Hot Scams and You

Beyond anti-virus software, anti-spyware software, firewalls, and routine updates to your system, there are things you can watch for every day while using personal technology. Take a look at the hottest scams versus seven tips for protecting yourself.

The Scams

1. Phishing

Who are you really talking to?

Phishing emails attempt to impersonate companies or authorities to fool you into providing personal information, particularly passwords. This type of scam can be also be committed via your personal social networks. For instance, you receive an urgent email from Google.Your email has been hacked! Keep your account safe by clicking this link and entering a new password!

Of course, now you are also prompted for your current password. In effect, the hacker uses your fear of having your account hacked in order to hack your account! The consequences can run from annoying to devastating.

Tip: A reputable company will never request personal info via email.

It gets even worse when the fraudster impersonates your financial institution. You click a link that appears to be from your bank, asking you to verify your account credentials. Just enter your routing and account number and… you can guess the rest. Check out Am I a Bank Account Fraud Victim? Here’s What You Should Know, which details the warning signs of attempted bank fraud and what steps to take if your account has been compromised.

Tip: Do not open unsolicited emails, or attachments.

2. Email Spoofing

Only open attachments from people you know.

It sounds like straightforward advice, but identifying the true email sender can be more difficult than you would think. Email spoofing is a deceptive tactic that malware distributors use.  They search through your contacts for familiar names or email addresses, then falsify the sender field of your email. The intent is to make you more likely to click on an attachment or link, thus infecting your machine with software that is specifically designed to harm your computer. The malware also plunders your contact list for fresh targets to further spread the infection. So if a friend tells you that they received a strange email from you, it likely means your account has been compromised.

3. Pop-up Scams / Redirects

Act Now!

These are fake but very urgent-sounding warnings that pop-up out of nowhere. These are designed to scare you.  They will often urge you to call a phone number where someone posing as a tech support guy will ask for your sensitive information, passwords, or maybe even try to get you to purchase phony computer protection. Because they often impersonate Microsoft or Apple, or mimic “anti-virus software” notifications, it’s important to remember that tech support simply does not work this way. If your anti-virus software finds a suspicious file, it will quietly quarantine it in the background. It may display a message in your toolbar, but it will quickly disappear. It will not announce that it’s infected with fanfare and flashing colors.

To identify these scams, watch out for telltale signs such as:

  • Grammar and spelling mistakes
  • Oddball message from “friends” or acquaintances
  • Anything that prompts you to provide personal info
  • Offersthat sound too good to be true

7 Tips For Protecting Yourself

1. Compartmentalize your Online Identity

Many online services (think Google+) offer to link your accounts to make logging in more convenient across websites. But if you want to make yourself harder to track, you should keep these accounts separate.

In fact, you can go a step further and use different email addresses during registration to further fracture your online ID. At a minimum, use a different email address for your banking (or anything that keeps a credit card on file) than you would social media, or other non-financial accounts.

2. Check your Privacy Settings:

Go into the Settings/Options menu of every web browser you use and make sure your privacy settings are optimized.

3. Beware of What You Share

Social media will never go away. Neither will the information you post there. Try to limit the amount of sensitive info you post, and be careful about who you’re sharing it with. For instance, posting your current location might tip off a burglar that you’re away on vacation.

4. Never Enter More Info Than You Have To

Whenever you find yourself filling out a form online, complete only the required fields. These are generally the ones with an asterisk next to them. There’s no need to give away your personal details when you don’t have to.

5. Use Strong Passwords

A strong password is one that is hard for another person to guess. You’ll want to strike a balance between making it hard to figure out, and easy enough to remember. Avoid words that include pet or family member names, birthdates, and other identifying personal information.

Instead, use an inside joke, random but memorable phrase, and combinations of letters numbers and symbols. Also, do not reuse the same passwords across many accounts. If someone guesses your one password, they will have access to all your accounts.

6. Do Not Track Request

All web browsers have a feature that sends a “Do Not Track” request. However, websites are not required to honor this request, and most don’t. It can’t hurt to enable this setting though.

7. Send Sensitive Stuff Safely

In light of the phishing scams mentioned above, it’s handy to know the clues that you’re on a safe, authentic website. If you are using private information online, check for the https: prefix in the website address. If it has that extra “s”, it means the website is keeping your information secure.

Fraudsters are always coming up with ways to scam you. The hottest scams today are phishing and spoofing. Use one or all of the seven tips above to keep one step ahead.

Author: Aaron White, Date: 31st March 2016


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