Security Corner

How to avoid phishing scams

We’ve noticed a huge increase in fraud recently, as more individuals are targeted both over the phone and the computer.

Most of these attempts are based on tricking you into providing personal information or letting the bad guys through the cyber door. Listed below are some common examples of what to look out for in deceptive communication.

  • You may get phone calls claiming to be from big companies such as Apple or Microsoft, or a support firm that will refer you to their company page containing official looking receipts and account notes. They’ll tell you that your computer is infected and spreading viruses, and that the bank has asked them to contact you and clean up the problem, for a fee. They will offer to set up an account, with the full intention of obtaining your credit card number for theft.
  • Other common stories include the “police” needing access to your computer to “help catch a crook”, or the “tax department” demanding access to your computer remotely. In any case, it is best to approach these calls rationally. Fraudulent calls thrive off of quick decision making, and their time sensitive narratives are designed to hinder questions or analysis. By remaining calm and thinking about just what exactly the caller is asking, it will help you to distinguish fact from fiction. Remember that calls asking for access to personal information over telecommunication systems are fake.
  • At other times, you’ll be working along and suddenly your computer crashes – or seems to, a message pops up on the screen with all sorts of dire warnings about viruses and network problems. If you phone the number provided or click on a link, you’ll be convinced into letting someone into your computer remotely. They’ll sign you up for a support package and move some files around on your screen, delete some harmless ones, and tell you that they were damaged or dangerous-and then charge you a few hundred dollars. Sometimes they leave a little “time bomb” on your computer that will make your computer act up in a few weeks, with the intention that you’ll have to phone them back to get the problem fixed again.
  • Crooks may phone or email you, asking for some information, then assemble little bits of data they’ve acquired and use this to rack up huge loans under your name or create fake or stolen IDs. This is called phishing, as in “fishing” for information. You’ll get calls claiming to be a relative in need of money due to a car accident or legal problem. If you ask them for a phone number they usually hang up or give you excuses as to why they can’t give you a number. Again, this is a phony call.
  • You may also get emails claiming to be from the bank or other large businesses that you may have accounts with. These official looking forms are usually asking for account information, passwords, your mother’s maiden name, and so on. Sometimes they take the form of a bill or rental form to convince you to call or email and dispute the charge. Never reply to emails like this, or call the phone numbers that they provide as you will just be contacting the scammers.

Many of these claims are skillfully planned out so it is understandable why people fall victim to hoax. It is important to remain cautious whenever dealing with personal information and to be clear on the major indicator signs. Demographics that are more often susceptible to fraud, such as elderly individuals or extremely young adults, are at a particular risk. By staying informed and educating friends and family on the signs of fraud, there is a better chance that everyone will be protected.

If you ever question that something may be fraud, it is best to contact the company or individual directly with a reliable phone or email address, in order to distinguish the truth.