau of Justice reports that fewer than only 1 in 10 identity theft victims report the incident to the police.

  1. Acting quickly is integral to getting your identity back.
    1. The quicker you report it the sooner you can flag your accounts and avoid further damage.
  2. Have a physical copy of your accounts and credit/debit card information.
    1. Make sure it’s stored in a secure place. It’s important to have quick access to the account numbers so you can actively contact and report the lost or stolen cards.
  3. File a fraud alert immediately, even if misuse is only suspected.
    1. A fraud alert will bring up a notification when your credit is run and attempted uses will prompt verification of the user’s identity.
    2. This makes it more difficult for people to use your information, especially if they don’t have a copy of your driver’s license.
    3. You create the alert by calling one of the three major credit bureaus directly. It doesn’t matter which one is called because they are required to report the alert to the other two, saving you the trouble of calling each one directly.
    4. This alert will stay on your report for 90 days unless you call and remove it.
  4. If you are sure your identity is being misused, initiate a credit freeze with all of your compromised accounts.
    1. For this service, each credit bureau has to be contacted directly. A credit freeze is different from an alert because a credit freeze will make it so that banks and other companies that might open a line of credit will be denied access to your credit report, making it much more difficult for the perpetrator to open a line of credit.
    2. It is generally a free service but occasionally there is a nominal charge.
    3. When initiating your credit freeze, remember to request a copy of your credit report.
      1. Each bureau should give you details on how to obtain your report. Otherwise, you can obtain your credit reports online for free. Credit Karma is one of the most frequently used and trusted online credit report services in existence.
  5. File an identity theft report.
    1. This alerts federal and local authorities of the crime. This will give you the momentum you need to effectively fight any fraudulent charges and accounts.
    2. The first step is to file a report with the Federal Trade Commission. This division of the government is set up to help protect consumers and combat fraud, such as identity theft.
    3. Once the report is filed online, they provide something called an Identity Theft Affidavit, which is good to print and keep on file for your records.
  6. File a report with the local police.
    1. Calling in advance is often a good idea so they can let you know what items you should bring with you to not only verify your identity but also substantiate the theft claims. Remember to request a copy, again, for your records.
  7. Contact each of the credit bureaus directly.
    1. Each fraudulent item must have a dispute raised with the bureau it relates to. It is also wise to contact the lenders and collection agencies that are involved. As tedious and time consuming as this may be, cleaning up the mess gets harder and harder as time passes. The more effort you put into shutting down the thief immediately, will ensure there’s less mess to clean up later.
  8. Keep a written log of which credit bureau, lender or collection agency you contact along with who was spoken to, instructions they gave, and what time the calls were made.
    1. Keeping these sorts of notes not only help keep track of all the steps that each company gives to resolve the fraud but also gives the victim leverage if later there is a subsequent fraudulent charge made despite the account flags and credit freeze.
  9. Contact the businesses at which your identity was used falsely.
    1. If you noticed that your social security number was used to rent an apartment, contact the apartment complex. If your credit card information was used on Amazon.com, contact them and let them know about the fraud so that they can cancel any pending payments or shipments.
  10. Once the mess has been cleaned up and you’re ready to open up your accounts again, ask to begin an extended fraud alert.
    1. Contacting each credit bureau directly will activate this service and it allows you to have a heightened security status put on your identity as well as access to two credit reports a year, as opposed to the one allowed normally.

Find Help and Support

If you’re overwhelmed, it’s understandable. It’s almost impossible to stay ahead of the new ploys conceived every day. It might be a wise idea to consider investing in an Identity Theft Protection service. Their job is to watch your back by monitoring new accounts being opened in your name and suspicious activity on your credit accounts. It can be expensive but it’s worth it. Which company you choose depends on whether your identity has been stolen yet or not.

  • If you have already suffered identity theft, you may want to consider a company like ID Watchdog ($14.95 or $19.95/month), whose primary goal is to help you recover your identity, even if the offenses happened before you joined their service.
  • If protection, before identity theft happens, is the goal, a company like Identity Force might be a good option ($12.95/month with a 30-day free trial or $19.95/month).

Resources

Honestly, one of the best resources that I have found is a compiled list of 87 security experts’ Twitter accounts. They tweet daily about the latest trends, news, and security concerns to be aware of. The list can be found here. You can follow them individually or choose to follow all of them at the same time.

Another useful list comes from Heimdal security, which includes over 50 tips and tricks from various security experts.

Below you’ll find more good places to find statistics and more in-depth information on identity theft and keeping security a priority.