Simple Steps to Protecting Yourself Against Online Scams (Phishing, SMishing, Vishing)
Anyone who is connected to the internet will be a target of online scams. These scams are common and come in a variety of ways. Scams may be on your smart phone via text, in an email and even in the form of a phone call. The key to keeping yourself safe from getting scammed is to be aware of various methods scammers use to try and trick you.
Scammers want to get money out of you. They do this by stealing your personal information and having you pay for something you don’t need. Once you are more attentive to the methods online scammer use, you’ll be more quipped to recognize them and even more importantly, ignore them.
Let’s review what these methods are and also give you some tips on how to confirm whether an email, text or phone call is legitimate or not. There are three main ways scam artists use to get your attention and fool you. Phishing, SMishing and Vishing. Here is what each of them mean and how you can protect yourself if presented by one of these methods.
Phishing happens when a scam is sent to you via email. Most often, a scammer will invite you to click a link to gain access to your personal information. They will pose as a legitimate company, such as a bank, an online streaming service or social media platform. Basically, any online account you may or may not have is fair game.
You may not even use one of these services and wonder why they are targeting you. This is why it’s called Phishing. The term was created to sound like the word ‘fishing’. Someone fishing on a lake will cast their hook out into the water. They don’t know how many fish are in the lake. They don’t see the fish or know whether any of them are even interested in the bait on the hook. But the person fishing knows there may be at least one fish that will take a bite and be hooked. Another way to look at it is this. Imagine someone fishing from a boat with a large net. Not all the fish will be caught, but many will.
In the same way an online scammer will send the same email to millions of people. It may be for a company you don’t have an account to. But many other people getting the same email could be tricked into clicking the link. By doing so they will log in to a fake website and the scammer will capture their username and password. This will give the scammer access to the user’s real account in order to steal their identity.
How to Protect Yourself: Never click on a link you receive in an email, even if you think the email is legitimate from an account you have. Simply go to your web browser and visit your account’s website directly or by using a bookmark you’ve created. Log in from there and check to see if there are any issues with your account.
Phishing only works because people are not paying attention. For example, let’s say you just ordered a package from Amazon. Shortly afterward, an email arrives stating that there is something wrong with your shipment. This is probably a coincidence. You can see how easy it would be to click the link since you just sent a package.
SMishing is when a scammer sends a message to you via text. It is called SMishing because texting is also known as SMS (short message services). Just like Phishing, criminals who want to steal your information or money cast a wide net via text to catch people off guard. SMishing is a more recent problem. There has been a lot of information about email scams over the past few years. Now, we need to be also be on the look out for SMishing scams on our phones. Most often these are security texts which appears to be from a bank stating that something is wrong with your account. The goal is the same. To trick you into giving over your personal information.
SMishing may also come in the form of a positive message. It may be a great deal on something but by clicking you may end up paying for something you won’t receive. Most recently with the Coronavirus outbreak, there have been text scams offering free face masks or hand sanitizer.
How to Protect Yourself: Be careful when clicking links in a text. Never click on a link associated with an account you may have, such as a bank account or any online account, including Spotify or Facebook. Of course, friends may send you links to websites or videos. In that case, just be extra careful and pay close attention to who is sending you the link.
The “V” in Vishing stands for voice call scams. We’ve all received them. We’ve all been greatly annoyed by these scam phone calls that come from a foreign or strange looking phone number. Worse yet, many calls that are spoofed to look like a local number. The Spoofing of a phone number is when a caller makes it look like they are calling from a particular number, but the call is actually from different location altogether.
Just like other scams you need to be ready to think before you respond. The call may sound like it’s from a legitimate establishment. Adults are often tricked into thinking the call is from their government’s tax collection service. If the call is fact real, they won’t be threatening the receiver with arrest by the police if they don’t pay immediately, as scammers often do.
How to Protect Yourself: Never give any personal information over the phone, even if the person sounds like they are from a real company. If in doubt, hang up and call the company directly. If the caller is uttering threats or demanding information or money, hang up! You can also do your part to stop the scammer by reporting it. Google the contact information for your country’s anti-fraud center. You can call them or submit a report online from their website.
Protecting Your Computer from Scams:
On a final note, it’s important for anyone with a computer or laptop to also protect themselves from malware and viruses. If you accidentally click on a bad email link, you have better protection with a secure computer.
- Make sure your operating system’s security features are activated and up to date.
- Then install a reputable anti-malware software program. This type of program will also offer protection when surfing the web, in the event you land on an infected website that is trying to access your personal information.
These types of malicious websites may also try to secretly install malware on your computer and direct you to fake websites. You could also be infecting other computers through email without your knowledge.
To ensure you don’t have malware currently on your computer, you can do a free scan using MalwareBytes.