Those of us who recall life before the internet are amazed when we stop and think about how much it has changed our world. To say that masses of information are now available to us is clearly an understatement. And sadly, misinformation is just as prevalent as reliable facts. Humans have a tendency to lean toward content that confirms rather than challenges our beliefs. And if something seems too good to be true, rather than giving us pause, we often take the bait. These tendencies, unfortunately, led to internet scams to the tune of three and a half billions of dollars in losses for Americans in 2019 (Statista).
According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, the most frequently reported complaints in 2019 were “phishing and similar ploys, non-payment/non-delivery scams, and extortion.” So what is “phishing”? Phishing is when scammers commit identity theft by using fake emails, text messages, or websites that look identical to legitimate vendors. Phishing can also be used “to steal personal information including credit card and bank account numbers, debit card PINs, and account passwords” (USA.gov “Online Safety”). Scammers copy logos with such accuracy that it’s difficult or impossible to differentiate between them and an authentic company. They will ask you to click on a link in their email or to give them your bank account number, credit card number, or personal information to verify your account or confirm your identity. “They may even threaten to disable your account” if you do not quickly respond under the guise that they are looking out for your safety (USA.gov “Online Safety”). This should raise a red flag, as legitimate companies do not ask you for such information by email (USA.gov “Online Safety”).
Phishing emails may also come from someone you know whose account has been hacked. This helps make the request seem legitimate. This type of phishing is also known as “pfishing” (“17 Common Online Scams”).
Internet shopping scams are also easy to fall victim to. These scams involve a company that appears to be selling you something, takes your money, and likely even sends you a confirmation email, but they have no intention of sending you a product (“17 Common Online Scams”). Products on these sites often appear to be deeply discounted and therefore enticing. However, at best you will be out the money you spent. You stand to lose even more if you have provided credit card information which the company will then use to make further purchases (“17 Common Online Scams”).
Additional scams include the Nigerian scam, involving a seemingly desperate, possibly wealthy, individual looking for temporary aid with health issues or travel issues moving to this country (called so because a rash of these originally came from Nigeria, though now they come from a variety of countries); bitcoin and cryptocurrency scams offering the opportunity to make an initial investment in a (real or fictitious) company about to go up for an initial coin offering; digital kidnapping, in which one or more of your social media profiles is hacked, and the perpetrator demands money for you to resume access; dating and romance scams involving someone who at first seems exciting, fun, and engaging but soon asks you for money to help them with unexpected situations; and many more (“17 Common Online Scams”).
So how can we stay safe and still benefit from what the internet has to offer? There are a few steps we can take to avoid becoming victims of a scam.
- First, if an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. Contact the company to verify an enticing offer. Go to their website to be sure it is the legitimate version rather than clicking through links provided on the offer you are viewing.
- If you are suspicious about a bill or account statement, access the company in a new tab rather than using a link provided, look for contact information, share your suspicions with a customer service representative, and ask if your account has been compromised (USA.gov “Online Safety”).
- Utilize two-factor authentication which accesses an account or website online using your password or another piece of information such as a code or a random number generated by an app. According to USA.gov’s “Online Safety” article, “This protects your account even if your password has been stolen.”
- Avoid clicking any links or attachments in questionable emails even if they state the company’s name and/or a legitimate-looking logo, as they may reroute you to a fake website (“Online Safety”).
- If you are a victim of a phishing or other internet scam, contact the Federal Trade Commission (see link below). Victims of any fraudulent transactions can also report them to the FBI. This can help stop the transaction before the money is lost for good (FBI “Internet Crime Report”).
The internet has so much to offer and yet does pose risks if we are not careful. Here at Waitte’s Insurance Agency, we want our community members to thrive. We care about our community because we are part of the community. Give us a call when you are ready to discuss your unique insurance needs.