Craig Gima
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist

Brett Johnson was one of America’s most wanted online criminals. He set up websites to sell items online, collected the money and never delivered the merchandise. He created Shadowcrew, a precursor to the Dark Web, where criminals could buy and sell stolen identities. Tax return fraud, insurance fraud, money laundering … Johnson was involved in all of it until he was caught, served prison time and eventually turned his life around.

Now he works as a consultant to law enforcement and major corporations – teaching them what he learned as a cyber criminal so they can stop online crime. He also teaches consumers what they should do to avoid becoming a victim of internet fraud.

AARP Hawai‘i brought Johnson to Hawai‘i to hold a series of workshops for residents interested in protecting themselves and their families this month. His last presentation on O‘ahu at around 9:45 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 20 is being broadcast live on the AARP Hawai‘i Facebook page and YouTube channel. The video will remain on Facebook and YouTube so if you miss the live broadcast, you can still find and watch it.

Think of online identity theft as “the worst lottery in the world,” Johnson said in a recent online interview. There’s so much personal information online that there aren’t enough criminals to exploit it.

“But they’re coming,” he warns.

Cyber criminals have a variety of tools – both low-tech and high-tech – to steal your identity and turn the information into cash.

You must have your own toolbox of protection tools to defend yourself from their attacks, he said.

Here’s some of what should be in your cyber-crime protection toolbox:

Credit Freeze Protection – Put a security freeze in place with the three credit reporting bureaus so that no one can access your credit file or open a new credit account with your information.
Account Alerts/Monitoring – Set up online access to all your financial accounts and regularly monitor the accounts so you can stay up-to-date on all transactions and recognize fraudulent activity.
Password Manager – 
Don’t use the same password for multiple accounts. A digital password manager service is a good way to manage passwords. These services keep all your passwords secure and help you create different, strong passwords for each account.
Multi-Factor Authentication – Opt for multi-factor authentication when it’s offered on your accounts. It not only requires a password, but also a one-time code sent to your mobile device to prove it’s really you.

Cybercriminals are more organized and teaching each other how to steal your information, Johnson said. They’re learning to use new technology and fintech apps to take over accounts or open new accounts in your name.

 Crypto investment scams are becoming common. He’s even seeing old-fashioned mail theft as a way to get your personal information.

“There is nothing you can do to stop a criminal from getting your information. Accept that,” Johnson says. But ask yourself this question: “If a criminal has my information what can I do to make sure they can’t use it?’ Build that toolbox.”

Craig Gima is communications director at AARP Hawai‘i. He is an award-winning multimedia communicator with more than 30 years of experience. A Honolulu native, Gima spent nearly 19 years at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in a variety of reporting, editing and online roles before joining AARP in 2016. Gima graduated cum laude from the University of Southern California.


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