Millions of scams are reported to the federal government every year, and, unfortunately, with more people shopping and communicating online due to COVID-19, fraud rates are only rising.
The good news is, there are plenty of ways to protect yourselves and your loved ones from being the victim of a scam. Make it a New Year’s resolution for 2021 to learn more about how fraudsters operate and how you can prevent them from taking advantage of you.
Here are five tips to get you started on your path to being a scam-prevention expert:
Remember Your Digital Dos and Don’ts
Online platforms have made our lives infinitely more convenient, while also opening up a myriad of new ways for scammers and fraudsters to exploit our trust or access our personal information.
Start by ensuring that all virus and malware detection software is up to date on all your devices, and check in with family members to make sure they do the same. Next, take a moment to consider when and where you’re comfortable sharing personal information online. With ecommerce so omnipresent, many of us don’t think twice about typing in our credit card information, but it’s important to evaluate the security protocols of each and every webpage before we do so.
Many fraudsters will also take a more direct approach: using digital channels to point-blank request personal or financial information, or to ask us to download something we shouldn’t. Learn to see the signs of malicious intent, like an email address that matches a name you know but comes from an uncommon domain you don’t recognize. Be extremely cautious about opening an email, text, or social media message from someone you don’t know. If you see a message from an acquaintance who hasn’t contacted you in a long time, be on alert. Don’t take any kind of action, like replying to them with a secret code that’s been delivered to your phone or clicking on a link.
Learn What Information Scammers Want – and Don’t Reveal It
When you’re aware of what kind of information scammers are hunting for, it’s easier to prevent them from getting it. Beyond simply trying to get ahold of your credit card number, a fraudster may also want your full name, address, date of birth, social security number and basic bank information. With this data, they may be able to apply for a mortgage or credit card in your name, or even create a fake passport or driver’s license.
Watch Out for the Most Common Scams
Knowledge is the best tool you have to protect yourself from scams. Make it a habit to check local news reports about any scams in your area; and in general, look out for the two common scams: problems and prizes.
A “problem” scam will tell you that there’s something wrong pertaining to you or a family member and that the only way to fix the problem is by clicking a link, providing personal information, or sending money. The fraudster might say that your computer has a virus, that there’s an error with your taxes, or they may even claim that your identity has already been stolen. Some scammers may tell you that a family member is in trouble and that you need to wire money to help them.
On the other hand, a “prize” scam will try to get your money or information by doing the opposite, tempting you with the news that you’re the lucky winner of an amazing prize. They may ask for your bank account information so that they can send you the money, or they may say that first you need to pay a small fee to their account in order to access your windfall.
Never Act Fast
Scammers rely on their victims responding quickly, before they’ve had the chance to thoroughly assess the situation. You can deflect many scams simply by not acting fast. Wherever financial information is involved, always take the time to assess what’s happening, what information is being asked of you, or what action you’re being asked to take. Check in with a friend or family member to get their take on the situation, and do a Google search to see if other people have experienced the same scam.
Be aware that fraudsters may try to pressure and even scare you into quick action. They may claim that if you don’t act fast, you or a person you love will be arrested, deported, or lose a lot of money; or that your computer will be corrupted. If you’re being pressured to act fast by the person on the other side of the phone, email, or text message, that’s a good sign that they’re not acting in good faith – and that the only immediate action you should take is to hang up the phone.
Make a Report
If you’ve been the victim or near-victim of a scam, it’s natural to want to put the experience behind you. However, reporting the scam is an important step to help catch the offender and stop the scam from happening again. Go to ReportFraud.ftc.gov for more information on how to report a scam, which is quick and easy to do and could make a big difference for the fraudster’s next potential victim.