Stay Safe From Scams


10 ways to avoid being scammed

I recently received an email from a friend asking me if I was available. I offered to chat online, and received the reply that she was too ill to talk, but needed help sending a voucher to her nephew. I was suspicious, but didn't want to alienate a friend, so I emailed back, saying I was happy to help, but just to check this was genuiune, I asked her to confirm something that I knew only she would know. There was no further reply, and I contacted her son, who confirmed it was a scam, She had been hacked. 

I've seen a few scams recently that looked very convincing, which indicates scammers are becoming more sophisticated. What's worse, they are not just targeting your cash, but your friends as well. Today's blog looks at ways of keeping yourself safe from scams

1) Set secure passwords, and ensure that you have a different password for every site. Read our previous blog with a trick for doing this, and still having passwords you can remember. 

2) Use antivirus software - you don't have to pay for this. AVG is free, and if you have a Windows computer, Windows Defender is built in. Make sure you keep it up to date, and that it is on all devices you use. (Don't install more than one though, as it will slow your machine!)

3) Don't click on links in emails, even when the email looks genuine. If the email says that you need to sign on to your bank / online account etc for any reason, ALWAYS go to your web browser and search for the site you want. NEVER use the link in any email - Scammers use these to steal your log in details with a fake site, that looks like the real thing. 

4) Don't open attachments (files added to emails) from people you don't know. If you do open an attachment, ensure that your antivirus software scans it first. Scammers use these to embed programmes (malware / trojans / spyware) on your computer which either damage your files, or collect what you do, including all your passwords etc.)

5) Check the sender's email address - it may look like the email comes from Amazon / your bank etc, but when you look closely, it is not actually Amazon. Some examples - 

I received an email from Charles Rettig <> telling me my IRS refund was now available. Anyone can create a gmail account, so that should set off alarm bells, as most companies will have a domain name (the bit after the @ in an email address) companies pay to have a domain name registered, so won't normally have @gmail. It is easy to register a domain name though, so this is not fool proof.  If you go to the IRS website, you'll see that it's .gov, ( Only government websites can use .gov in their web address. Anything that is supposed to come from a government body that does not have an email address that includes .gov is likely to be dodgy. If you can find the contact email address, you can compare it to the one in the email you received. The bit before the @ will change from person to person, but the bit after it shouldn't. Of course, I'm not American, which means it fails the logic test. 

Another one supposedly from Amazon, invited me to complete a survey to win a giftcard. The email came from Amazon@Shopper. A genuine email from Amazon will always / etc

6) Safe senders list - Outlook allows you to create a list of safe senders - when you know the genuine email address from your bank, save it to your list of safe senders. You can read more about this here . Most email accounts include a junk filter, and there are often options to report something as Phishing (online fishing for your information) or a scam. Sometimes it is simply Spam (advertising that you didn't want to receive) You can actually block emails from people not on your safe list, but this may result in not receiving emails you want. 

7) Check it out on Snopes - Snopes exists to bust the online myths, scams, and does fact checks.  A quick search through its files often identifies fraud and online scams. 

8) Watch what you click on and share! Websites earn money mainly through advertising. To get the best adverts, they need lots of visitors (clicks). To do this, they often create posts / memes (images) on social media that draw people in. Often clicking on something in Facebook takes you to another site, which may well be harmless, but they also can lure you into sites that are very dodgy, and may place a cookie (file on your computer) which contains a virus or spyware. 

9) Protect your information. People tend to use pet's names, anniversaries etc as passwords, or in their security questions. Watch out for those quizzes / surveys which ask for this information - they may well be harvesting it to hack your accounts. (Obviously the best thing is a) not do the quizzes and b) use more secure passwords!)

Scammers need your name, address, date of birth as a bare minimum. Don't post your real date of birth on sites that do not legally require it - such as social media. Change the day / month / year. You also don't have to fill in all the fields in your profile, such as phone number and address. If you do complete them, ensure that only your friends can see them. 

10) Report scams and dodgy emails. 

if you receive a scam email that looks convincing, appearing to come from a company you actually use, then it's good to alert that company to the scam, usually through their customer services department. 

In the UK, you can also report it to Action Fraud, or the National Cyber Security Centre, or Citizens' Advice Bureau

Use the reporting tool in your email system, which helps the system identify and block these emails sent to other people. 

Contact the policy - using the non urgent system, unless of course your life is at risk. 

Scammers do change their strategies, and cybercrime continues to grow. It's good to make yourself aware, and take the actions you can. Always practise being sceptical of emails and websites, especially when it seems too good to be true!


© 2018 Denice Penrose
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