As we all spend more time online, we are increasingly vulnerable to common scams that attempt get our personal and financial information or to install malware, software that is designed to damage or disable our computers and computer systems. It’s no reason to give up your online activities; it’s just important to be aware of the scams that exist and know how to avoid them.
These are scams that bait people into providing personal or financial information. The victim receives a message via email or social media that appears to be from a reputable organization or someone they know. The message might contain an attachment or links that, when opened or clicked, will install malware on the user’s device. Other times, the person is directed to a malicious website created for the sole purpose of tricking people into divulging information, like passwords; account IDs; and credit card numbers.
How to Avoid
- Be wary of emails that don’t come from recognized email addresses, aren’t personalized, or try to get you to provide or verify any personal or financial information over the internet.
- Don’t click on links, download files, or open attachments in emails from unknown senders.
- Protect your computer with a firewall, spam filters, anti-virus, and anti-spyware software.
True to the name, these types of scams involve people pretending to be someone they are not. It might be a phone call from someone claiming to be from the power or electric company and threatening to cut off the utility if a payment is not made immediately. There have been instances of a fake police officers or court officials telling people they must pay fines for failure to appear at jury duty, or phony IRS officials demanding unpaid taxes.
How to avoid
- Take a beat, and get more information. Even if the person is pressuring you to do something right away, hang up and call someone you trust to talk it through.
- Don’t provide credit card information over the phone unless you have initiated the call, and you are able to verify the identity of the person or company on the other end of the line.
- Remember, no utility company; civil servant; or government agency will ever ask you to wire money.
In these scenarios, perpetrators often take time to get to know their victims via telephone or online conversations. Eventually, the love interest asks for money for something—maybe to purchase a plane ticket to visit or for help with some financial troubles or a sick relative.
How to avoid
- Pay attention to the type of language your suitor uses. Often these scammers are from foreign countries. If their use of the English language is a little off, that is a red flag.
- Never provide personal information to someone who you have not met face-to-face and come to trust.
- Check people out online. Look up the person on Google and Facebook. If you have a photo, upload it to tineye.com. This will allow you to see where it has appeared. Many scammers simply use photos they’ve found online in various places.
Social Media Scams
Many scams that show up on social networking sites, like Facebook and Twitter, are phishing scams aiming to collect your personal information or install malware on your computer. Some common ones are phony customer service accounts on Twitter, fake social media accounts offering discounts for real businesses, online surveys and quizzes designed to steal your personal information.
How to avoid
- Adjust your privacy settings, so only friends and followers can see your posts and the personal information you share.
- Don’t click on suspicious links, as they may direct you to sites that install malware on your computer.
- Don’t download any apps or take any quizzes that ask for your date of birth, social security number, or home address.
If you spot a scam, or are the victim of a scam, report it to the Federal Trade Commission. You can make the report online or call the FTC at 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357) or TTY 1-866-653-4261.