You’re about to renovate your home. You’ve talked about the project with a contractor over several emails, and you’re anxious to get this thing off the ground. Soon enough, the contractor pops up in your inbox again, this time advising you that there’s been a cancelation and you can get started earlier than expected. As per your initial agreement, the service provider asks you to front a portion of the funds to procure supplies. You transfer the money as requested. Days go by and the contractor never shows. You contact the business and you’re totally flabbergasted by the response—the contractor’s email address had been hacked, it was a scam.
This unfortunate event, which was widely covered in the media, is the true story of a woman living in Bristol, England. Every year, millions of people are scammed online in all kinds of ways, some of which are sophisticated enough to fool even the shrewdest among us.
In many cases, banks and law enforcement find themselves unable to help victims get their money back. Beyond fiscal damages, there are health risks to consider as well, given that these crimes can trigger their fair share of anxiety and frustration.
So it’s best to be careful when sending confidential information online, or when making any kind of financial transaction for that matter.
Here are some quick tips that could end up saving you from a whole lot of fuss.
Back to basics
As a refresher, here are some basic rules to follow.
For your personal computer, it’s recommended that you install antivirus software and keep it updated. You can download antivirus software for free online. Don’t shy away from asking an expert to help you make the right decision for you.
Also, make sure that you’re on a trusted site when you’re entering your personal information or making transfers online. Double-check the URL in the address bar to make sure that it’s legit. Ideally, you’d visit a trusted site by typing in the URL yourself or via your favourites, as opposed to clicking a link contained in your email or on a webpage.
If you’re not sure whether a site or an email is the real deal, make a phone call to the person or organization you’re dealing with so you can have peace of mind. Remember—it’s relatively quick and easy for scammers to generate fake sites that are identical to their official versions. So stay on alert, and if you have any doubts, trust your gut and don’t go any further.
Another item to check—make sure that the closed padlock icon (or the full key icon) is displayed next to the URL of the site you’re visiting so you know that the communication between the site and your browser is encrypted, and therefore secure (the URL will begin with https).
Lastly, share your personal information (driver’s license number, birthday, and so on) only when absolutely necessary, especially over email and social media. Giving away this kind of info can make the work of scammers much easier later, when they use it for fraud or even identity theft. Regarding the latter, the consequences for the victim can be long and drawn out, including financial losses and a negatively effected credit report. Then there are all the corrective measures they’ll have to undertake with various institutions, and the stress associated with all that.
Incidentally, the quizzes going around social media, which on the surface appear harmless, are an excellent means of collecting personal information if you’re a fraudster.
Remember that financial institutions will never ask for your personal information via email.
Lastly, it’s recommended that you be carefulwhen using a public Wi-Fi connection. It’s easy for a hacker to create wireless access points to steal your personal information or infect your computer with a virus. Keep yourself cyber safe by only using trusted Wi-Fi connections that are password protected.
When it’s too good to be true...
One of the basic rules of the road when it comes to reducing your risk of being scammed is: when it seems too good to be true, get out!
419 scams are some of the most notorious scams on the web. Just take the Nigerian prince scam for example, where a prince offers to share a large inheritance with the victim in exchange for a few thousand dollars so he can flee the country. Don’t think anyone’s foolish enough to fall for it? Well they are. Every year, several variations on this scam cost web users around the world billions of dollars. There are even sites out there that catalogue some of the most infamous ones.
When you’re offered a prize and you haven’t entered a contest, when someone wants to give you something for free or return an overpayment for an online purchase—watch out.
If you think you’ve been the victim of fraud, please report the incident as soon as possible to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC), even if that means swallowing your pride…