In a world where it’s hard to trust what we see on social media and what comes through our email inbox, how do we keep ourselves protected against predatory online scammers?

Norberto Valladares, San Jacinto College customer care analyst, offers some tips to avoid being swindled by these con artists and some trends likely targeting senior populations.

Trending scams

Calls or emails from the IRS claiming you are being audited. It is likely that in the case of a true IRS audit, you will receive an official letter. The IRS doesn’t initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages, or social media channels to request personal or financial information. How to combat it? If you are suspicious, you can call 1-800-366-4484 to verify a claim.

Spoofing bank emails claiming the subject is in overdraft or experiencing some other issue. Scammers are becoming especially good at copying “the logo, look, and feel” of your banking institution’s official emails, tricking many into believing they are legitimate. The best way to verify if an email is real is to look at the email address. Does it come from your bank’s website? You can also call your institution directly to verify the issue.

Making users install virus or tracking software while downloading something legitimate. “Let’s say you want to download a player for music on to your computer, and there’s a bright flashy pop-up that says you are required to also download a secondary program. More often than not, it’s going to be spam. Be very careful about what you are downloading and installing,” said Valladares.

The use of ransomware. “A person could be checking their email, and they receive a message that says all of their secrets have been captured. They will then threaten to release the pictures and messages if they aren’t sent a sum of money. DON’T ever fall for these threats,” Valladares said. Taking your computer to an expert can ensure the presence of such software, where it can then be removed. Most often, this is a bluff on the part of the scammer.

Everyday tips to keep you safe

Don’t ever feel threatened. Scammers will try to come down hard on consumers and threaten them by saying, “We’re going to call the police if you don’t pay these taxes” or “Your computer is going to die if you don’t pay us for this update.” You are in control. You have the power to stop and always verify the information. 

Stick to businesses you know are legitimate and that use a secure site. Look for a lock in the web address bar. This assures that the site you are ordering from protects your privacy.

Vary passwords to different websites. It’s important to vary the passwords you use for different sites and services. If a hacker does infiltrate your email and you use the same password for banking and credit cards, you’ll have a much bigger problem on your hands. Ideally you should change these passwords every six months.

Always verify any information directly before taking action. If it sounds too good to be true, or if you are suspicious, take the time to verify with the source before paying someone or giving out your information. 

Melissa Trevizo

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