2020 has brought on a lot of extra stressors for consumers, but one that may not be getting enough attention is the rise of online scams that can cost you both your data and your savings. From phishing to romance scams, several reports say the number of victims has increased since the start of the pandemic, with individuals losing anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars.
As October is Cybersecurity Month, we’re sharing the top scams to be on the lookout for as well as actionable tips to help you protect yourself and your loved ones.
Phishing Scams: In essence, people running phishing scams pretend to be legitimate institutions and attempt to get victims to reveal sensitive information, such as social security numbers, bank account information, or passwords. While they do try to contact people via phone calls or texts asking for info, they most commonly send emails asking people to click a link to update their information. Sometimes clicking the link will download malicious software that can also steal your information. Common email phishing scams may appear as government agencies asking about taxes, popular services (like Amazon or Netflix) asking you to update your account, banks or financial institutions asking about your account information, contests claiming that you’re a winner, or even people you know asking you to “check out” a link they’ve sent you.
COVID-Related Scams: Many new scams have popped up this year related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Common COVID-related scams include false advertisements for bogus cures, tests or treatment, and people seeking insurance information or money. Most recently, contact tracing scams are on the rise, with scammers pretending to impersonate government agencies via phone calls or text messages claiming the contacted party has been exposed to COVID-19 and needs to act quickly. They then ask for payment or sensitive information.
Tech Support Scams: Tech support scammers may reach out to you via a phone call or pop-up advertisement pretending to be a well-known company and saying there is an issue with your computer. Then, they’ll ask for access to your computer, pretend to run some tests and then ask you to pay them to fix a problem that doesn’t exist or for a solution that is normally free or doesn’t work. Tech support scammers might also run online ads falsely advertising themselves as legitimate companies.
Romance Scams: These scams have been around for years, but they’re still relatively common with a reported $201 million lost to romance scams in 2019. Scammers create fake profiles on dating websites and apps, as well as on social media. After building a relationship with someone, they will ask victims to wire them money to pay off medical or credit card debts or pay for travel expenses and documents. They also may ask for gift cards or prepaid credit cards.
Don’t answer calls from unknown numbers: Most of us already do this with the increase of spam or robocalls, but it’s a good practice to protect yourself nonetheless. Remember many of these attackers have stepped up their game with caller ID spoofing, or using technology to make it appear as if their phone calls are coming from a specific number—either one that is known or trusted to the recipient, or one that indicates a specific geographic location. If you’re unsure, it’s best to let a call go to voicemail. Also consider blocking or reporting spam calls to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Look out for spelling or grammar errors: As scammers often pretend to be trusted or well-known organizations especially in phishing emails, it can be hard to tell at first glance that there is malicious intent. Read suspicious emails carefully and if there are any obvious errors in the copy, sender email address, or a link, it could be a scam.
Never click a link in an email or text message: If you don’t know the sender, it’s best not to click a link someone sends you, even if it might be tempting. Scammers often use scare tactics (i.e. “There’s a problem with your account” or “Your service will be canceled unless you act now”) to get you to click on a dangerous link.
When in doubt, reach out to an organization directly: Whether it’s a phone call or email, if it raises your suspicion, you can always hang up/ ignore it and reach out to an organization directly. For example, if you get a questionable email from “your bank,” call the number on your bank’s website or on the back of your debit card and ask about the issue. If it’s legitimate they will be there to help you and if not, they will help you take steps to avoid being scammed.
Educate yourself and the vulnerable people in your life: On top of learning about popular scams, take the time to research or even ask services you use about the information they will never reach out to you to ask for. For example, even your own bank should not be calling you directly to ask for your account number, password, or Social Security Number. It’s also important to educate vulnerable people in your life, such as elderly parents or grandparents, about these scams as they are often targeted.
If you think you fell for a scam, shared personal information, or accidentally clicked a suspicious link, don’t panic or feel bad about making a mistake. It can happen to anyone. It’s critical to take immediate action to protect your finances and your data. Contact your bank immediately as they will be able to freeze your bank accounts, change your online account information, report the scam, and more. The scam itself and any personal information revealed should be reported to the FTC and they will help you take steps toward recovery.
Overall, if you’re concerned about falling victim to scams there is no better way to protect yourself than education, prevention, and staying vigilant. And don’t be afraid to be overcautious when it comes to suspicious emails, phone calls, or texts. It may save you from a bigger headache down the road.
For more cybersecurity tips, subscribe to our FutureTrack Blog.