Even the least technical among us now are wired into the vast computer network called the Internet and using apps built by people all over the world. Most of us are comfortable putting some portion of our identity out there online in many different ways. And the fear people use to have about using credit cards online is not as common as it once was.
With all of this, it is more important than ever to be able to spot a scammer and prevent the theft of your identity or money.
What is a scam?
First, you do not want to be able to trust anyone. Someone asking for your email address to enter a contest is probably just good marketing and not a scam. However, any time you enter your email you should consider if it is worth it. Do you want regular emails from the company or website in exchange for a tiny chance to win something?
Email has been very difficult for even highly educated technical people. Once one person has their inbox hacked, then anyone in that inbox can get emails from anyone else in that inbox with links to viruses. If someone you know sends you an email saying “I found this link for you” or something like that – do not click.
Also, anyone offering you money or needing some info when you did not initiate the contact should not be easily trusted. Remember, your bank, the IRS and other organizations can be called to confirm that they need something from you. Use a trusted phone number, not the one in the email you are unsure of.
Job offer in email? This also could be a scam. Many Multi-Level Marketing companies lure people in with a “job offer” to get them into the MLM company which costs money and does not guarantee any income.
One way to quickly find these things out is to search “company name scam” and read some sites about it.
Any time you give software permission to install or access your computer you are also giving them access to everything on your computer. This means you should only install highly trusted things. While the average person might think
- I have virus protection and
- This software must have been reviewed by someone
These are not always the safeguards you think they are. Virus protection does not protect you from giving software you install the right to access your computer, unless it is a known and documented threat. And new threats come out every day.
Also, the idea that code is reviewed is not actually possible or practical. There is a lot more trust involved than the average person realizes.
All of this means you should be careful what you install and also careful what you keep on your phone and computer.
Phone scams occur in many forms. Automated voice as well as people calling. Just as in emails, you should not give information to people that call you. If you call a company directly like your credit card company, the IRS, your medical company – then you know you are talking to a real representative. I once had a company send me an email from their company email to verify they were real. While even this could be faked, it would take some time so it gave me the confidence to do business with them. Nearly always I do not even answer calls though.
What can be especially dangerous is when you are new to a category and do not know how the systems work. For example, college or turning 65. If people know your age they can guess that you are experiencing new systems such as college registration, scholarships, medicare, etc. Much easier to trick someone new to a system like this so you have to be extra vigilant.
Mail is just as dangerous as any other form of communication. One common scam is looking up people’s ownership information if they own a domain (this is by default public information) and sending them a fake invoice for domain SEO. It will be something like $75 per year. Since the domain is a once a year type renewal, people forget the process and pay these fraudulent invoices. You should have your domain set up to auto-renew and you should check it once a year online to make sure your credit card has not expired. It is very unlikely they will send you a paper invoice.
These are just some of the scams you can get hit with. It is changing all the time and some are very sophisticated. Be smart and skeptical of anything that sounds too good to be true. Stay safe.