Avoid a Scam With 6 Simple Steps

hooded hacker on phone smiling while looking at computer screen

Millions of people become victims of financial scams every year. Scammers can be tricky, but you can avoid a scam with a few commonsense steps. Here are six ways to protect yourself from scammers.

1. Avoid Fraud by Ignoring Scammers

A simple way to avoid fraud is to ignore scammers. Those who are attempting to commit fraud will do so by sending you an email or by texting you in an attempt to trick you into sharing personal information like your Social Security number, passwords or account numbers. They might even call you and ask for sensitive information.

Scammers attempt thousands of these attacks each day. According to the FBI’s complaint department, thieves were able to con people out of $57 million using these schemes in just one year.

Cyberthieves can be sneaky. They might pretend to be someone in government or law enforcement. A common way to scam someone is to pretend to be a relative in need of financial assistance.

If you receive a suspicious email, text or phone call, just ignore it. When the call seems to be from a family member or a friend, double-check by calling the person back.

2. Create Strong Passwords and Update Them

Did you know that it’s common to have as many as 85 different passwords once you add up your bank accounts, credit card accounts, social media, streaming services and apps? When you have multiple accounts, it’s tempting to use the same passwords for them to remember them more easily, but this will put your security at risk.

When a cyberthief successfully breaks into a website, he or she might steal your identification and passwords, gaining access to your financial accounts. If you have a weak password or PIN, then a cyberthief may be able to guess it to gain access. They might try numbers that repeat or birthdates. Dodging fraud and scams means creating strong passwords and PINs. The challenge is to come up with something secure that you can also remember.

To create a strong password, select one that is longer than eight characters, is tough for others to guess and features unique symbols. Great passwords are usually hard to remember. This is especially true when you use a different login with every site. Stay on top of this security tip by using a quality password manager. LastPass or 1Password are good ones. They’ll keep track of your strong, hard-to-remember passwords. For additional scam protection, update your passwords regularly.

3. Review Your Financial Statements

Every month, look over your financial statements to make sure that you recognize each charge and transaction. Be sure to review your credit card statements as closely as your checking and banking account documents. If you see pending charges at gas stations for $1, this can be a sign of fraud. Contact your financial institution directly if you spot this type of activity.

If you notice something strange, be sure to follow up on it. Your financial institutions can give you more information about your transactions. You can also request a dispute against charges that you don’t know.

4. Invest in Security for Your Computer

Avoid a scam by installing security software on your computer. Be sure to keep all of your systems updated. You should also back your files up, and avoid using an unsecured internet connection.

Activate automatic updates on your PC. The software that most people use often features security problems, but as developers discover issues, they initiate updates to keep everyone’s systems secure. Automatic updates will help protect your PC.

Install anti-malware and antivirus software. There are a lot of good ones available, so read up on a few to find the best one for your needs. Also, don’t leave your computer unattended. You might be tempted to leave it while you run to the restroom at your local coffee shop. Dodge scammers by resisting this urge. Pack it up and take it with you if you need to leave the area.

5. Use Caution When Sending Money

Whenever you need to send money, be sure to research the payment method. Wire payments are an easy and fast way to send money, but scammers rely on this to gain access to your funds. Research different payment methods to determine the safest one based on your needs.

If someone you don’t know sends you a check, then look into it before attempting to cash it. When you try to cash something fraudulent, you may be stuck paying processing fees to the bank. This falls into the "if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is" category.

When you are completing a wire transfer to a family member or a friend, make sure that you have the right location. Also, double-check with the person in need to confirm that they are making the request.

6. Research Contact Information

If you need to get into contact with one of your financial institutions, then research it on your own. Don’t contact them using information that was sent to you via text or email. When you need a phone number or a website, dig out a billing statement that was mailed to you, or look up the company’s website independently.

Avoid a scam by making sure that you’re speaking to the company. Cyberthieves will attempt to gain access to your personal information by pretending to be your bank or credit card company. If one of your financial institutions sends you an email requesting you to click a link to check a security issue, then delete this email and log in to your account separately to make sure that your account is secure.

Embrace Security Vigilance

Fraud protection doesn’t have to be scary or time-consuming. Double-check when someone is reaching out to you for sensitive information, use strong passwords and never click a suspicious link. Embrace security vigilance for peace of mind.