How to Protect Yourself and Vulnerable Family Members from Scams
There are so many phone, text, email, and internet scams these days that it wouldn't be surprising if you or a loved one, such as an elderly parent, hadn't already fallen for one or more of these schemes. According to Paige Hanson, chief of cyber safety education at NortonLifeLock, scams usually come in two forms: a fear-based message, such as the threat of your Medicare coverage being suspended, or something that sounds too good to be true, like how to get an extra government stimulus check. "In both of these cases, fraudsters want you to react versus thinking it through," she explains.
To be on top of the latest schemes, read the FBI's Scam and Safety website; plus, here's what else you can do to avoid getting involved in a hoax.
Keep your personal info private.
Once scammers have your birth date, driver's license, social security number, or bank account, they can do all sorts of evil things, from opening up a new credit card in your name to withdrawing funds from your bank account, so never share this information. Also never give your full name and address to strangers, such as online gaming opponents.
Don't answer the phone or open emails, attachments, and texts, or open links from people you don't know.
If malware is attached to a phishing email—an email that looks like it's from a reputable company but whose nefarious purpose is to get personal info—you could get hacked just from opening up the email without even clicking on the attachment. As for links, be suspicious when it contains typos even though it's supposedly from someone who knows you.
Research if you get suspicious.
If you're not sure if someone who's contacting you is legitimate, investigate them. If a friend supposedly sent you an attachment, for example, call, text, or email them to confirm they sent it. If they didn't, don't open the link—delete it immediately.
Use an optimized password.
As in, stop using "password" as your password. You should be using a password that's strong (Google suggests 12 characters that are a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols) and nothing obvious (such as your birthday). Also, you shouldn't use the same password for different accounts. "It's better to have unique passwords to secure personal information," says Hanson. "They won't be easily susceptible to data breaches, passwords leaks, or cybercriminals in general." She suggests using a password manager to generate complex passwords that are difficult to hack and stores them securely in an encrypted online vault. "Using two-factor authentication is an additional step to confirm a user's identity when they log in to an account using their password."
Never use public Wi-Fi.
"It can be easy for hackers to intercept your connection and steal personal and financial information while you're connected on shared Wi-Fi," says Hanson. For that reason, experts advise against using public Wi-Fi to access any website that requires a username and password. Follow these practices: The "good" option would be to connect with the local coffeehouse's Wi-Fi but avoid using websites that require a username and password; the "better" option would be using your mobile hotspot; and the "best" one would be using a VPN so all traffic is encrypted.