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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Not all cyber weapons are created equal

Jan 27, 2023 10:41AM ● By Adam Cochran
Last month, I encouraged readers to have a safer 2023 by taking control of their online identity and abandoning obsolete advice that makes them more vulnerable to financial fraud and identity theft.

This month, I will talk about how scammers and other shady entities, such as sleazy telemarketers and email spammers, use your online identity to find you, gain your trust and take advantage.

Before I can explain how to protect yourself, you need to know what exactly you’re protecting yourself from. Here are a few terms to familiarize yourself with and know the differences:

Hacking: A bad guy getting into an area where he isn’t supposed to be and making changes.

Spoofing: Rather than get into an account, the bad buy pretends to be you by using software or creating a copy of your account in order to con the people you know.

Scam: When a bad guy gets you to send him money or information.

Phishing: An email, pop-up ad, phone call, snail mail or any other message that is designed to deceive you into giving up your username and passwords without realizing it.

Spear Phishing: Phishing attempts that are very precisely targeted, such as an email about your account that appears to be from your personal banker, or a strange text from your boss asking you to send him your login information.

False Positives: Fake alerts via email, text, voice calls or pop-ups that tell you that your computer, finances or online accounts are in danger.

Social Engineering: When the bad guy deceives you into voluntarily giving them information they can use to scam you.

Many of these tools cross over. Spoofing, phishing and false positives are all forms of social engineering that are designed to get past your learned defenses. Bad guys often use fake security pop-ups, recorded messages and emails to get you to contact them. 

Don’t be afraid to be rudely skeptical

Never give anyone remote access to your computer unless you are positive the person on the other end is legitimately trying to help you (like the IT guy from your work or a trusted family member).

It’s okay to be skeptical and even snarky. Any legitimate caller from a bank, credit card or similar entity will understand your reluctance. There are always official channels that you can use to verify the legitimacy of the issue or someone’s honest desire to help. Don’t ever contact someone via the links, phone numbers or email address that the person in question provided to you. 

Verify. Verify. Verify

If you get an email or phone call saying you are in violation, past due or in danger of, don’t respond to it.

If you get a random text telling you that your bank has approved an unexpected transaction for $700, log in to your banking app from a separate device, go to the bank or look up the bank’s phone number and verify it directly. 

Most bad guys will give you nine truths and a lie. The lie will be the door they need you to open for them.

If you receive an email or a call from Microsoft and they confirm your name, phone number and address, and tell you they need control of your computer to fix an issue, hang up. 

Just because they can provide information that is available on a utility bill or in your voter registration, doesn’t mean they are official.

Don’t wire money from unofficial “banks”

Legitimate banks are obligated by the government to protect your money. All genuine banks have fraud specialists that you can talk to for free because they are legally obligated to protect the government’s money.

However, just because an entity has a teller doesn’t mean you are working with a bona fide bank. 

Western Union, check cashing places and the “bank” in Walmart are not official banks. They are called Money Service Businesses (MSBs). If another party requires you to make the transaction through an MSB, it is always a scam.

Credit cards safeguard more than you think

Pay with plastic whenever possible. Credit card companies insure and ensure against fraudulent activity by offering purchase protection. This allows you to file claims over fraudulent activity and receive reimbursement for it. 

If you must do a financial transaction electronically or over the phone, a debit or credit card is always the safest option. You can rest assured that credit card companies will guard your purchases.

Our country’s economy will likely be complicated and unpredictable in 2023. When people are in hardship, they become more vulnerable to scams and hoaxes. Spending time protecting yourself will be more effective when you know how to outsmart the bad guys.

Common-sense rules for preventing fraud and scams

Common-sense rules for preventing fraud and scams

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