As our lives become more and more connected digitally, we’re increasingly vulnerable to online scams. Unfortunately, these scams are ever-evolving and aren’t going away anytime soon. We’ve rounded up some of the most popular scams we’re seeing right now and ways you can protect yourself below.
There are a number of different ways scammers are using the global pandemic to take advantage of unsuspecting citizens. As they have during past disasters, charity scams have been making another appearance during this time. One of the easiest ways to avoid one of these scams is to search the charity name along with “complaint,” “review,” “rating,” or “scam.” The FTC outlines other ways to identify false charities here.
Other scammers have used stimulus payments to trick consumers into giving private information. Posing as the IRS or other government institutions, they will ask for your personal information or try to charge you fake fees for getting your stimulus check or offer you a way to get extra money via phone or email.
A third popular coronavirus online scam centers around testing and treatments. Be on the lookout for emails that offer “at-home” test kits and “miracle” cures or vaccines. Medicare recipients are being specifically targeted with offers for free testing through email, phone calls, and mailers. Know that there is no miracle cure or vaccine at this time and that you should seek out a professional organization for needed testing.
A secure network is your first step of protection for online scams. Learn how to strengthen your network security here.
The 2020 U.S. Census has offered another opportunity for scammers to target unsuspecting consumers. Posing as workers from the Census Bureau, criminals will attempt to collect personal information to use for fraud or to steal your identity. These scam artists may send you letters and emails that appear to be from the U.S. Census Bureau. Some may even go as far as coming to your house.
Because the Census Bureau is aware of these attempts, they offer resources and tips for identifying a census-related scam on their website.
Scam artists are using both email and text messages to engage consumers in phishing scams. These scams are so successful that the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center has reported that people lost $57 million to phishing schemes in one year.
Often, these emails and texts look like they’re coming from companies you know and trust. It may seem like Amazon is contacting you to alert you of fraud on your account, asking you to click a link to learn more about the incident. Or they could pose as your cell phone carrier or others. These scams will often give off a sense of urgency, a tactic used to throw the consumer off base so they will make fast, panicked decisions.
If you receive an email or text message that seems to be coming from a company you trust or do business with, search the company name and get a customer service number off their official website. From there, you can speak with their internal team to determine if the request is real or an online scam.
Protecting Yourself from Online Scams
Scam artists may be relentless, but there are a few things you can do to protect yourself from mobile and online scams.
- Download security software: It’s essential to make sure that any computer you are using is equipped with security software. You’ll also want to set it to update automatically, so you don’t have to worry about being vulnerable to new attacks as they develop.
- Set your phone to update automatically: Did you know that there are additional security safeguards in many software updates for your cell phone? For the same reason you want to keep your computer security updated, you’ll want to make sure you don’t miss out on any important updates for your cell phone.
- Activate multi-factor authentication: While some find it to be cumbersome, multi-factor authentication is a powerful safeguard against scams and viruses. The idea is that in order to log into your account you’ll not only need to use information you know (i.e. your password) but also something you possess. Often this is done by sending a code to your cell phone via text. That way, even if your password information is stolen, a criminal won’t be able to log into your account.
Stay Safe Online
The most important thing you can do to avoid becoming a victim of a scam is to stay informed and research any communication that seems fishy or off to you. Subscribe to the OTELCO blog to stay informed with the latest security tips, cyber news, and network information. If you think your information has been stolen, go to IdentityTheft.gov, and if you believe you’ve been the target of a phishing attack you can submit a complaint to the FTC. Most importantly, keep your wits about you, and you’ll be just fine!