Cybercrime, online scams and identity theft are on the rise. Every year millions of Americans fall victim to these crimes, resulting in billions of dollars lost. Learn how to protect yourself in cyberspace with these helpful tips.
Be wary of “skimmers” on ATMs, gas station pumps, and other machines with credit card readers. Skimmers are small devices installed over the normal card reading slot. The skimmer reads your credit or debit card’s information. The crook then returns later to remove the skimmer and retrieve the stored information. Skimming devices are not always noticeable, but they will usually stick out an inch or two from the card reader.
Before you insert your card, pull on the credit card reader to be sure it can’t be removed. If you are at an ATM, cover the keypad when you enter your PIN in case there’s a hidden camera around. If an ATM keeps your card, contact your financial institution immediately.
Buying and selling unused gift cards on auction Web sites like Amazon.com or eBay has become popular in recent years. As this trend has grown, so have the possibilities of gift card fraud. The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3)-a partnership of the FBI and National White Collar Crime Center-warns consumers of the potential for gift card fraud on social media Web sites, particularly social media postings that offer vouchers or gift cards and sites offering deals that seem too good to be true, like a free $500 gift card.
To avoid gift card fraud, the IC3 recommends that before you buy a gift card from a secondary market Web site, check the site reviews and only buy from or sell to reputable dealers. Check the gift card balance before and after purchasing the card to verify the correct balance. If you are selling a gift card online, do not provide the buyer with the card’s PIN until the purchase is complete. Be wary of auction sites selling gift cards in bulk or at a discount. If you are purchasing a gift card in a store, be sure to check the scratch-off area on the back of the card for any evidence of tampering.
Public docking stations for charging mobile devices are becoming increasingly more common, and are often found in airports, hotels and coffee shops. While convenient, cyber criminals can use the docking stations to steal personal and financial information contained on your device. Called “juice jacking,” it’s not difficult to do, since the USB cord used to charge your device also transmits data. Public docking stations can be especially risky at foreign airports, which may not be as secure as airports in the U.S.
To avoid juice jacking, try to keep your device fully charged and avoid third party charging stations altogether. If you have to charge your phone at an airport or other public location, use a wall outlet or a portable charger instead of the docking station. Another tip is to use a power-only USB cord when charging your device. These cords are designed for battery charging only, and do not have the wires necessary for data transmission.
Often, people will take precautions to protect their PC from cybercriminals, but neglect to do the same on their mobile device. Here are some ways to help make sure your device is not vulnerable to viruses and malware designed to capture your personal and financial information. Enable encryption to guard against unauthorized access.
Use a strong password, and include a timeout that requires you to re-enter your password after a brief period of inactivity. Regularly update your devices’ operating systems and security software. Only install apps from trusted sources, and, before downloading, make sure you read the app’s privacy statement, permissions and reviews. Disable services when not in use. For example, Bluetooth can provide an easy way for someone nearby to gain access to your data. Also disable the “automatically connect to Wi-Fi” setting. If you get a new device, make sure you delete the information off your old one before you sell or dispose of it. To find out how to do this, see the Web site of your mobile provider or device manufacturer.
If you have a tablet here are some ways to help keep it secure. The first step is to set a passcode, PIN or swiping motion to lock your tablet screen. Set it up so your tablet locks after a short time being idle. Make sure you are running the latest version of your tablet’s operating system – in case there have been updates and patches. If your tablet has a feature that allows it to automatically update apps, enable it so you will always have the most current versions. Only download apps you need and only from trusted sources, such as iTunes and Google Play. When installing a new app, be sure to review and set privacy options – be careful what information you allow the app to access and what the app does with that information. Install software that allows you to remotely track, lock and erase your tablet if it is lost or stolen.
According to the U.S. federal government, “synthetic” identity theft accounts for more than 80 percent of the identity theft cases in the U.S. This type of identity theft is different than the more traditional types (i.e. stealing your credit card information and making purchases in your name). Instead, this scam involves stealing just a part of your identity – usually your social security number – and combining it with another person’s name and address. This fake new “person” can now apply for credit cards and accounts, and even jobs, using his or her name and your social security number. Unlike credit card theft, nothing unusual shows up on your credit card statements. But it can show up on your credit report. Your best defense is to make sure that your reported income on your annual Social Security statement is correct, and to review your credit report regularly for any new or unauthorized accounts.
More and more people are skipping the mall and doing their shopping online. If you enter an item or retailer’s name on a search engine site (i.e., Google, Bing or others), be sure to closely examine the search results listed. Do not automatically click on the first result, even if it looks identical or similar to what you searched for.
Internet fraudsters often go to extreme lengths to have their Web site appear ahead of a legitimate company’s site. The fraudulent Web site may look exactly like the real version, but with a slightly different URL address. If you make a “purchase,” you may have your personal and credit card information stolen, or download malware onto your computer.
To be safe, before clicking on a search result, look closely at the URL. Are there any misspellings or extra characters such as a period or comma? This indicates a fraudulent site. Also, when paying for purchases online, make sure the payment page is secure. The URL should start with “https,” not just “http.”
While on vacation, be sure to take precautions to avoid hackers and identity thieves. If possible, avoid using computers at an airport or hotel. Someone could have installed a keylogger to capture what you type. If you must use a public computer, for example, to print out a plane ticket, be sure not to enter sensitive financial or personal information, and don’t login to any financial accounts.
Don’t share your travel plans on social media and be sure to disable geotagging on your smartphone or tablet. Geotagging provides your location when you post to social media sites. Facebook has a similar feature, so disable that also. Don’t tweet from your vacation spot and wait until you get home to post pictures. If you are taking a computer with you, back up your files and update your anti-virus and anti-malware programs before you go. Also make sure your personal firewall is turned on.
When it comes to online safety for kids and teens, teach your children the “4 R’s” from i-SAFE America:
- RECOGNIZE the techniques used by online predators;
- REFUSE requests for personal information;
- RESPOND if you are in an uncomfortable situation online (exit the program and log off/turn off the computer) and
- REPORT to a trusted adult any suspicious online behavior.
Always be sure to make usernames, passwords and online profiles generic and anonymous. Protect your personal information and don’t give out your name, sex, age, address, school, or any personal information. Don’t open attachments in e-mails from strangers; they can contain malware. Never agree to meet face-to-face with an online “friend.” Responsible adults do not pursue relationships with kids and teens.
Unfortunately, many don’t know the basic rules of online safety. To help educate kids about the potential dangers that lurk online and how to safely surf the web, Safekids.com offers an interactive Online Safety Quiz. The short, kid-friendly quiz asks questions like: “I’m visiting a site from a company or organization that I’ve heard of. They want my name and phone number so I can enter a contest. Is it o.k. to enter?” The correct answer is: No, you should never reveal any information about yourself to anyone, even companies you’ve heard of. If they want to get this information from anyone under 13, the law requires that they first get your parents’ permission. To take the quiz, visit www.safekids.com/quiz.
Many people find bargains on local shopping Web sites like Craigslist. Most sellers on these sites include photos of the items for sale. Be wary of ads that say “E-mail me for a photo” – ads like this are often scams. If you request a photo of the item, opening the photo might unleash a virus on to your computer. Or it might open what looks like a well-known shopping site like Amazon or eBay. The fake “site” will ask you to enter a user name and password to view the photo. If you enter your password, credit card or online payment information (i.e. PayPal), it will go to the scammer.
If you’re buying large-ticket items like furniture or antiques online, be wary of sellers who ask you to send payment to an escrow service. Escrow services are companies that hold your money until you receive the item. While this may seem practical, there’s no guarantee that the seller or escrow service is legitimate. Scammers sometimes set up phony online escrow services. If an online seller insists on using an escrow service, pass up the item or select the escrow service yourself.
The Internet is how many teens keep in touch with friends, research school projects and find out the latest news. It’s especially important for teens to be aware of – and practice – safe online surfing.
The first rule of thumb when online is to remain as anonymous as possible. When choosing an e-mail address or screen name, use a combination of letters and numbers, and don’t identify whether you are male or female. Never share personal information online, like your full name, address, phone number, Social Security number, passwords, names of family members or account numbers.
In chat rooms, use a nickname that’s different from your screen name. This way, if a conversation makes you uncomfortable, you can exit without worrying the person can track down your e-mail using your screen name. You can also set up a private chat room where only your friends can participate. Keep online friendships online. Meeting in person can be dangerous – it’s easy for people to pretend online to be something they’re not.
Protect your smartphone and keep talking and texting safely. If you’re not careful about guarding the personal information on your phone, fraudsters have sneaky ways to get it and make phony financial transactions using your data.
You need a strong password for your phone, and software to back up your information. Wipe your phone clean if it’s stolen, and add security software to prevent malware and viruses. Make sure you only download apps from trusted sources. And don’t access your financial accounts from public Wi-Fi hotspots. They’re a prime target for hackers.
The elderly are especially vulnerable to identity theft and fraudulent schemes. They may be isolated or lonely, or cognitively impaired. To help combat this problem, the FDIC and Consumer Protection Bureau developed an educational program aimed at helping older adults recognize fraud and safeguard their financial and personal information.
The free program, called Money Smart for Older Adults, is available on the FDIC’s Web site (FDIC.gov). It offers suggestions for keeping sensitive information safe and watching for “red flags,” like phone calls or e-mails that claim an emergency and require the person to act now or keep the activity secret from friends and family, and requests for bank account, credit card, or Social Security numbers. Other tips include locking financial documents in a filing cabinet if there are caregivers in your home, and checking your credit report annually to look for suspicious changes.
Cyber crooks seem to come up with new online scams daily. It’s hard to keep up with all of the schemes and malware, especially since some of the e-mails can look like the real deal. However, there are some common signs to look out for that can help you recognize fraudulent e-mails. For instance, be wary of e-mails with hundreds of addresses in the recipient field, especially if the message text seems to be directed toward only one person.
Be especially careful about links within an e-mail, especially if the link is the only content in the body of the e-mail, or the links are shortened and don’t show the actual URL address. Another red flag is e-mail text in ALL CAPS, or if the content states an urgent or emergency need. If an e-mail claims it’s a matter of life or death, the sender wouldn’t be targeting a stranger for help. Be wary of e-mails from unrecognizable addresses or senders, ones with no subject line, and e-mails full of grammatical errors and typos.
A child’s Social Security number can be used by identity thieves to apply for government benefits, open bank and credit card accounts, apply for a loan or utility service, or rent a place to live. Many school forms require personal and, sometimes, sensitive information. Find out how your child’s information is collected, used, and disposed of. Asking schools and other organizations to safeguard your child’s information can help minimize your child’s risk of identity theft.
Some signs can tip you off to the fact that someone is misusing your child’s personal information. Your child may get a notice from the IRS saying he or she didn’t pay income taxes, or receive collection calls or bills. If you feel your child’s Social Security number has been compromised, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends you contact the three credit reporting agencies – Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax – immediately and ask for a manual search of your child’s file. Also ask for a fraud alert to be placed on your child’s credit report. File a report with the FTC at ftc.gov.
Millions of Americans use dating sites, social networks, and chat rooms to meet people. Many result in successful relationships. However, scammers also use these sites to lure in potential victims. Some red flags to look for: anyone who asks for money or wants to leave the dating site immediately and instead use personal e-mail, texting or instant messaging; says he or she is in love right away; claims to be from the U.S. but is traveling or working overseas; makes plans to visit, but cancels due to a traumatic event. If you feel you’ve been a victim (or near-victim) of an online dating scam, contact the Federal Trade Commission, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center and your state’s Attorney General.
Check out www.onguardonline.gov, a Web site focusing on online safety managed by the Federal Trade Commission. Get practical advice and tips about how to avoid Internet scams, protect against identity theft, keep your computer secure, dispose of an old computer, and more. The site also offers helpful tutorials, including how to restrict access to your wireless network and how to turn on encryption on your Internet router. Informative videos like “Invasion of the Wireless Hackers, “Spam, Scam, Slam” and “The Case of the Cyber Criminal” put an entertaining spin on a variety of cyber-related topics. Recent blog posts include lottery fraud, phishing e-mails involving the new Apple iPhone 5, whether or not to forward e-mails, and using/setting parental controls. An entire section of the site is devoted to protecting children in cyberspace – from online video games and virtual worlds to chat rooms to cyberbullying.