You’ve heard the story before: Scammer poses as a familiar business or service provider, victim is lured into providing personal information, scammer steals victim’s identity.
It’s an oldie, but for scammers it’s still a goodie—to the tune of 80,000 people tricked each day into sharing personal information.
Unfortunately, the story isn’t changing anytime soon, even if some of the methods of stealing personal info evolve with the times. Scammers still most commonly reach out via email.
However, they may also make phone calls, send text messages, or message victims through social media sites, convincing the victims of their legitimacy by providing personal details easily pulled from the internet.
Thankfully, there are ways to avoid becoming part of this cautionary tale. Here are some tips for avoiding the hooks of phishing scams:
How to spot suspicious emails
Online scam artists have become increasingly sophisticated with their subterfuge. As a result, it’s often difficult to differentiate between a phishing message and a legitimate one. But there are red flags that you can look for. The email sender may offer unrealistic promises (say, extremely generous compensation for taking a survey), or the message might contain an embedded URL that, when hovered over, reveals a different web address.
Your email provider’s spam filter will reel in a good portion of these phishing scams. For the ones that get through to your inbox, ignore them—don’t reply, click embedded links, or open attachments. If you suspect an email is from a scammer, delete it and add the domain and email address to your spam filter to prevent a recurrence.
As a general rule, it’s best not to share any personal information over the internet. If you do need to provide financial information over the web to complete a transaction, only use secure sites. You can verify a site’s security by looking for a lock icon on the browser’s status bar or by finding a URL that begins with “https.” The “s” signifies that you’re using a secure site. Though remember, secure doesn’t mean invulnerable.
Strengthen your computer's protection
It’s a good idea to beef up your computer’s defenses while you’re at it. Equipping yourself with sufficient antivirus software will help identify when something’s not right. If your software doesn’t update automatically, be sure to update it manually on a frequent basis so it will recognize and reject the most current viruses and scams.
A strong firewall will prevent many scams by blocking communications from foreign, unauthorized sources. It’s especially prudent to run a firewall if you use a broadband connection.
Having another few hundred Facebook friends isn’t worth the risk of a stolen identity. Avoid friending or otherwise accepting communications from strangers via social media. It’s easy to forget just how much personal information you share in your posts and profiles; make sure you’re not laying out your life for just anyone to see.
Scammers’ bag of tricks is deep and always growing, so even the most vigilant individuals could be compromised. If you have reason to believe you’ve fallen victim to a scam, contact us ASAP. But don’t stop there—it’s important to file your complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at ftc.gov, too. You can also visit the FTC’s Scam Alerts and Identity Theft sites to read up on the current scams or to learn how to minimize the fallout should the worst happen.