This blog post was written by Student Advisory Council member, David Gonzalez.
March 6th through the 12th marks National Consumer Protection Week this year. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) uses this week to bring heightened awareness to your rights as a consumer and to provide you with valuable information on how you can avoid fraudulent schemes. As technology has taken a stronger hold on our everyday lives, whether it’s paying a bill or shopping for clothes, now more than ever, it is important to keep yourself safe online.
Falling victim to fraud is an incredibly devastating experience regardless of how serious the situation appears to be. Luckily, there are steps you can take to control the situation. For more information about this, please consider reading our article about scam recovery, as well the FTC webpage.
For now, here are some tips on how you can protect yourself.
A phishing scam is one in which scammers send an email or message that seems to originate from a legitimate source, like a bank, a government agency, or a social media company. They often lack name-specific greetings and usually have a backstory about why they need you to provide them with more information—typically financial or account information. Using the information you provided, the scammers will then manipulate your online accounts or start new ones under your identity. The best way to respond to these is by not responding at all. Without clicking on any link, be sure to research the contact information and access the organization’s real site to err on the side of caution when investigating the legitimacy of a message.
If you are a victim of a phishing scam, please report your case to IdentityTheft.gov. And, here are some tips from the FTC on recognizing and avoiding phishing scams.
Cryptocurrencies are extremely popular forms of payment today, especially for young adults. However, using them comes with a large set of risks that are important to consider. Because of their decentralized nature, if you pay someone in a cryptocurrency, it is almost impossible to get your money back. As a rule of thumb, be wary of venders that require payment in cryptocurrency; they may be fraudulent.
Many of these scammers get money out of their victims by guaranteeing profits, blackmailing them, or sending messages to people from hacked accounts. If you encounter these scams, notify the FTC (and the FBI in the case of blackmail).
For more information about cryptocurrency scams, visit this FTC webpage.
To keep your usernames and passwords safe, consider downloading a password manager. These can generate complex and unique passwords for all your online accounts, providing you access to them in a single central database. There’s no need for a top-tier memory. You’ll only need one strong password for the password manager itself.
All members of the Harvard community have access to a LastPass Personal Premium membership, which is a good option for a password manager.
Now that your password is strong and safely stored, consider enabling Two-Factor Authentication—often referred to as 2FA. Most web services provide this feature, allowing you to create an additional layer of protection on top of your typical account details (i.e., username and password). Two-Factor Authentications comes in various formats including, but not limited to, answering a question about your personal life or identity, email or SMS one-time passwords, authenticator applications, or a physical electronic key that is inserted into the device at hand. The purpose here is to show that you have an additional way of verifying that it is you—and not someone else—that is trying to gain access to your account.
Having an entire market available to you online is an incredible advantage and convenience. But knowing how to safely navigate through it will dictate the quality of your experience. With a few simple steps, you can minimize your vulnerability as an online consumer. Stay safe!
*You can find a list of webinars on various consumer protection topics on the FTC’s website.