How to Avoid Cyber Scams

4 min read

You’ve seen the emails.

A Prince wants to send you half his fortune. All you have to do is give him your checking account number. Anybody with half a brain would know this is a scam, right? Wrong.

According to the Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker, Americans lost more than $700,000 to this email scam in 2018. It’s still going around today, and people are still falling for it.

Cybercrime is a lucrative business and scammers are constantly coming up with new ways to separate you from your money using these three tactics: email, telephone, and social media.

Email Scams

Most email scams involve phishing, which is defined as “the fraudulent practice of sending emails purporting to be from reputable companies in order to induce individuals to reveal personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers.”

The email received from the mysterious “prince” is a type of phishing. The FBI refers to this as an advanced fee scam or a “419.” If you respond with your banking info, the scammer wipes out your account via electronic transfer. Scammers have gotten so good that they can send emails that look like they’re coming from your own bank. These emails will alarm you by saying your account was hacked and tell you to “click this link” in order to change your password. But that link goes to a site owned by the hacker, who is then able to steal your login information by asking for your current username and password.

Phishing emails are also how many companies get hacked. An employee gets an email that looks like it’s coming from their IT department, asking them to change their password. When the employee clicks on the link, the hacker either steals their login info or downloads a virus to the computer that affects the whole network.

Phone Scams

It’s sad to say that phone scammers prey primarily on the elderly. They say they’re calling from Medicaid to update insurance information, which always involves asking for a social security number. Or there are the calls pretending to be the IRS and demanding instant payment for back taxes and threatening arrest.

Another common phone scam involves “tech support.” The scammer will say they’re calling because they’ve noticed a virus in the computer system and they want to help fix it. They steal the login info and then offer an expensive tech support contract to prevent any future viruses.

The worst of the phone scams are when the caller has discovered the name of an elderly person’s grandkids and say they’ve been kidnapped and demand a ransom payment. There’s a special place in hell for scammers like this.

Social Media Scams

Social media scammers are a bit more sophisticated. They will actually take the time to learn things about you in order to become your friend and gain your trust. This happens a lot on dating sites where a scammer will pretend to be interested in someone, build a rapport, and then ask that person for money.

Another way scammers gain access to your personal information is by getting you to respond to Facebook posts that say something like, “The name of your first pet plus your mother’s maiden name is your stripper name.” Yeah, the answers are always funny and entertaining, but they’re also the answers to a lot of common security questions used to verify your identity when changing your passwords.

Of course, applications such as Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn have plenty of built-in security measures in place to protect the company from hackers. But they can’t protect you from falling prey to people who pretend to be your friend but have ulterior motives.

How Scammers Operate

Scammers use fear, familiarity, and greed in their tactics. Think of a scammer as a slimy used-car salesman that’s about to sell you a big lemon. They are experts at the six principles of persuasion.

Reciprocity - A scammer will pretend to want to help you or be your friend. They will offer or provide you with information and make you feel obligated to reciprocate.

Scarcity - A scammer will tell you it’s a limited time offer and you have to act now or you’ll miss out!

Authority - A scammer will pose as a person with authority (i.e., the IRS, the police, tech support, a Medicare representative)

Consistency - A scammer will coax you into acting consistently, starting with innocent questions to make you comfortable and then escalating to more personal ones.

Liking - A scammer will make you like and trust him.

Consensus - A scammer will tell you that everyone in your office has already updated their password and you’re his last call.

How to Avoid Cyber Scams

Scammers are targeting you every single day, whether you know it or not. They are constantly coming up with new ways to approach you, new ways to convince you, and new ways to steal your hard earned money.

If you want to avoid becoming a victim of cyber scams, follow these tips.

  • Never provide personal information (i.e., date of birth, social security number, drivers license number, banking info, etc.) over the phone or internet.

  • If a phone call sounds suspicious, hang up and block the number.

  • Never click a link in an email from someone you don’t know. Never respond to emails from someone you don’t know either.

  • Be wary of strangers trying to befriend you on social media. You may trust the platform, but that doesn’t mean you should trust everyone using the platform.

  • Check your banking and credit card transactions at least once a week for any suspicious activity. If you find any, call your bank directly or go into a branch office to report. Then have your account numbers changed.

  • Change your passwords on a regular basis and make them incredibly hard to guess.

  • Make your social media accounts private or vet all the people who want to connect with you. Never share sensitive information on social media.

The bottom line is that if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Trust your instincts and learn how to spot a scam. Don’t get sold a lemon. #BeCyberSmart