What You Should Know so You Don’t Fall Victim to a Scam

Whether it’s a smartphone, laptop, tablet, or desktop computer, most of us are dependent on our connection to the internet at some point during the day.  We use technology for school, work, and leisure without giving much thought to the dangers that wait for us every time we log in, yet we should proceed with caution.  Using many elaborate scams and creative ploys designed to steal your money or identity, cyberthieves will try to get your social security number, banking information, account numbers, birthdate, passwords, and anything else they can obtain.  As it is much harder to undo damage than prevent it, it’s important we take measures to protect our personal information whenever online so that we don’t fall victim to internet scammers.


Tips for Keeping Your Information Safe

  • Do not click on links or attachments you are not expecting.  When opening emails in either your work or personal accounts, use caution.  Even if it appears to be sent from someone you know, if you were not expecting to receive a communication with links or attachments, call the sender to verify authenticity before clicking on what might potentially be a malicious link or virus waiting to do harm.
  • Use multifactor authentication whenever possible.  An example is when you enter your username and password and then are sent a verification code by way of email, text, or mobile app to ensure that it is really you attempting to access the account.
  • Do not reuse passwords.  If a scammer finds out a password, they have tools to put it through software that sees what other sites it may “open.”  This usually happens within minutes!  You can be compromised on multiple platforms before you realize you’ve been hacked.
  • Do not use public Wi-Fi when accessing information that you want to keep secure.  Public Wi-Fi can easily have other “eyes” viewing and capturing your information.
  • Log out of apps containing sensitive data as soon as you are done using them.  Many banking and credit card apps have an automatic timeout feature built in, but you do not want to risk leaving any account open and vulnerable.  Make it a habit to log out when you’re finished.  
  • Make sure your devices are protected with current antivirus software and that you install updates when they are available.  Software and apps are constantly updating to keep you safe as fraudsters develop more sophisticated means of gaining access to your information. Sometimes a patch of a program will be updated and other times an entire operating system is improved.  For the best protection, keep your devices backed up regularly and current with the most recent versions.
  • Watch out for new scams.  While you may already be on guard for telephone and pandemic-related scams, our society’s general comfort level with social media leaves us vulnerable and con artists continue to develop ways to exploit this. 

There are many more versions of scams out there, but here’s a few popular examples:

  1. FACEBOOK – Maybe you get a “friend request” from someone you don’t exactly remember, but you see that their request has already been accepted by a dozen of your known friends from high school, so you assume this is how this person knows you.  Soon after you accept their request, this individual starts a dialogue with you directly by way of online chat or email, and they know enough about your past “shared” experiences that you let your guard down.  This may go on for weeks or months but ends with them asking you for money by way of a sad situation or a great opportunity.  In reality, this is a con artist, not a long-lost friend.  Scammers are willing to play the long game, earning your trust, before asking for anything.  
  2. ROMANCE SCAM is a variation of the FACEBOOK scam only they will use dating sites to establish a connection and always have an excuse not to meet in person.
  3. QUICK MONEY WORKING FROM HOME – You may be solicited by email, phone or even LinkedIn message.  You’re getting a special opportunity to make quick cash while working from home.  Once you’re “hired” your personal information, including social security number and bank account number, will be collected to “pay” you by direct deposit. The best case with this scam is that there is no job, and your information has been compromised.  In the worst cases, victims have unwittingly become money launderers, and sometimes criminally liable, as their accounts are used to move stolen or bad checks.    
  4. OVERPAYMENT SCAM – You might be selling an item online.  A “buyer” invents a reason he has to overpay for the item when sending you the money and wants you to wire back the difference right away (before his payment clears your account).  Victimized sellers find that the buyer’s payment was fake, and they have lost the money they refunded to the con artist.  This scam has also been used repeatedly to target small businesses providing services.
  • Do not give out personal information to anyone who has contacted you unexpectedly.  A skilled fraudster may contact you pretending to be a representative of a legitimate company or organization who is trying to help you “unlock your suspended account” or solve some other fictitious problem. They can verify certain information about you but will then press you for more confidential details like your social security number, passwords, or bank account information.
  • Never make a payment to someone who has contacted you about a bill you were unaware of.  While it’s true that you might receive legitimate invoices through email or have the ability to make payments through online apps, it’s most likely you will recognize those charges and have an established, secure way to pay those bills.  The biggest red flag that “overdue bill” scams have in common is a sense of urgency and stress.  Scammers are hoping you won’t think as clearly when rushed.  Always remember you can hang up the phone or ignore the email.  If you have any question about the possibility of an overdue or overlooked bill, contact the service provider or agency directly using the phone number from your official account statements.  Even if you owe money to an organization, there are procedures in place they will use to collect funds, and they are not as extreme as con artists would have you believe. 

Some of the false pretenses and threats con artists may contact you with:

  1. They are calling on behalf of your doctor.  (They may not even know your doctor’s name but will be willing to try in hopes that you will fill in the blanks for them!)  You have a past due balance and if you don’t pay it immediately, not only will your appointment be canceled but it will ruin your credit because they will put you in collections.
  2. They are from the IRS.  You must pay your overdue taxes over the phone with them, or they will be sending the police to arrest you.
  3. They are a field agent from your electric company.  They are about to cut your power because you didn’t pay the new federal charge added to your last bill.  If you make a payment over the phone right now, they can stop the work order.    
  • Monitor your credit and banking statements.  In addition to this being good practice for your personal financial health, if you spot unfamiliar activity, there is a chance your virtual security has been breached.  You might be vigilant about protecting your digital information at all times, only to discover that you are seeing unknown charges to your debit card after you filled your car with gas.  It’s possible there was a skimming device attached to a card reader at the pump.  Some devices are virtually undetectable and can easily be missed.  These skimming machines have been discovered in gas stations, grocery stores, major retailers and directly on ATM machines.  While it may not be possible to spot the device, if you monitor your accounts for suspicious activity, you can work with your financial institution to reverse any invalid charges and replace any compromised debit cards.       
  • Always remain on guard.  Think twice before sharing anything personal online.  Even something as simple as posting a picture of your grandkids getting an award at school on your social media account can reveal details you wouldn’t think of as relevant but could be a starting point for a con artist to enter your world.  Use discretion and always keep your account settings private.

No one wants to feel as if they are constantly under attack, however exercising caution and a healthy dose of skepticism can be a good policy in the digital world we live in.  Taking measures to guard our personal information and carefully choosing who we share details with can prevent us from becoming victims of cyberattacks or scams.  If you have any questions about the ways you can protect yourself before or after a cybersecurity breach, please feel free to contact us.