Year-round Consumer Safety Advice

Scammers don’t take a break for the holiday; in fact, they tend to ramp up their efforts in hopes that people will be even more gullible to their nefarious acts. There are things you can do to better protect yourself from these thieves all year long. As the sophistication of scammers increase so much your due diligence in protecting your money and personal information. This blog will look at some of the more common occurrences, creating unique passwords and will include applicable links throughout where you can learn more.

Text Messages

More and more scammers are sending out text messages with clickable links. These are a ploy to get you to follow the link and either infect your phone (or other mobile device) with a malware or to con you into providing sign on information for anything from Amazon to your bank claiming you need to verify information for a recent order/transaction. The best mode of action here is to just delete the message without reading it if possible. If you are not sure how to delete messages on your model of phone a quick Google search or checking the online manual for your device should provide the solution.

To learn more about this type of scam, ways to help prevent them, and ways to report the fraudulent activity  read the FTC article How To Recognize and Report Spam Text Messages.

Email

Just like with text messages, email scams are generally designed to get you to input sensitive information with an online account or to simply click on a link that can then infect your device with a virus. One way to determine scam emails is if it is riddled with typos or seems oddly impersonal or conversely too personal greetings. (If it read dear madam/sir or my beloved for example). If you legitimately have an account with wherever the email is claiming to come from your best mode of action is to go directly to that site or call the number on the back of your physical card and tell them that you received an email that you’d like to verify is legit. Some companies may want you to forward the fraudulent email to their fraud department. Double checking the full email address may also prove fruitful as it can be a giveaway of not being real (like it if says microsoft@randomsite.com). Otherwise, the absolute best way to deal with these type scams is to simply delete the email without opening it.

To learn more about how scammers often update their tactics and ways to better protect yourself against these threats read the article How To Recognize and Avoid Phishing Scams provided by the FTC.

Phone Calls

Scammer phone calls can appear on both your landline and cell phone. No number is safe. Some thieves will spoof local phone numbers trying to trick you into thinking the phone call is coming from someone nearby. Most of the time automated calls are not to be trusted unless verifying something like a prescription ready for pickup or confirming a doctor’s appointment. In both of those cases chances are nothing personal will be asked and the most you’ll need to input is to confirm or cancel an appointment.

Otherwise automated or actual random calls are not to be trusted, especially if claiming to be from the IRS (they will never call you), the power company threatening to shut off your power, someone claiming to be calling about your student loans (especially if you do not have any), pretending to be from a credit card company wanting to verify a purchase,  someone claiming to be from Microsoft and claiming there’s an issue with your computer, wanting to extend your car warranty, or claiming your social security number has been reported and a warrant is out for your arrest. The best mode of action here is to just hang up. Better yet there’s a chance that if you screen your phone calls it may cut down on the number of calls you receive since a live person did not answer to verify it was a legit number. (The main other type of automated or unsolicited phone call is more prevalent during election season from politicians or people promoting politicians which some will see as informative and others as much as a nuisance as actual spam calls).

To  learn more about types of spam calls, ways to protect yourself, and how to report fraudulent activity read any of the following articles: the FTC’s article Phone Scams, an AARP article Phone Scams, or an article from the US government Common Scams and Frauds.

Social Media

If you’ve ever had your account hacked on social media, or have friends or family who have, then you know how aggravating it is when scammers invade your online presence. If you’ve already been hacked the best thing to do is immediately change your password to something hard to figure out. The next best thing to do is limit how many online quizzes you do or how many questionnaires you answer and post on your page. Doing these things makes it easier for your account to be hacked because often you’re giving away the answers to your security questions (things such as mother’s maiden name, first place you lived, your favorite things, etc.).

Giveaways

Another place you can be scammed on social media is through fraudulent giveaways. While many of these are harmless with people just trying to get likes and more comments to up their ranking there are others that request for more sensitive information to enter which should be scrutinized more closely. The Better Business Bureau offers this advice:

  • Look for the blue checkmark. Many social media platforms verify pages from brands and celebrities so that users can tell real pages from copycats. Make sure you look for that trust mark before liking and sharing content. 
  • Watch out for new accounts: If you think a giveaway is real, click on the business or celebrity’s profile. If it’s a new account with very little other content, that’s a big red flag.
  • Look out for spelling errors and typos: Real brands use giveaways to promote their company. Spelling errors and typos will make them look bad! They are a big warning signs of a scam.
  • The giveaway asks you to complete too many tasks: If a giveaway asks you to comment on multiple posts, follow several accounts, and tag a couple of brands, it becomes almost impossible to keep track of everyone participating and pick a winner at random (as required by law).
  • There are no terms and conditionsOnline giveaways should include contact details of the organizer, how to take part, how the winner will be selected, and eligibility requirements. If you don’t see information, that’s an instant red flag.
  • Don’t click “like” on every post in your feed. Scammers are counting on getting as many mindless likes as possible, so be sure you only “like” posts and articles that are legitimate. Don’t help scammers spread their con.

To read more about Social Media scams see the articles: Scams that start on social media, Social Media Scams, and 6 Common Social Media Scams to Avoid.

Password Advice

Creating hard to guess passwords doesn’t have to be as hard as it sometimes seems. There are several ways to create a rememberable yet difficult password. It’s also a good idea to write down your passwords somewhere inconspicuous.

Password suggestion 1: Use something you no longer have access to like an old tag number for your car or an address for a previous place of employment. You could also combine these items such as using the number from an old car tag coupled with part of the street address with a former place of employment.

Password suggestion 2: Look around you and pick a couple of random items to use towards your password such as the brand name of whatever your drinking coupled with an item on your desk. An example here would be something like DasaniRemoteControl.

Password suggestion 3: If you have a favorite saying or are feeling especially creative to invent one use the first letter of each word of the sentence to create your password. Some sites also require you to use numbers and/or special characters as well. So, if you like the saying “Every Good Boy Does Fine,” which is traditionally a pneumonic device for reading sheet music, you would use EGBDF and then tack on a couple of numbers or a special character.

Password don’ts: The biggest piece of advice is to never use easily guessable things for your password like your date of birth, information also found in your sign on ID, current phone numbers, or consecutive letters or numbers.

For more detailed suggestions on creating stronger passwords read How To Create Unique Passwords For Every Account That Are Hard To Guess And Easy To Remember or 9 rules for strong passwords: How to create and remember your login credentials.

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