Six Ways to Protect Yourself from Scammers

hooded hacker on phone smiling while looking at computer screen

There are many common online scams. Here are some simple measures you can take to spot them and avoid becoming a victim.

In general, use common sense and be careful whenever you are communicating via email, text, phone, or social media. Phone numbers and email addresses can appear as if they are coming from a trusted friend, company or government agency. Keep these points in mind as you defend against scammers:

Use the power of silence

Do not respond! Delete the email or text. If you receive a phone call, simply hang up without providing any information or payment.

Take a deep breath and investigate

Look up the contact information for the organization. Call them using a verified phone number from a billing statement or directly from the organization’s web site – not any numbers that the caller, text or email may have provided. In cases like the grandparent scam, call a family member to find out what they know about the situation.

Be careful when and how you make payments.

Do not pay in advance. Wire payments are great to move money quickly, but this is exactly what fraudsters need to be successful. Understand what rights you have with the payment methods you choose and understand how the payment works. You may receive a winning lottery “check” that looks real. Your bank may even attempt to process it. Your payment for bogus fees or tax payment may clear long before the so-called winnings check is identified as fake, leaving you with the loss.

Closely examine bills and statements

Follow up on anything that doesn’t look right.

Use strong passwords and update your passwords regularly

Avoid using the same user ID and password for multiple web sites or apps. When cybercriminals successfully breach web sites, they may steal user IDs and passwords and test the stolen data to see if it works in other places, such as financial services web sites. This also applies to weak passwords and PINs. Fraudsters test patterns such as repeating numbers (1111, 2222, 0123, 1234, etc.) or birthdates.

Pay attention to computer security

Maintain security software, keep your system current, back up your files, and do not give anyone remote access to your computer.

In addition to following these steps, take advantage of the many online resources that provide more details on how to stay one step ahead of these criminals. The Federal Trade Commission, a government agency, hosts the web site OnGuardOnline.gov that provides many security tips on how to protect yourself. In addition to articles, blog posts, and videos on how to secure your information, the site publishes information about new scams on a regular basis. You can even sign up to be alerted through email when a new scam is published on the site.

Taking the time to learn how to protect yourself against scams will be well worth it. The growth in the number of scams is staggering and none of us will be able to avoid having to face a scammer at some point. The key is for us to be educated and aware so we can successfully handle the situation.