Hello, Seabrookers! Hope everyone is having a great summer thus far.
Today’s article is going to focus on a topic that I’ve certainly covered in the past: online phishing scams and fraudulent phone calls. They’ve been around for quite a while, and lately, it seems like every few days I receive a call from a customer telling me they think they have a major problem. In most cases, when the customer tells me what has happened, I see many mistakes and misjudgments made along the way that could have lessened the problem, or quite often prevented the issue altogether.
So today, I just want to share a few tips to drive the point home. Don’t become a victim! Although the victims tend to learn a lot through the process, it’s not fun to have to contact your bank, re-issue credit cards, and change passwords to all of your online accounts. It’s a lot of hard work, and can take days or weeks to finally sort it all out.
1. SLOW DOWN!
When you get a random phone call (and believe me, you will get them), often the person on the other end begins their speech- at least for a few seconds until many of us have already hung up on them. The key to these scams is to have you act so quickly that your intuition doesn’t kick in yet. The scammer sounds like they want to be very helpful (“You didn’t make that $500 charge on Amazon? No problem. I will be glad to help. Don’t you worry!”) but this is just the start of their process. They are trying to set your mind at ease as they walk you through what they want you to do. Many times, it will involve them wanting you to go onto your computer and give them access. They claim they will solve the problem.
When a customer asks me, “How did they get into my system?” my simple answer is “YOU LET THEM IN!” They can’t do anything until you grant them access.
During all of this, from the scammer’s point of view, time is of the essence. The longer it takes, the more suspicious you may become. They want you to act quickly. If you just slow down, think about the situation, give your gut feeling time to kick in, stop, call a friend or family member, just about anything other than what they are asking, more likely than not you can avoid these problems.
2. YOU CALL THEM!
So, what if you hang up, but still wonder if the call was real or not? Then put your mind at ease and call the company yourself. Yes, it may take some time out of your day, but in the end, you will speak with a legit employee of the company. You can inform them you were just called by them, got concerned, and want to check your account for any suspicious activity. Credit card companies, banks, and online shopping companies have fraud departments that can tell you exactly the status of your account.
Do not look up telephone numbers to call on Google. Scammers can purchase the top listings on Google that may promise you help and can publicize telephone numbers that just link back to the bad guys. Always visit the official website of the company, look at the bottom of the page for a “Contact Us” page, and look for a phone number there. For credit cards, the number to call is usually written on the back of the card itself. And when you find the real number, store it in your phone to call in the future.
3. ALWAYS BE ON HIGH-ALERT FOR POP-UP MESSAGES ON YOUR COMPUTER
This isn’t so bad for tablets and smartphones, but computers are very useful tools for bad guys to begin their scams. Most of the time, it could start with a phishing-email (an email that is intended to look like a legitimate email from a well-known company), or maybe you are surfing the web, looking up information, and all of a sudden a pop-up appears. Sometimes the text and graphics on the pop-up will be very alarming:
If this happens, try to exit the page. Look for an X in the top corner. Back away if at all possible. If you have to, fully turn off your computer. Just make sure not to click any link on the pop-up, or certainly do not call the phone number. This is NOT MICROSOFT. This is NOT APPLE. After turning off your computer, wait a few minutes and turn it back on. Think about what you were doing just before the fake warning came up. Perhaps that website was infected. In that case, avoid that website. Look for any new icons that weren’t there before. If you shut down quickly, most of the time you can avoid any major problems. If you have any suspicion that something isn’t right, turn off your computer and keep it off until someone you know and trust can run a virus or malware scan on the computer to ensure it is clean.
Not all messages that appear are bad. Microsoft and Apple often use pop-up notifications to inform you about important updates. Get to know what these look like. If you aren’t sure, it’s best to defer them until a later date (or at least until you have time to ask a computer professional if it’s real or not). I tell customers all the time to grab your telephone and take a photo of the message. An IT person can tell you right away if the message is legit or not.
4. GIFT CARD SCAMS
Be extra sensitive if someone is asking you to go buy gift cards. Since gift cards are in virtually every grocery store, scammers know that their victims are just a few miles away from a store that carries lots of instant e-cash, and if they are successful in tricking their victim into buying a gift card, that money would be instantly theirs with almost no recourse to get your money back.
I’ve heard of scammers on the phone with some of my customers who were afraid to give them their credit card over the phone. When the scammer offered to accept a gift card as another option, they felt that was ok, so off to the grocery store they went. Another common strategy is to receive a random email from a “friend” who is asking for a gift card to purchase for their grandchildren’s birthday, and that the “friend” will pay them back as soon as possible. NO! NO! NO!
This is just the tip of the iceberg of how crooks try to con people into giving up their information for financial gain. Be careful out there! The internet is the electronic version of the Wild, Wild West. Every man and woman for themselves!
(Image credit: pixabay, quoteinspector and Public Domain Pictures)