6 Tips to Surf the Net Safely and Avoid Online Scams

According to a report from the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), adults age 60 and older lost nearly $650 million in 2018 as victims of internet scams, and the 60+ age group had the highest number of victims of all the age groups. The center received 62,085 complaints from older adults in 2018. That’s up more than 20 percent from the number of complaints received in 2017.

Buyer beware

One of the most common internet scams involves online shopping. According to the Better Business Bureau’s “2018 BBB Scam Tracker Risk Report,” online purchase scams were the most common scam and the scam type with the most victims.

Shopping scams usually start with a fake website that looks a lot like a trusted retailer’s site with a similar logo and URL address. They lure you in with great prices but beware. Merchandise might be a cheap imitation of the item you thought you were ordering. Or more likely, your shipment won't arrive at all. The damage done doesn't stop there. Scammers may use this transaction as an opportunity to infect your device with software that collects your personal information to use for identity theft.

According to the BBB report, the most common items impacted by shopping scams include pet goods, car parts and accessories, clothing, cosmetics and electronics.

To protect yourself against fraud when making purchases online, AARP recommends avoiding sites that offer bargain basement prices, shoddy website design or sloppy English and limited or suspicious contact options, like a customer service email from a Yahoo account, not a corporate one. You should use trusted sites and pay with a credit card and not a wire transfer or money order. Also, do some comparison shopping to see if the price offered seems too good to be true.

Before you book your next vacation, pay attention to potential red flags, just like you would do for any other internet purchases. Bad actors might try to draw you in through search engine ads for hotels, but they link to a lookalike site.  The site appears to be a hotel site but isn’t, so you’re not actually booking with the hotel.  To avoid being duped, AARP recommends booking your reservations on the official website of a hotel, airline or other travel business, or use a reputable third-party booking site. For more suggestions on how to avoid travel scams, check out more dos and don’ts from AARP.

Be careful where you click on social media

Scams are becoming more common on social networks like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, too.

Today, your social media feeds are likely to have some of the same sketchy offers as your email spam folder: questionable investment opportunities, fake giveaways or sweepstakes and shady healthy products. You have to use the same caution with social network ads and promos as you would when you’re reviewing your emails.

Other scams take advantage of how we interact on social media. For example, those fun Facebook quizzes may seem harmless, but the Better Business Bureau warns that scammers may use quizzes to collect personal data. Launching a quiz may give the quiz creators permission to pull information from your profile, allowing them to steal your online identity. And watch out for questions about your high school mascot or first car. Fraudsters know these are common security questions used by banks to protect accounts.

According to AARP, there are some things you can watch for when you’re scrolling through your social media feed. First, posts and ads that offer great deals on name-brand goods or free trials of miraculous health and beauty goods are probably too good to be true. Skip over posts that direct you to another website to collect a prize, win a gift card, or fill out a survey. Finally, don't respond to posts or direct messages that ask for money, even if it seems like the message is from someone you know. That person's profile may have been hacked.

How to stay safe

I talked with Brookdale’s Chief Information Officer, Chris Bayham, to get his thoughts on what you can do to stay safe online:

  1. Keep your computer hardware and software updated and protected with anti-virus and anti-malware programs.  Download and install the latest security patches at least once per month. This includes the apps on your smartphone, too.
  2. Choose strong passwords to protect your online identity. Use a different password for each online site, so that if one account is compromised, the rest remain safe.
  3. Never provide your password to someone over the phone. Tech support or other reputable companies will never ask you for it.
  4. Look out for suspicious email messages and requests. Be wary of clicking links within emails.  Instead, type in the website directly into your web browser.
  5. If you do banking or pay bills online, check to see if your financial institution supports two-factor authentication (2FA).  Every time you log in, the website or app will send you a code via text message or through the use of an authenticator app.  This offers greater protection, even if your password is compromised.
  6. Do your research. Verify online offers or opportunities to make sure they are from trusted vendors.

For more suggestions on how to avoid online scams, check out the FBI's IC3 site or visit AARP’s Fraud and Scams site for updates on the latest schemes.

If you think you may have been the victim of an internet scam, you can file a complaint with the FBI here.

When it comes to preventing online fraud, awareness is a valuable tool. So arm yourself with knowledge and stay alert.


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