You’re scrolling through your emails when you see one from Apple that says your ID was used to log into a version of your phone that you don’t have. The email looks legit, minus the typo you missed in the subject line because you were in a slight panic. You know you probably shouldn’t click the link but you do anyway and see a web page asking you to log in. Now you know it’s a scam.
People are fooled by scam emails, phone calls and social media messages every day. But thinking clearly and not making any hasty decisions in any type of scamming incident could keep you from being conned.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, phishing is when a scammer uses fraudulent emails, text messages or copycat websites to get you to share personal information that could be used to steal your money, your identity or both. Phishing emails can also give scammers access to your computer or network where they will install ransomware programs to lock you out of important files.
So what do you do? The FTC suggests being cautious about opening attachments or clicking links in emails. Instead, search the link on your own or call the company, friend or family member shown as the sender to see if they actually need the requested personal information. Two-factor authentication provides additional security on certain accounts by requiring your password and another piece of information, such as a code sent to your phone or a random number generated by an app, before access is granted.
The FTC website notes that thousands of people lose money to telephone scams each year. Some scammers claim your loved one hit their car or that they are an IRS representative collecting a debt. These calls generally involve threats regarding your loved one’s life or prison time, respectively, if payment isn’t received immediately. Others claim you have won a valuable prize or were selected for a special offer – typically a too-good-to-be-true scenario.
Keep in mind that the IRS will never contact taxpayers through email, texts or social media channels and will never threaten taxpayers with a lawsuit or imprisonment. It’s always best to avoid answering numbers you don’t recognize and never to engage if you do pick up. You already know not to wire money to anyone you don’t know, but you should also avoid purchasing an iTunes gift card for the requested amount and handing over the code. The AARP says iTunes is the newest preferred payment method for scammers because it is virtually untraceable.
You can add your number to the Do Not Call List in an effort to avoid these calls; however, that generally won’t deter a scammer. Another alternative is Hiya, which is considered one of the best call blocker and caller ID lookup apps that is free for Apple and Android devices. It helps you identify calls from people you want to talk to, create a personalized block list, and perform a reverse phone lookup. It also provides automatic alerts to warn you if an incoming call is a scam.
In a WalletHub study published at the end of 2016, Florida ranked as the third most vulnerable state for identity theft and fraud. While personal and financial information is commonly stolen in email and phone scams, social media also plays a part.
Phishing messages can be delivered to your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and even LinkedIn profiles, but it’s much more than that. As part of the WalletHub study, Gary T. Leavens, professor and chair of the Department of Computer Science at the University of Central Florida, was asked if the recent expansion of social media is facilitating identity thefts.
“Most probably, as social media makes it easier to learn details such as one’s birthday, mother’s maiden name and place of birth that are sometimes used as secondary identification factors,” he says. “People should be very careful to not give out too many details about themselves that are used in this way, and businesses and governments should be more discerning in the kinds of questions they ask, so as to avoid asking questions that can be easily answered by looking at social media.”
The most important thing is to be aware. Consider signing up for free alerts at FTC.gov/scams so you aren’t caught off guard.