Phishing, worms, and bots, oh my! Never fall prey to costly internet scams again.

By Alice Williams
February 03, 2020

The benefits of the internet are unparalleled. Who doesn’t enjoy free two-day shipping from Amazon Prime and getting answers to your most pressing questions in mere moments? We enjoy seemingly endless benefits of being so connected through the internet, so it’s easy to ignore the risks that come with internet access.

Internet scams are common and only increasing in number year after year. They often strike when you’re least expecting them and can end up costing you hundreds—if not thousands—of dollars. (They can even lead to your identity being stolen.) To keep you safe from pernicious scams online, here are five simple steps you can take to avoid the nastiest internet scams out there.

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1
Verify the legitimacy of the site.

How many times have you stumbled across a website with prices that are a fraction of the price of major retailers? This is usually a warning sign that the site may not be legitimate. According to Milos Varaklic, VP of Operations at MDG, it’s important to thoroughly research a website before making a purchase from it (and potentially losing that money). This means taking the time to read customer reviews to determine if they’re real or not, vetting their “About” and “Contact Us” pages, and getting in touch with a representative before buying something if you have concerns.

“Bots will generate scam websites selling products you were recently looking at, at extremely cheap costs, yet they will lack a working contact, address, and credible ‘about us’ page,” Varaklic says.

If you come across a site that sets off warning bells, check for complaints by visiting the Federal Trade Commission, Better Business Bureau, or the Consumer Protection Agency.

2
Use a password manager.

You’ve likely heard this advice once or twice before, but it’s time to listen: Use a password manager. (At the very least, start using better passwords.) Password managers can mean the difference between staying secure or losing thousands of dollars—especially if you use the same password across multiple accounts. There are many free password managers that can help you manage all your passwords in one place. That way, you can use a different password for each account without forgetting any.

Hackers trying to access personal information and financial details (think bank accounts and credit card numbers) count on the fact that people will choose passwords that have personal meaning behind them, such as birthdays, anniversaries (which are easy for hackers to figure out), and obvious passwords such as “password.” While password managers aren’t a foolproof solution, they provide stronger password combinations than we could come up with on our own, and they’re constantly updating and improving.

Most password managers use zero-knowledge security protocols. This means that the master password is encrypted with an encryption key that is available only on the user’s computer or mobile device, making it difficult for hackers to access your list of passwords. Even better? The parent company can’t access your passwords, since the encryption key is stored on your device.

3
Think twice before clicking on email links.

Alex Rivera, Internet Safety Expert at CenturyLinkQuote, says that more than $1 billion has been lost from compromised emails. One common scam to look out for is phishing, which is when a hacker will send an email that appears to be from a legitimate company and ask for sensitive information, such as your social security number.

Another way phishing emails dupe people is by inviting you to click on a link in the email. Before ever clicking on a link in an email, Rivera recommends hovering over the link and verifying if the link is from the actual website, or if it’s a fake link created to capture your personal data.

Additionally, Rivera suggests checking whether or not the email addresses you by your name or with a generic introduction (e.g., “Hello Dear,” or “Dear Customer”). Phishing emails are designed to invoke panic in the reader by demanding that you act instantly or face repercussions. If you think you received a phishing email, keep a cool head and know that you can always call or message the company in question if the email seems fishy.

4
Be wary of Twitter contests.

We’re not saying you should never enter another giveaway on social media, but we are saying you should think twice before entering a Twitter contest. Hackers take advantage of Twitter users by cleverly enticing them to enter contests on Twitter for the chance to win exciting prizes, like the latest iPhone or new Mac laptop.

Normally, you’ll receive a tweet from another Twitter follower telling you about a contest they just entered and providing a link so you can learn more. When you click on the link, it’ll download a bot, and you’ll be added to a list of zombies. Zombies are compromised computers connected to the internet that are used to spread more online scams.

5
Beware the catfish.

Sadly, there are hackers who’ll prey on people looking for love. Colloquially referred to as “catfishers,” this type of online fraud accounts for more than $360 million in losses, according to Rivera. These scammers reel you in by portraying a real, authentic person and sending you fake photos and contact information, then asking for money or gifts at some point.

The best way to avoid these types of scammers is to know the warning signs in advance. Be on high alert if you receive requests for money, appeals to quickly move from chatting in the safety of a dating site (like Whatsapp, Line, etc) to offline, and professions of love in a short amount of time.

If you think you’re being pressured into doing something, remember that anyone interested in a genuine long-term relationship (digital or in-person) won’t make you do something you’re uncomfortable with.

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