When you think about cyber security and how to protect yourself, you likely think about the ‘ole standbys, like updating your passwords regularly and being careful about how you use public Wi-Fi. But, there are other very tricky, sly-fox types of threats to your cyber security. In fact, some of them are so tricky, you could be willingly giving out your personal information like you’d give a kid a mini candy bar on Halloween. Creepy, right? Well, have no fear, we’re here to arm you with the proper tools so you can beef up your cyber security smarts and one-up those clever cyber scammers if they come your way.
And with October being Cybersecurity Awareness Month, the time is right to protect yourself before the upcoming holiday season. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), there were more than 2.4 million fraud reports from consumers in 2022. That’s a lot, like A LOT a lot. We want to help you stay safe, so we’re here to show you what to look for to keep you and your family protected.
So, what is a Cyber Scam, anyway?
In short, cyber scams are terrible, unlawful acts that take place online, such as through email, text messages and social media. Typically, they are attempts to get unsuspecting people to hand over sensitive information, such as bank account numbers, social security numbers and account login information. Some will also try to convince you to send money (remember the infamous Nigerian Prince email scam?). What’s even scarier is that anyone with a computer, mobile device and online accounts can be a victim. In fact, in recent years, there have been more scams targeted at teens than ever before.
Ok, we all want to be “The Final Girl” rather than the victim in this horror movie, right? And we can be! It just helps to know what to look for and what to do to stay safe. Here are some common cyber scams to watch out for.
Update Account Scams
If you purchase services from companies like Netflix, Apple, Amazon or even have a credit card from a bank, it’s common to get emails or texts promoting new products or offers. But, the ones you really need to pay attention to are the ones claiming that there’s a problem with your account. The message may say, “payment failed” or “problem with your order” or “missed delivery.” The message will then ask you to verify or update your account or billing information by clicking a link or following instructions in an attachment. Doing either of these can install malware on your device or give the scammers your login information for your account.
Rather than clicking or downloading anything, first look for things like misspellings in the messages (thankfully for us, crooks are frequently spelling-bee flunkies!) or a message greeting that says “Dear Customer” rather than using your name. If on your computer, you can also hover your cursor over the link in the email to see the true email address or destination URL. If it looks unfamiliar, don’t click it. Instead, go directly to the company’s official website or call their customer service number to investigate whether or not they intended to send you this message. Chances are, they didn’t. When in doubt, delete the message!
Email Extortion Scams
Ever open your inbox to this… “I have invaded your webcam and captured embarrassing things you have done on your computer. Send me $30,000 or I’ll release this footage of you to the WORLD! You have until 5pm tomorrow.” Wow, how threatening and terrifying, right? Well, don’t have a panic attack quite yet. First, we know that you haven’t done embarrassing things on your computer. Second, this is another common scam that’s been floating around the digital world for some time, and if you’re a fan of Black Mirror, you’ve likely seen the cyber extortion blackmail episode (kept us awake for days!).
If you think you’ve become the prime target of some malicious thief who knows what you do in private, take a deep breath and rest assured that you’re just one of a few thousand who probably received that same email. The cowardly scammers behind the keyboard will send one of these messages to large batches of random email addresses to see who will give in to this threat and hand over their moola. This is likely a nonsense scam. To be sure, perform a simple Google search to see if others have reported this or if articles have been published about it. Otherwise, simply delete the email, take a deep cleansing breath, cover up your webcam and move on.
Social Media Scams
Social media, the place we go to be influenced, to share our lives, to stay connect with friends and family, to watch cat videos and to be…scammed? Yep. And we’re not just talking about hacked profiles when you click a link from a “friend” who sends you a “Is this YOU in the video?” message. That one is bad enough, but there are some less common, yet equally as tricky, scams out there to be aware of as well.
For instance, brands have a huge presence on social media sites. Nine million active advertisers are on Facebook alone, so it’s guaranteed that you’ll see a fair share of ads while you scroll past that post of Aunt Betty’s kitchen makeover. But some of these “ads” aren’t what they seem. In fact, they can be bogus advertisers just waiting to get your money for a phony product. What makes this even worse? They impersonate real businesses or individuals’ Etsy shops. So you think you’re ordering a custom-made gift only to receive something that doesn’t even resemble the product. You get junk, the actual business owner gets a bad rep, and the scammer makes out with your money.
Many people also turn to the digital space looking for love. Sadly, scammers know this and they’re making a killing. Known as Romance scammers, they set up fake profiles with fake pictures and information on social media sites that they likely stole from someone else’s profile, then reach out to unsuspecting romance-seekers (or just people who list themselves as single). They sweet-talk them over social media chat features to gain their trust, make them think that they want to meet, make excuses why they can’t, create a story about being in trouble, and then, ”BOOM”, ask their victims to send money to help. Sadly, many people fall for this because they believe they met their true romantic match. So not only are their hearts broken, their money has been stolen.
So, if you see ads for products from unknown sellers or are contacted to connect with someone you don’t know, do your due diligence and research before buying products or falling in love with a 2D face on your screen. Research advertisers and people who try to connect with you. If their profiles appear newly created and have limited content, those are definite red flags. And remember to always trust your gut. If something feels off, it probably is. The more you know how to spot a social media scam, the safer you will be.
Along with these tips to beef up your cyber security, when it comes to protecting yourself online, remember to stay alert, take your time, and also remember that you can be part of the solution through the FTC by calling its consumer hotline at 877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357) to report suspicious activity.
So cyber security sleuth, stay safe during Cybersecurity Awareness Month and all through the year. And, if you’re looking for even more tips to stay secure – Moneytree has additional resources to help you protect yourself.
Updated Sept. 2023