While there is no foolproof way to protect ourselves against all emerging technology-based scams, Connecticut Better Business Bureau says consumers can arm themselves by understanding the two major objectives of online criminals: cheating people out of money and tricking them into divulging personal information to commit identity theft.
The evolving methods used by cybercriminals are becoming increasingly sophisticated. However, consumers’ two most powerful tools are research and skepticism.
The most common Internet scams to cheat consumers involve obtaining credit card information and getting them to send money by wire transfer. This type of fraud occurs in general merchandising by phony or lookalike websites, predatory offers such as credit-repair services, friendship swindles, fake check scams using online auctions and classified ads and requests for upfront payment to receive supposed lottery prizes and work-at-home kits.
The second category of cybercrime involves coaxing consumers to reveal personal information, including their Social Security number, date of birth, address and telephone numbers. This is done by sending out authentic-looking emails supposedly from government agencies, retailers, financial institutions and other businesses. These emails typically contain hyperlinks that lead to online forms requesting personal information or download malicious software that can steal login information or passwords.
Connecticut BBB offers the following recipe to stay ahead of cybercriminals:
Research before revealing – Research unfamiliar retailer and charity websites at http://www.bbb.org before entering a credit card number.
Be wary of unsolicited emails – Government agencies, credit card companies and banks will never ask for personal information such as a Social Security or Medicare number through email. In addition, when you receive a link to a “special deal” or coupon through a social network site, type in the Internet address yourself. A link’s true destination may be hidden, take you to a lookalike website or download malware onto your computer.
Use secure payment methods – Never send money by wire transfer to someone you don’t know. Use a credit card, online payment system or escrow service to pay for auction or classified ad items.
Beware of overpayment checks – Cybercriminals use scams that involve sending a legitimate-looking check and asking that the monetary difference be returned by wire transfer. Though the check may initially be accepted for deposit at a bank, it may take several days to bounce, resulting in the loss of the wired money and penalties.
Be selfish with personal information – Social media sites encourage sharing, however, avoid sharing your birthdate, address and other information that may be used to help put together a profile that can be used to steal your identity. Check the privacy settings for your profile and considering hiding your profile unless you approve a friendship/contact request.
Practice safe computing – Don’t use short passwords, or the same password for multiple sites. Passwords should contain a variety of upper and lower case letters and digits or characters. Ensure your computer anti-virus software and operating system are up to date with the latest security updates and run malware scans on a weekly basis.
There is no telling what new online threats lurk around the corner, however, common sense and an abundance of caution go a long way towards protecting yourself from online crime.