Technology is a blessing for most, but the anonymity of the internet has given rise to mischievous fraudsters and scammers. Gone are the days when you’d receive an urgent email from faraway Nigerian princes who desperately require your help. Instead, today’s internet and tech scammers have found stealthy new ways to steal identities, hack databases and dupe unsuspecting do-gooders into handing them money.
Do you know how to spot a scam? It might not be as easy as you think. Here are six scams to watch out for to keep yourself and your family safe.
You’ve probably heard of phishing, though modern hackers’ tactics have evolved and are getting more deceitful every day. Phishing scams that targeted large corporations increased in late 2018; even tech and IT teams are vulnerable to hackers.1 While phishing scams can take many forms, the general purpose is to steal your personal information such as your credit card, bank account number and other protected personal data.
Though it’s not possible to identify every form of phishing you may encounter, a few general tips should help you browse more securely:
- Look for the lock symbol in your browser’s URL bar, especially when making a purchase, entering sensitive information or using a banking site. This lock symbol along with the “https” URL prefix indicate that a website is secure.
- Never click on URLs or download attachments from an email or social media posts that appear phishy. Scammers often provide their own malicious URL in hopes that you click the link that either looks like a legitimate site or may download a virus. If you receive a message from your bank or other company that asks you to log in, open a new browser tab and navigate to that page.
- Ignore pop-up messages, including warnings and advertisements that can mimic a company’s page; do not enter personal information in a pop-up window.
Like phishing, vishing scammers try to collect your personal information, but they use a phone to contact you. Some phishing schemes claim to call from a bank or government entity, hoping that you immediately respond to an urgent message. In order to avoid vishing scams, register for the National Do Not Call Registry. After you do, it’s likely that many of the unsolicited callers are fraudulent. Most banks and government agencies prefer to contact you via USPS mail. Debt collectors who call you should be able to furnish a written validation notice for binding debts. When in doubt, do not provide your personal information over the phone.
Another form of phishing, smishing schemes use text messages that appear to be from legitimate sources but are malicious in intent. If you receive any SMS text messages from numbers you don’t recognize, do not click on any links, call the number or respond to the message. In case you’re still unsure if a message is legitimate, contact the company directly.
4. Fake Data Breach Class Action Settlement Sites
After a massive data breach, such as with Equifax and Capital One in recent months, scammer sites that claim to represent class action suits surface in hopes of collecting personal information or payment from affected parties. These fake settlement sites promise to provide monetary compensation or other forms of protection, similar to the companies they pretend to be. But these sites may ask you to provide payment, a telltale sign that it’s a scam.
In order to fully protect yourself, make sure that the URL you’ve accessed the site through is legitimate. The Federal Trade Commission suggests starting from their site to ensure you haven’t accidentally clicked on a scam website.
5. Fake Crowdfunding Efforts
Crowdfunding is an efficient way to raise money for projects, bills, new businesses and other ventures from a lot of people at once. You may have seen crowdfunding requests for those with large hospital bills, victims of natural disasters or similar humanitarian efforts.
Even though websites like GoFundMe have published guidelines that help users ensure that the causes for which they’re donating are legitimate, some scammers will still try to defraud donors. Some of the illegitimate crowdfunding causes might be hard to tell apart. If you’re still uncertain of a particular fundraising request or see something that’s not quite right, you can report the campaign. Do not donate money unless you’re sure that it’s valid.
6. Gift Card Scams
A growing fraud trend comes from this unlikely source simply because digital gift cards are like cash: They’re virtually untraceable. Fraudsters may pose as officials or company representatives and contact you via email, text or phone with an urgent request. Only buying a gift card for Amazon, Google Play or similar marketplaces can appease them and stop the threat. Keep in mind that you (or anyone else) cannot use a store gift card to pay for legal or court fees.
1Jentzen, A. (February 2, 2019). The latest in phishing: first of 2019. Retrieved August 7, 2019, from https://www.proofpoint.com/us/security-awareness/post/latest-phishing-first-2019