Most of us have heard about a number of quite alarming breaches of data protection. These are very troubling and often we don't understand how they can happen. The truth is that there are people out there who spend all their time creating these breaches, they don't happen by accident.
Another way that our data is being used to get information that is then used illegally is scams. These are becoming more widespread and now happen online, face to face and using your mobile for texts.
Scammers are developing more sophisticated ways of getting us to fall for their scams. It is easy for us to say you should be alert and protect yourself from being scammed. We are going one step further and have put together these tips and advice on doing just that:
- Scams can target anyone
- Don't ever think you are beyond the reach of scammers. Anyone is a potential target for scammers, even the most unlikely people.
- Protect Yourself
- You need to take steps to protect yourself from scammers. Below are some ways that you can do this.
- How to Spot a fake
- Sounds simple but there really are things that you can do that will help you in doing this.
- Follow Up Scams
- You will often be followed up by scammers and we have some ideas on handling this.
Scams target everyone
Scammers target people from all backgrounds regardless of age and income. There is not a preferred group of people who are more likely to become a victim of a scam. Any of us may be targeted at some time.
Scams succeed because they are designed to look like the real thing. They work because they catch you off guard. Scammers are getting smarter and sneakier. They use new technology, new products or services and major events to create believable stories. These are used to convince you to give them your money or personal details.
- Be aware to the fact that scams exist and you can be a target. When dealing with uninvited contacts from people or businesses always consider the possibility that it may be a scam. Whether it's over the phone, by mail, email, in person or on a social networking site, be cautious. Remember the saying, "If it looks too good to be true, it probably is".
- Know who you're dealing with. If you've only ever met someone online or are unsure if the business exists, do a bit of research. You can do a Google search or look on the internet for others who may have had dealings with them. If a message or email comes from a friend and it seems unusual or out of character for them, contact your friend directly. Don't reply, instead pick up the telephone to check that it was really them that sent it.
- Do not open suspicious texts, pop-up windows or click on links or attachments in emails. Delete them. If you aren't sure, then verify the identity of the contact through an independent source. An online search is quick and easy. Whatever you do though don't use the contact details provided in the message sent to you.
- Don't respond to phone calls about your computer asking for remote access. You should hang up. That applies even if they mention a company name that you recognise. Scammers will often ask you to turn on your computer to fix a problem. They might suggest that they need to install a free upgrade. Instead, they may introduce a virus that gives them passwords and personal details.
- Keep your personal details secure. Put a lock on your mailbox. Shred your bills and other important documents before throwing them out. Make sure that you keep your passwords and pin numbers in a safe place. It is important to be careful about how much personal information you share on social media. Scammers can use your information and pictures to create a fake identity or to target you with a scam. How many of us have had our accounts cloned?
- Keep your mobile devices and computers secure. Always use password protection. It is a definite no-no to share access with others (including remotely). Make sure that you keep your security software updated and you back up content. Be careful to protect your Wi-Fi network with a password. Where you can, avoid using public computers or Wi-Fi hotspots to access online banking.
- Choose any passwords carefully. Passwords that would be difficult for others to guess are especially important. Another great tip is for you to change them regularly. A strong password should include a mix of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and symbols. Don’t use the same password for every account/profile and be sure not to share your passwords with anyone.
- Review your privacy and security settings on social media. If you use Facebook and other social media sites this one if for you. Be careful who you connect with and learn how to use your privacy and security settings. This will help to ensure your account stays safe. If you recognise suspicious behaviour, clicked on spam or have been scammed online, take steps to secure your account first. Then be sure to report it.
- Beware of any requests for your details or money. Never send money or give your credit card details. Any online account details or copies of personal documents should not be given to anyone you don’t know and trust.
- Be wary of unusual payment requests. Scammers will often ask you to use an unusual payment method. These might include things such as preloaded debit cards or gift cards. iTunes cards or virtual currency such as Bitcoin are also becoming more popular with scammers.
- Be careful when shopping online. Beware of offers that seem too good to be true. Always use an online shopping service that you know and trust. Think twice before using virtual currencies (like Bitcoin). These do not have the same protections as other transaction methods. That means you can’t get your money back once you send it.
How to spot a fake
Clues for spotting a fake email:
Emails are easily faked. Some will look just like the real thing, but others might have warning signs, such as:
- a more generic rather than personal greeting
- names of organisations that don't exist
- poorer quality presentation
- bad quality grammar and spelling
- overly official or forced language.
Emails such as flight itineraries and bank statements have simple, uncomplicated layouts. This means that scammers can easily recreate fake documents using information available online. They can use company logos and graphics from websites which may help them look more real.
Scammers can easily fake an official-looking email, using the same logo and design as the real company.
Often your guard is down when you receive an email from a company you've dealt with before. Common scam emails now include Australia Post or online shopping sites. If you are not expecting an email, always be alert to a fake. Don't click on any links or open any attachments until you are sure it is the real deal.
There are increasingly safeguards that you can implement on your PC. These can help to protect the integrity of your emails and online browsing, but your vigilance is the deal-breaker! Speak to your IT person about how to put in place protection for your Microsoft or outlook programs. These are more readily available, and your IT specialist will help to install security measures to keep you safe from viruses.
Follow up scams
Scammers will often try to take advantage when you are vulnerable. They will try to extract more money from you through a follow up scam.
Some common follow up scams include:
- offers from a law enforcement agency to investigate your scam and retrieve your money for a fee. Law enforcement agencies will never charge for their services
- a doctor calling you to alert you that the scammer urgently needs medical bills to be paid or they might die
These are only a few of the follow up approaches’ scammers may use try to get more money from you. New approaches could be quite different from the original scam and could come quickly or sometime later. Scammers may have passed your details to others. They may use different methods. The new approach may seem totally unrelated to the original scam and so your guard may be down.
If you think you are being scammed, you can get help. Here is a government contact that can help. www.cyber.gov.au/acsc/individuals-and-families/recover-and-get-help
Stay safe and scam free.