Scams are nothing new and online scams have been around since the internet went mainstream. They are, however, continually developing and becoming more sophisticated. With that in mind, here is what you need to know about protecting yourself against them now. If you share this information with other people, you’ll be able to help them protect themselves too.
Know Why Online Scams Are a Threat
In the U.S. (and many other countries) fraudulent misrepresenation is a serious offense with serious consequences. Online scams, however, can be perpetrated from countries where they are not actually illegal. Even if they are technically illegal, there may be little to nothing in the way of practical law enforcement. This completely changes the risk/reward balance.
More Smart Devices
In the early days of the internet, many people would have had one computer for the whole household. Now, many households have multiple computers plus smartphones, tablets, and smart home and personal devices. These all provide attack vectors for online scammers.
Whenever possible, these devices need to be protected with dedicated security software. There is security software for iOS and Android devices as well as Windows PCs and Macs. When there is no dedicated security software for devices, security will usually be provided through updates to the firmware (the device’s inbuilt software). These should be applied promptly.
Computers, phones, and tablets will all have operating systems and apps which also need to be updated periodically. This can be a nuisance but should still be done as a priority. It really increases security. For an example of what can happen when people don’t do this, do some reading on the WannaCry attack of 2017.
Use Secure Internet Connections
Even when you’re at home, it can be very advisable to use a virtual private network to enhance your privacy. When you’re on the move, your own mobile data is a safer option than public WiFi. In either case, a VPN will keep you even safer.
Spot Red Flags in Messages
Although there are now lots of sophisticated approaches to perpetrating online scams, many scams are actually very simple to spot if you check. Scammers work on the basis that many people will be too busy to look at their messages properly and spot the warning signs.
These days, usually the easiest red flag to spot is the customary greeting. If it either has your email address or says something like “Dear Customer” then it’s almost certainly a scam. You can check the sender’s email address but this can be faked relatively easily.
The general tone of the email can also tell you a lot about it. Scam emails generally try to frighten people into taking action quickly (i.e. without thinking). Legitimate companies do not write emails in this way. If in doubt, look up the genuine contact details for the company and contact them directly.
Pay Attention to Embedded Links
Embedded links are links where you see text instead of an Internet address. They’re used all the time because they’re tidy and easy to read. Most of the time, they’re perfectly legitimate and helpful. They can, however, be used to disguise the fact that you’re being directed somewhere you didn’t expect. If you’re not sure about an embedded link, right-click on it. This will show you where it is actually going.