I’m a big fan of how technology makes life easier. Unfortunately, it also makes it easier for scam artists to target potential victims. For many, the relative newness of using email and web access for banking, shopping and paying bills leaves them vulnerable to crooks looking to steal personal information for financial gain. Trust your instincts and arm yourself with knowledge to protect yourself from these common scams.
“We suspect that your account has been compromised.” Whether you receive this notice via email, text, or telephone, you’re typically directed to a website that either downloads malicious software onto your computer or requests that you provide personal information, allowing the scammer to steal from you. Weblinks can be “masked” to look like your bank or credit card company’s website, but clicking it takes you to a completely different site. Hover your cursor over the link to see the actual address you’ll be directed to. Simple rule: never click on a link in an email or reply to an unsolicited message with personal information. Call the company or go directly to their website by typing the address into the browser bar yourself.
Now that so many of us frequent Facebook, it’s no surprise scam artists have started targeting our social networking activities. A common bait is the enticing: “I just signed up to win an iPad 2. Click here for your chance to win!” posted on a friend’s Facebook page. Click the link and you’re prompted to allow access to your Facebook account and personal information before you’re “entered into the contest.” All you get is lots of spam and your personal data being compromised or sold.
Pinterest, a hugely popular “shareable scrapbook” linked to Facebook, allows people to “pin” pictures to their boards that automatically link to outside websites. Beware of those encouraging you to “re-pin” for a reward, often promising a gift certificate to your favorite store. Provide your information to claim the non-existent prize and as with the iPad contest example, you expose yourself to data mining.
Thieves have discovered ways to take advantage of online shopping and trading venues as well. Many buyers and sellers already know not to enter into a transaction that requires an advanced fee, or send a high dollar item to a potential buyer without payment in escrow. One sneakier trick is the “over-payment” scam. A buyer makes a strong offer, and then sends you a check for more than the price you agreed upon. “Oops, do you mind wiring me the difference?” You wire the cash, his check bounces, and he disappears with your money.
Then there’s the pre-approved credit card offer that requires a “small transaction fee” to process your application. You send your money and never hear from the company again. Bottom line: don’t provide information or payment in response to any unsolicited email, pop-up ad, web contact, or phone call.
Finally, a scam that takes advantage of people concerned about viruses and spyware is becoming more common. You get a phone call out of the blue. The caller tells you that she’s from Microsoft and an infection has been detected on your system. She can get it cleaned off for you; all you need to do is give her remote access to your PC and pay a small fee for the virus removal. While most PC users would know better than to click a pop-up ad with a similar message, the telemarketer can be quite convincing. For the record, Microsoft will never contact you to tell you there’s a problem with your PC, so don’t buy it. The same goes for Dell, HP, Norton, etc. Don’t trust anyone who tells you they’ve discovered a problem with your PC, sight unseen, and then asks you to pay for repair. Hang up and, if you think there might be a legitimate problem, call your computer service company.
Andrea Eldridge is CEO of Nerds on Call, which offers on-site computer and home theater set-up and repair. Based in Redding, Calif., it has locations in five states. Contact Eldridge at www.callnerds.com/andrea