Help Protect Yourself from Identity Theft and Email Fraud
Trying to avoid email scams isn’t as simple as you may think. Most people know to delete messages promising lottery winnings or a free smartphone, but what about emails that look like they’re from legitimate businesses? Or links from family and friends? As people gain awareness of the risks of cybercrime, criminals are finding more subtle ways to appeal to consumers and lure them into their online scams.
According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), online crime has become pervasive throughout the U.S. in recent years. In 2015, the center received roughly 288,000 reports of Internet fraud totaling more than $1 billion in losses. Despite fraudsters’ increasing sophistication, simple awareness of the scams they employ may help you avoid falling victim to their tricks.
Be on the Lookout
- Fake business opportunities and “get rich quick” schemes: These usually work by promising you the chance to cash in with minimal effort. Though enticing, these emails and online ads lack detail about the supposed opportunity and provide links where you can learn more after, of course, entering your credit card information.
- Health and diet scams: Schemes like these prey on consumers’ insecurities by offering weight-loss products at special discount prices. However, the promised products are usually bogus or never arrive.
- Phishing scams: Fraudsters try to trick users into entering personal information on fake websites. Emails are forged to look like they’re from banks or other organizations users may actually have contact with.
- Trojan horse emails: These seemingly harmless emails, which often appear to come from family members and friends, implore users to open attachments or programs that give external hackers potential access to their personal files.
In addition, many fraudsters use old-fashioned hacking to force their way into your email. Once inside your account, they can search for financial information and sensitive data — and forward their scams to the contacts in your address book.
With all of the online threats out there, it’s important to help protect your personal and financial assets on the Internet. Though con artists are generally experts at creating believable hacks that are tough to detect, here are some steps you can take to help keep your information secure:
- Keep your web browser up to date. Browser developers work hard to respond quickly to new hacks and scams — so take advantage of their expertise, says the US-CERT.
- Create passwords that include numbers and special characters, such as #, & and *, to help make your email account more secure, adds the US-CERT.
- Avoid making purchases on public Wi-Fi networks. These networks, like at your local coffee shop or gym, are often less secure than private networks and potentially provide a wealth of opportunities for hackers, says the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
- Read the fine print in emails. Review all promises and claims carefully, and resist the urge to act immediately on special offers.
Being proactive against these scams may help you avoid identity theft and bring you one step closer to helping keep your personal information secure. To report spam, you can forward suspicious emails to the FTC at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published June 23, 2011.