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11 ways to avoid scams in the digital world

Fraud/Identity Theft
11 ways to avoid scams in the digital world

Even if you do everything possible to protect your identity, it only takes one small mishap to fall victim to a con artist. Every day, scammers work on new ways to exploit technology to steal identities and drain bank accounts. You can take measures to avoid scams by following these 11 steps.

Watch out for “SMiShing” attacks

With almost everyone having a smartphone, text messaging is becoming a more popular alternative to email. Instead of sending phishing emails (content that contains authentic-looking logos and familiar graphics but leads to a fake website that tricks you into sharing your personal information), some scammers opt to send fraudulent links through SMS text. If you receive a text stating that you won a free gift card or says there’s a problem with your account and asks for your account numbers, don’t click on anything or respond to it. Delete the text. If you need more information, contact the company to see if the offer is legitimate or a scam.

Arsenal Credit Union will not ask for personal information such as online credentials, account numbers or card numbers through email, voice or text messaging. If you ever get a message asking you to verify your credit union account information, call us to report the attempt.

Avoid scams Arsenal Credit Union

Choose an ATM at a branch

With less-constant surveillance on them, ATMs at gas stations and stand-alone locations are more likely to be tampered with than those at branches. Scammers install devices called skimmers and shimmers (for EMV-chip cards) to steal information. Using an ATM at an Arsenal branch, or at another credit union’s branch in the CO-OP Network, gives you more safety.

Don’t fall for Facebook clickbait

Say you like a new page on Facebook that posts cute pictures of cats or funny memes about pop culture. This may seem like an innocent way to use the social network, but it can come back to bite you. Once that page generates enough “likes,” it may change its content to promote bogus products or multilevel marketing schemes. So, instead of seeing cute cats on your newsfeed, you’ll start seeing scams that can possibly deceive you out of your money and personal information.

Deny anonymous tech-support reps access to your device

For most people, getting a virus is a worst-case scenario because your mobile device or computer could become unusable. Scammers take advantage of this fear by offering services where a fake agent will remotely access your computer and “scan” it for you. After the scan, they will give you an estimate on how much it will cost to repair or sign you up for a subscription service where you get billed an astronomical sum for their software every month – all when you never really had a virus to begin with.

Avoid these scams by never giving access to your computer to a random person who contacts you. Never give passwords or financial information to anyone who calls you and asks. If anyone emails or calls you about a virus on your computer, delete or hang up right away.

Avoid scams such as “ransomware”

Ransomware is a special type of computer virus that hijacks your computer and your data until you pay a fee (ransom) for it to be removed. Some ransomware will use phishing or SMiShing attacks, while others will ask for access to your computer. Ransomware has become more prevalent in recent years due to the proliferation of untraceable digital currency like Bitcoin.

To avoid scams involving ransomware, follow general technology and internet safety precautions: Keep your operating system up-to-date, don’t click on links in emails, avoid installing unknown software and do not give administrative rights away on your computer. You can also install antivirus software and back up your files in case they get breached. Read about how much ransomware attacks have cost some companies.

Avoid Scams Arsenal CU
Buy event tickets from the venue or a reputable broker

Do a Google search for a concert or sporting event you want to attend and what do you see? The first few results may look like legitimate places to buy your tickets, but sometimes scam sites pay money to get noticed first in the Google listing. When purchasing your tickets, try to do so from the venue’s box office or through a reputable ticket-selling website. If you’re buying from a third-party marketplace website, like StubHub or Vivid Seats, avoid scams by making sure it is recognized by the National Association of Ticket Brokers.

Donate to established organizations, not crowdfunding campaigns

If you see a campaign asking for donations on a site like Kickstarter or GoFundMe, donate at your own risk. These websites are mostly unregulated and the people using them can give very little detail on how they are actually going to use the funds they collect. Giving to local and national charities and organizations is a much safer way to make sure your money goes to where you are actually donating it.

Stay off free, public Wi-Fi networks

When you use a public Wi-Fi network, hackers can possibly eavesdrop in on your login credentials and connect to your shared folders. In fact, sometimes when you login to a public Wi-Fi network, it doesn’t belong to the coffee shop or restaurant you’re visiting, but to a hacker who set up his own network in the store to deliberately steal your information. Avoid falling victim to these scams by only connecting to networks you absolutely trust, turning off your shared folders and not sharing any financial information when using a public connection.

Download trusted mobile apps

There are hundreds of thousands of mobile apps available to download on Android and Apple devices. Scammers take advantage and create copies of the most popular ones to deceive consumers. Even when you download from the marketplace on your mobile device, you could still be getting something fraudulent. In addition to handing your money over to a fraudster for the app, you could also be giving up access to your phone, allowing the fake app to make calls, send texts and use your camera.

To tell if an app is legitimate, look for ones that have a lot of reviews. You can also avoid scams like this if the description contains spelling errors or it looks like it was sloppily put together. To make sure you are getting the real app, you can click the link to download it directly on the publisher’s website, and not directly from your device’s marketplace.

Avoid scams Arsenal CU
Buy only from trusted sites

Much like fake mobile apps, anyone can create a website that looks and feels like a legitimate one. Once you hit the “Buy Now” button or store any important information on the site, it is in the hands of whoever runs it. A legitimate eCommerce website will have a URL that starts with “https” and a lock next to it.

Read and research

By no means is this a thorough list. With every new technological innovation, there are new scams. You can avoid scams better by reading and conducting research through reputable sites like Better Business Bureau, FTC, Clark Howard and Consumer Reports. Arsenal will also have blog posts, emails and social media posts with the most up-to-date information on how to avoid scams.