The Internet has changed so many aspects of our daily lives, and for most of us it feels it has become a force of nature. It’s so big and powerful that it’s almost scary, and most people aren’t entirely sure how it works.
Internet-based criminals steal millions of dollars each year. The internet and cybersecurity continue to evolve and change, but scams will always be a problem. The best thing you can do is to take preventative measures before you do business over the Internet, and to stay informed on the most common scams.
What kinds of scams are out there?
While most of us have heard stories of scams like Ponzi schemes and Nigerian Princes, not every scam is as easy to identify. Unfortunately, there are many people who fall victim to scams simply because they aren’t aware of them. This isn’t a complete list, but here are a few of the most common types of scams.
One more common scam that you may, or may not, have heard of is called “phishing.” These scams are a form of digital identity theft, where the scammer creates official-looking emails to bait their victims into updating or verifying personal information. In reality, the victim is not connected to a legitimate institution at all, and is instead tricked into revealing sensitive personal information like passwords, social security numbers, and account numbers.
Phishing emails look real, and they will often use scare tactics, such as threatening to suspend your account, if you don’t act quickly. There are also other, related scams that use phone calls or SMS/text messaging to collect personal information in a similar manner. These also attempt to throw the victim off their guard by posing as a legitimate organization.
Malware & Viruses
Another type of scam uses software to gain access to their computer or other device. Visiting untrusted websites or opening email attachments from unknown contacts is unsafe, as you could be giving a scammer the opportunity to gain access to your device and network.
Keep your computer, your browsers, and your software updated, and don’t ignore security warnings. Use antivirus software, and play close attention to links in emails, and email attachments, especially if they came from someone you don’t know.
Finally, many scammers will design their scams to take advantage of timely events or the unique situations of their victims. For example, a scammer might try to gather the victim’s personal information by claiming they owe taxes, or using a fake public health update on something like the Coronavirus. Some scammers even prey on people who use online dating sites or other digital social networking sites.
How to protect yourself
The unfortunate truth is that scams are getting more and more sophisticated and realistic every year. The good news is that cybersecurity is also getting stronger and more adaptable. Regardless, it’s a good idea to learn some digital best practices and cybersecurity tips to help you avoid the internet scams we’ve discussed.
You may have noticed that many of the scams we discussed above involve the victim’s personal information. This trend goes back to one of the cardinal rules of internet safety: Never give out your personal information when you receive an unsolicited request. Emails, phone calls, and text messages from scammers can look like the real thing. If you did not initiate the communication, do not offer or “verify” your personal information.
If you aren’t sure the communication is legitimate, don’t respond to the request directly. You should instead contact the organization through the usual channels, such as the phone number or email address you receive on previous official communication. For example, if you have a monthly statement from your financial institution, you should be able to find official contact information in the documentation.
If you receive a communication that is attempting to intimidate you, it’s a scam. AgFed or any other legitimate organization would not resort to these kinds of threats. You should also never click on any link or download any attachment that you are not certain is legitimate.
Never share your passwords with anyone. It is also a good idea to refrain from writing passwords down, and never allow a public computer to save them. Consider using a good password management app if you have too many passwords to remember.
If you would like to see whether your email address, phone number, or password has been compromised, you can check here: https://haveibeenpwned.com/
What to do if you’ve been compromised
Believe it or not, the majority of identity fraud crimes are self-detected. AgFed members can help protect their accounts simply by reviewing account statements regularly and verifying that all charges are correct. If you notice a discrepancy or fraudulent charge, contact us immediately.
There are also other steps you can take if you believe your personal information has been compromised.
You can visit https://www.annualcreditreport.com to get one free credit report per year from each of the three bureaus. Review the reports for any fraudulent activity, and work with the bureaus to dispute the bad information and get it removed. You may need to place a freeze on your credit report so that scammers can’t open cards or get loans in your name.
If a card or account has been compromised, you may also need to take additional steps to find and prevent fraud, such as freezing affected accounts or stopping payments, filing a police report, or contacting the FTC or Social Security Administration.