Financial scams are nothing new, but the digital revolution has brought about a startling increase in the sheer number of scams, as well as the variety of ways criminals can target people. In this day and age, it’s important to learn how to protect yourself and avoid becoming a statistic.
Never wire money to a stranger
Advance-fee scams are still out there. Most people are familiar with the Nigerian prince who wants to send you money as soon as you wire some. No matter what kind of story you hear, there is never any reason to wire money to a stranger. A similar scam involves phoning an elderly person and claiming to be their grandchild (no name given) saying they’ve been in an accident and need them to wire money asap. Keep in mind that once you wire cash, the money is gone. There is no way to trace it or reverse the transaction.
Never give out financial information
This type of scam is known as phishing. Remember that no legitimate company will ever blindly ask you for your financial or personal information. If anything, companies will constantly remind you about unsafe methods of communication. Regardless of the method: phone, email or text, you should never reveal sensitive financial information to an unknown person or business. Another common scam is to get a call from your “credit card fraud protection services” department, wanting you to verify information. Your bank or credit card company will never contact you and ask for your personal information. Ask to call them back and then verify the number.
Never click on hyperlinks in emails
Known as pharming, it is very easy nowadays for a scammer to hijack someone’s address book and send out messages posing as the victim. These emails usually want the recipient to click on an attachment or internet link. Never click on any link or attachment if you feel it might be a hacked account. Likewise, if you receive an email from a stranger or a company that asks you to click on a link or open an attachment, and then asks you for any information, delete the email immediately.
Make your passwords difficult
You are just asking for trouble if you create intuitive passwords such as “password” or “12345”. Common pet names and simple number combinations are also very easy to guess. You should create passwords that are at least eight characters long that contain both lower and uppercase letters. You should also include special characters, when possible. Ideally, each account password should also be unique. Avoid using the same password across various apps and websites. This can get very tedious very quickly, but there are password programs such as RoboForm and LastPass that can help you generate and store all your passwords.
Don’t share your Social Security number
Never share your social security number with anyone unless you are conducting a secure business transaction with a legitimate company. Social security numbers should never be sent over an untrusted network, via text or email, or sent to someone you don’t know.
Keep antivirus and spyware/malware up to date
Make sure to stay current with the latest versions of your antivirus software. All firewall and malware protection comes with an auto update feature which continually downloads the latest databases.
Don’t trust unfamiliar retailers online
People love to shop online, but it’s important to stick with reputable online companies with a good reputation. The Better Business Bureau is a great way to research a company and look for any complaints before making a purchase.
Never install pop-up links
The biggest online annoyance is the flurry of pop-up ads. Some even have fake exit “X”s that take people to another website or begin an instant download. Pop-ups also sometimes take the form of a warning, telling your that your computer is unsafe and to “click here” for a solution or to run a system scan. These should always be ignored. If necessary, close your browser and empty your cache and cookies.
Only browse trusted websites
Sometimes you’ll need to enter financial or private information online, such as when you’re shopping. Verify that the website uses encryption by checking their secure socket layer (SSL) certificate and making sure the URL begins with “https” before you enter any data.
Only donate to legitimate charities
If you receive a cold call asking for a charitable donation, there are many ways you can protect yourself. Ask questions about who you are speaking with and where your money is going and then research the company online. The IRS has a list of legitimate charities you can search from.