Weekly Column

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The opportunity to acquire new information is easier now than at any point in our world’s history. Access to information at the right time can spark a new passion for learning, inspire new ideas, or save a life. 

With a few clicks of a mouse or search on a phone, we can rapidly obtain any and all the information we desire.

The Good Life has 45.2 million acres of farms and ranches. The first 911 emergency system was developed and tested in Lincoln. If Nebraska’s groundwater was poured over the surface of our state, the water would measure to nearly 38 feet in depth. Throughout history we’ve constructed libraries to account for this kind of information. Now, we have that data in the palm of our hands.

America has led the world economy largely due to our innovations in digital infrastructure. Whether it’s a small businesswoman taking inventory in Norfolk, the farmer analyzing his crop yield in Ogallala, or the nurse in an Omaha hospital documenting health information- we depend on digital networks to get the job done and grow our economy. According to a U.S. Census Bureau report, retail sales in e-commerce increased to a staggering $453.5 billion in the last year.

But one of the ironies of the digital age is that as our technology advances, so does our vulnerability to become a victim of cybercrime. Personal, sensitive information is now stored on our phones and computers. Families pay their mortgages, make healthcare decisions, and file their taxes online. 

As we have moved into the digital era, millions of families have had their identities stolen, accounts emptied, and lives turned upside down because of egregious acts of cyber criminals. This year the FBI reported that malicious cyber scams and attacks cost the U.S. more than $1.4 billion in 2017.

Scammers will try to attack from all angles. Some will call your phone disguised under a legitimate number and demand action on an account that has been compromised. They may even try to forgive your student loans or offer a job opportunity that you didn’t solicit. All in exchange, of course, for your social security or credit card number.

Congress has taken significant steps to address these fraudulent scams. I’ve been a leader on solutions like the Spoofing Prevention Act and the Senior Safe Act that are helping stop certain scams and increase reporting of these crimes. But unfortunately, bad actors constantly evolve and come up with new ways to fool Americans.

The Social Security Administration usually reports a spike in crime during the holidays and as a member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, I’m well aware that scammers often choose seniors as their prime targets. Now that we are in open enrollment season for health insurance, Nebraska seniors are handing out some of their most sensitive information. If you receive a suspicious call regarding health plans, hang up the phone immediately.

A “Secret Sister” gift exchange scam is now moving through social media outlets. A Facebook or Twitter post will advertise that participants will receive up to 35 gifts in exchange for one 10-dollar gift. As the Better Business Bureau of Nebraska warned, it’s better to quickly delete any of these solicitations right away.

As we enter this holiday season, I encourage you to stay vigilant against scammers. Be cautious when handing out personal information. Hang up the phone if you are skeptical of a caller. Protect your information to ensure that you and your loved ones do not fall victim to these deceitful tricks.

Thank you for participating in the democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.