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A Brief Guide to Online Scams

By Mike Hoey

The internet is a wonderful creation that gives users an unlimited amount of information as well as allowing businesses to thrive and making communication easier than it has ever been. Unfortunately, it has also opened the door to criminals who will use any measures to exploit your trust and commit fraud against you. However, there are simple measures that you can take to prevent them from succeeding. Here are some of the ways that criminal organisations will try and con you and how you can protect yourself against them:

Phishing scams

These are basically emails that are designed to trick you into handing over information such as your username and password. There are 2 main categories for this type of scam that you need to be aware of.

First of all, you might get an email claiming to be from the bank, your email provider or someone else. They will tell you that there has been a problem and therefore require your personal details. Never reply! Any reputable company will never ask you for your security details, especially over email. If you get an email from the bank that looks genuine, give them a call (make sure you do not obtain the phone number from the email) and speak to them in person.

Secondly, there is the fake email scam. For example, you might get an email from eBay saying that you have purchased an item. Knowing that you have not purchased anything, you click on the link and log in to investigate. However, this may be a fake website and the owner will now have everything they need to access your accounts. Make sure you never use the links from within an email, type the address in manually.

Foreign investors (Nigerian email)

Similar to the phishing scam is the foreign investor. A common example is known as the Nigerian email scam. These scammers will email you saying that they have a large sum of money that they cannot access for some reason and ask you’re your help in exchange for a cut of the funds. Never reply! The money does not exist and they will eventually ask you for an advance fee which will never be returned. Those who reply are also exposing themselves to the risk of identity fraud.

Fake virus checker

So you’re browsing the internet and maybe find yourself on some less than reputable websites. Suddenly you get a pop-up saying that your computer may be at risk and you should download their software to protect yourself. Sometimes, the pop-up will say that it has already detected a virus. Never click! These will usually be malware that will either infect your computer or monitor your actions – including when you type in security details!

Fake software upgrade

This is similar to the fake virus scanner. Sometimes websites will tell you that you need the latest software (eg, flash, Silverlight, etc) update to run the page. You click on the link and boom! There is now malware on your computer. Unless you are on a reputable website, you should click any link of this kind. If you are told you need the latest version of flash, go onto the flash website and check for yourself.

Fake charity

Whenever there is a natural disaster or an international crisis, there will be charities that need money to support the victims. However, criminals will exploit this, pretend to be a charity and ask you for your hard earned cash. This money will only go as far as the criminals’ pockets. If you get a pop up asking you to donate money for a particular cause, make sure you do some research before you choose to pay to make sure that it is legitimate. Also, never click directly on the link, but visit the charity’s website directly.

Unsecured wifi

Using the internet on the move is now an essential part of life for many people. Many cafes, bars and hotels will offer free wifi to their customers, which is a great convenience. However, many of these wifi connections will not be secure. Therefore, anyone with the right equipment can monitor everything you do. If you use wifi in public, make sure that you do not expose your log in details or credit card details as you may not know who is watching.

Wifi Probes

When your mobile device is not connected to a wifi signal, it is actively sending out signals to look for one. These signals will include the name of the wifi networks that they are looking for. This information can be monitored! Some people will have the name of their home wifi set to their address, which lets these scammers know where you live. Make sure you set your home wifi to something unique, but not revealing.

A more sophisticated scam is to pretend to be the wifi network that your phone is looking for. As your phone attempts to link to it, your give your password and now the criminals have access to information on your phone. Make sure your wifi is switched off when you are not using it.

Use a virus scanner

Keep your antivirus software up to date and perform regular scans on your computer. If the software is bought online, make sure that it is from a supplier that you trust. Good antivirus software will often use a firewall to prevent malicious software from reaching your computer and make it easy to remove any that is already on the system.

Use Different Passwords

If you become a victim of a scam, criminals may have access to your password. Most people use the same password for most platforms, including social media, online shopping and paypal. This not only leaves you vulnerable to theft, but also identity fraud. Whilst it is unrealistic to expect you to have a different password for everything that you do, it is important to make it difficult for criminals to access your accounts. At the very least, your email password should be unique. The more unique passwords that you use, the more secure you will be.

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