It is obvious to everyone that the online world is populated with a large number of scam artists. The sole purpose of these fiends is to innovate devious ways of perpetrating cyber fraud. With every aspect of our lives at the mercy of the Internet, we must constantly seek ways to fortify our online defenses. The following are ten (10) important ways to save yourself from a variety of online scams.
Install Antivirus (AV) Software on All Your Devices
You really can’t be looking over your shoulder every time you access the Internet from your laptop or smart device. Installing a reputable antivirus and/or spyware removal application will ensure that all your private and confidential information stays that way. You’ll also want to make certain that you have its auto-update feature enabled so that any patches or updates are applied and that the software stays current.
Do this and you’ll have a good shot at avoiding the dangers which lurk in the dark and shady corners of the World Wide Web. We’ve done most of the hard work for you and have tested and reviewed several antivirus products. Check out our product reviews page to find the best antivirus software for your device.
Never Send or Wire Money to Someone You Don’t Know
Seems obvious, right? You wouldn’t believe the number of people who still fall victim to the likes of the Nigerian Prince Internet scam! As an experienced online user, you have likely received emails from obscure parts of the world. Some make claims of having struck a windfall of millions, all the while requesting your help in transferring that money in exchange for gifting you a few thousand dollars.
Others may attempt to sell you bogus products and services. Whatever the case, you should never fall for scams of this nature. However creative and genuine they may seem, you avoid such interactions like the plague. There is no such thing as a free lunch.
Never Share Your Confidential Information
Phishing is when cyber criminals attempt to access your sensitive and confidential information for nefarious purposes. But in order to do that, they have to fool you into believing they are legitimate sources, like government officials, tax authorities and even popular websites. They may demand to know your social security number, credit card number and other sensitive information, and claim that such information will help them assist you. In reality, its just one of several online scams used to rip people off.
Such social engineering tactics are fake and you should steer clear from them. No responsible party, government agency or bank will ever ask for such information.
Proceed with Caution when Clicking on Hyperlinks in Emails
It’s a fact that most of the email you will receive is unsolicited from people you don’t know. And almost EVERY email will contain hyperlinks and call-to-actions (CTAs) requesting you to click them. But if you were to simply hover over those links with your mouse, you could see exactly where they point to. If the link is illegible or looks to be convoluted, it’s almost certain to be a trap! The same criteria should be applied to the sender’s email address. What you should do immediately is delete such emails and sanitize your computer with antivirus (AV) software. This will save you a world of trouble.
Create and Use Formidable Passwords
In a world of online scams, it is amazing how millions of people continue to use easily guessed passwords like their date of birth and numbered sequences like “12345!” Such passwords are quite easy for any sophisticated hacker to crack. At minimum, you should create a password that is at least eight (8) characters long with a mix of numbers, special characters, and upper and lower case letters. Frequently changing these passwords is also a good way to keep your online accounts safe.
Only Donate to Reputable Charities
What better way to defraud people than to tug at their heart strings? You may have found yourself donating to a charity in all sincerity, only to realize that it was a front to rip off people. And don’t think it ends with your one-time gift. The credit card details you entered will invariably be used for other fraudulent transactions online.
We recommend you ONLY donate to charities you are familiar with, or those with good ratings on the popular Charity Navigator website.
Only Visit Safe Websites
You may innocently “log into” what you thought was a genuine shopping website, but quickly learn that you’ve fallen to the ploy of hackers who wish to steal your confidential information. To learn just how safe a website is, you should check for a padlock icon to the left of the browser’s address bar. This indicates that an SSL certificate has been installed for the website and that all data is encrypted. If present, all is well (in theory) and you can safely transact on the website.
It should be noted that the absence of the padlock icon doesn’t necessarily mean that a website is fraudulent. But it does mean that any form data on the site is not encrypted, hence exposing you to the likelihood of compromise. When in doubt, there are tons of free tools available online that will allow you to check the safety of a website by entering its URL. Check out Google’s Safe Browsing technology to see this in action. You should also check out our article on the Dark Web to learn about why it may be beneficial to avoid.
Avoid Saving Financial Information on Shopping Sites
Even though popular e-commerce sites like Amazon and Ebay have dedicated security teams, and smaller websites with shopping carts can be bolstered with SSL certificates, it can be debated whether it is safe to store your credit card and other financial information in online accounts. A determined hacker is capable of breaching the most complex of security measures, and there are countless testaments to this fact. It may be idea to keep your financial information offline and in your wallet, and only use it when you are making one-time Web purchases.
Post Sparingly About Yourself Online
This is a tough rule to follow given that most social media posts are the result of compulsive behavior. Doing so can also prove to be a bed for online scams. At the very least, you should optimize your social media accounts by configuring their privacy settings. The best course of action, however, is to resist from sharing information that might otherwise compromise your privacy and security.
Don’t Store Sensitive Information on Your Phone
The advent of smart phones has amounted to a constant state of connectivity and technology which never leaves our sides. We use our smart phones and tablets to help facilitate functions that were once restricted to the physical world. These include banking, shopping and paying our monthly bills. Despite this incredible convenience, you would be well advised to avoid storing any of your sensitive information on your smart devices. Anything that isn’t affixed to your home can be lost or stolen as you move about through your day.
While the number of online scams seem to be growing by the day, the fact of the matter is that most of us can easily keep ourselves safe by exercising a few simple precautions. These include things like installing antivirus (AV) software, and using common sense when wiring money, visiting websites, and sharing personal information related to our identities.
With all the exciting, scientific breakthroughs that promise to enhance the modern standard of living, the cyber world is on the cusp of another revolution. We should sit back and enjoy the ride—but only after ensuring that we have taken the necessary steps to ensure our online safety.