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Enjoying Life Without Getting Scammed

Scammers are Lurking Everywhere

We live in a miraculous time of unlimited opportunity with technological advantages the previous generations could only have dreamed of. Even a decade ago, we couldn’t have imagined that the ubiquitous smart phone and high speed, globally connected network would so revolutionize our lives.

But with every revolution comes its downsides and risks. Such as: opportunities for peace and quiet are growing scant, our privacy has been seriously compromised, and, our personal information (identity) and financial security are under attack. I suspect the following examples will sound familiar.

Every day, I receive at least ten calls from numbers and area codes that I do not recognize, some from as far away as Lithuania. On top of that, I receive several more from “unknown callers” or unfamiliar numbers that appear to be from my local region. And, of course, there are the dozen or so emails I receive nearly every week asking for personal information or money in one form or another.

I usually ignore the phone calls, assuming legitimate callers will leave a message. On occasion though, I will admit, I pick up and wait for a pause before asking the caller “what would your mother think if she knew you were doing this?” It appears they don’t care what their mothers think, never mind me. One told me his mother had hired him to make the calls and was sitting next to him. Ouch. The Queen song “Tie Your Mother Down” comes to mind.

Some of these callers are legitimate, wanting to sell you something or solicit contributions on behalf of charity, but many others are engaged in criminal activity and want to take advantage of you. At best, these calls can be annoying. At worst, they can be destructive.

As for emails I don’t recognize- even if they appear to be legitimate, I am extremely careful because they sometimes contain viruses that can infect computers and make our lives miserable.

We’ve all read about cyberattacks against corporations, municipal governments and individuals that shut down their computer systems until a ransom is paid. Baltimore is the latest large city dealing with this extremely damaging and costly crisis.

Not to mention, the count of credit cards across my family that have been compromised (i.e. information stolen with fraudulent charges registered) is now at five in just the past two years.

Whether you are an organization large or small, or an individual, the operational advice is the same. Be on alert because the dreaded scammers, trying their best to appear honest, are lurking everywhere and coming for you next.

2018 – A Record Year for Scammers

New scams are being created or revised regularly as cyber criminals work tirelessly to stay one step ahead of security upgrades and law enforcement. As detailed by Matt Tatham (March 11, 2019) on credit-reporting company Experian’s website, a breathtaking 47,567 new scams were added to the Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker list in 2018 alone.

The most common cons often involve the online sites and services we rely on most frequently, which only serves to heighten our risk of being victimized.

Current attempts reported by Experian to separate you from your money include fraudulent Airbnb ads, Amazon order delivery or cancellation emails, Apple iPhone phishing scams, fake mobile banking apps, gift card scams, Instagram fake ads, Medicare and other senior-related scams, and Netflix email phishing scams.

A few of the more common scams being repeated year after year, because they continue working, include phony calls from the IRS; contacts from technology support teams claiming your computer has a virus; any email claiming you won a prize, lottery, or are due an inheritance, each subject to your paying a “processing fee”; and the local sheriff’s office claiming you did not show up for jury duty.

The clever scammers are preying on the two emotions which most drive human misbehavior: fear and greed. So, if you are human, online, and otherwise in communication with the world, you are at serious risk of fraud. You must be aware, awake and ever vigilant.

Simple Rules to Follow

Here are some simplerules to follow for protecting your personal information and wallet:

  • If you receive a call with a pre-recorded message along with any type of threat, such as, if you do not call back a warrant will be issued for your arrest, hang up immediately.
  • If you receive a call from the IRS, hang up immediately. Especially if you really owe them money. Seriously, the IRS does not make outgoing calls without prior written communications. If they want something from you, they will always contact you by mail.
  • If anyone wants you to send money via wire or by using gift cards, hang up immediately
  • If you receive an unexpected email, even if it appears to be legitimate, do not open it until you have confirmed the sender’s email. If it does not appear correct or you feel any uncertainty, delete it immediately.
  • If you receive an email with grammatical or spelling errors, delete it immediately.

A Few More Guidelines

When in doubt, err on the side of caution. If you think any call or email is suspicious, here are a few more guidelines to follow:

  • Never send money or provide personal information. Legitimate organizations do not operate this way.
  • Never provide access to your financial information, even if the caller appears to be from your bank or brokerage firm.
  • Never provide your PIN codes or passwords. Keep them in a safe place that cannot be infiltrated by anyone but you.
  • Never click on any links or attachments that haven’t been carefully vetted.
  • Report all suspicious activities to authorities immediately.

Develop Habitual Behaviors for Enhanced Security

Finally, five security steps that you must follow. They should become as habitual as breathing:

  • Make sure that you or someone you trust reviews your bank and credit card statement(s) every month for suspicious activity. Keep an online eye on your account activity throughout the month as well.
  • Make sure your computer has good, updated security software.
  • Update your computers and devices as soon as they become available. Caveat: check carefully the source of the email requesting that you take this updating action, as always. The computer operating software is regularly updated with the latest security protections but has also been a fertile target of scammers.
  • You should never let your credit card go out of your sight. If it means paying cash or making other arrangements at a restaurant, for example, so be it. In fact, the old-fashioned paying cash in lieu of credit is an under-appreciated form of identity protection.
  • Avoid free trial offers, understanding that in the world of commerce nothing of value is free.

Final Thoughts

In the years ahead, our online communications and commerce will only grow, and our risks of being scammed will grow along with it. When in doubt, assume the worst, hit the delete button and move on.

Remember that you can easily block any incoming phone number in your cell phone settings. And you should visit the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Better Business Bureau (BBB) websites, and/or call local police, to report any suspected fraudulent activities.

Finally, there are several legitimate companies that offer various levels of security services to help protect you from scammers. Depending on your needs and concerns, this is an area you should explore.

Being mindful of the extraordinary security risks we live with and following the above rules will go a long way in helping to protect your identity and wallet. We wish you safe and prosperous online travels in the years ahead.