This election season the number one concern was money. Are there enough jobs, do they pay enough to live on, will we be better off next year than this year? We are all concerned about money and how to manage it the best. We worry about whether our kids know enough. Being smart about money also means being smart online. You can have a great budget and be a good saver, but can lose the whole thing online to one scam from an identity thief.
We are all pretty smart as we go out and about on the streets. It’s when we sit down at our computer that we start to forget. We may read in the paper about a con that targeted senior citizens or someone else. Usually the thought process we all go through includes “I wouldn’t fall for that.” But would you? The number one place that con artists live is on the internet. Far too many fall for it.
People steal your money on the internet – and they don’t do it by hacking your bank account. They do it by finding information about you to steal your identity. Much of it has been given without realizing it – even on purpose!
The concepts they use are called phishing and malware. What are they and how to be safe? Phishing is a concept of sending notices that trick/scare you into providing your personal information. Usually done through email, but also through social media (Facebook and others) and texts. The emails may look very real. They suggest things like:
- Your email is full or needs ‘renewed’. To fix the problem, you are to reply or go to a web form and provide information. This usually includes your username and password.
- Your bank is conducting a routine verification and also needs your information.
- Your bank found an error. You need to reply immediately
The schemes may talk about your social media account (“someone friended you!”) or even warn that someone is trying to steal your identity.
They also come in forms that play to our need for money. An offer to work from home is the one that catches the most. Someone brought one to me recently about a UK company contacting their son, who was away at college, to work for them. They needed him to order supplies for them. They would tell him what to order and where to ship it. This seems innocent enough, but I had to ask why? Why contact a college student in the Midwest to order supplies and ship them to the company? Staples can ship anywhere with a credit card. This violates one of my top (online) rules – if the offer sounds too good to be true, it is. The catch here was that they were to cash the check and then send the money to the supplier via Western Union. The check would have bounced, leaving the student out the cash.
The other one that hits this are offers of free stuff. I am particularly wary of all surveys, but any that come uninvited are especially suspicious.
A better way to approach all of these may be from a video I found on the subject. The video was part of a competition for awareness about cyber scams. If someone approached you on the street with an offer like the one on your screen, would you give this stranger the information? The answer is probably no, so don’t do it online!
My last thought on the subject is to not make it easy to for these people. You have a lot of the information they need already out there. On Facebook and other sites people routinely put their date of birth (year included), place of birth and other personal information. These pieces of information can be used by identity thieves to recreate the first 5 digits of your social security number. These sites are a place to hook up with your friends. They either already know or don’t care how old you are or where you were born. If you think it can’t happen to you, read this story about a tech editor who lost his whole online life – including every photo of his new daughter – because of an identity thief.
Here’s a summary of things to do or remember online. Number one: Install an anti-virus program and keep it up to date. There are plenty that are free, including Microsoft Security Essentials and AVG Free. Number two: Be smart! These programs, no matter how good, are always playing catch-up to some new scheme. Safe behavior is the best bet. My rules:
1. If you wouldn’t give this information to a stranger on the street, don’t do in online either
2. If it sounds too good to be – it probably is!
3. Clean up your Facebook and other social media accounts – no birth year, no hometown, that includes high school and class years
4. Verify! If you are concerned about a notice. Pick up the phone and call the bank or other. Use the number from your statement, card or something other than the email you just received.
5. A little education doesn’t hurt. Learn to read links. Phishing scams will often scare people into clicking a link that looks real, but isn’t. You can tell if a link is real before you click (see the picture above). Microsoft also has a good summary with examples.
And be safe out there.
About The Author
Today’s guest article comes from Philip Laube. He is a CPA in Ohio and the Assistant Vice President for Business & Finance at Muskingum University. He presents and writes about personal finance issues for college students. He can be followed at twitter and on his web site
Sources and additional reading:
“Stealing Your Life”, Frank Abagnale, Random House/Broadway Books (2008)