Protect yourself from cyber crooks
COVID has pushed American adults further into cyberspace. According to the Pew Research Center, 85 percent of American adults say they go online every day and more than one-third of those say they are “almost constantly” online. With so many people spending so much time online, it isn’t surprising that cybersecurity experts are warning of a “cyber pandemic.”
Dan Lohrmann, a cybersecurity blogger, writes, “Defining a cyber pandemic is a bit like defining a ‘perfect storm’—only this storm is in cyberspace. From ransomware to data breaches and from election security to unemployment fraud, COVID-19 has in many ways unleashed a new set of challenges.”
According to the FBI’s 2020 Internet Crime Report, more than 791,000 complaints of suspected internet crime were reported in 2020 with losses of more than $4.2 billion. In California alone, victims lost more than $755 million to online criminals with 56 percent of those losses accruing to victims over 50 years of age.
With so much nefarious activity online, you and I need to take special care we don’t become victims. Here are some thoughts on how you can protect yourself from some of the most common internet scams.
Social engineering refers to a broad category of scams designed to trick you into divulging personal information. There are many techniques, but the most common is phishing or spoofing.
Phishing scams often involve a rogue actor impersonating a trusted or popular brand. The rogue website or email copies the appearance of a real company, often in minute detail, and then invites the victim to share personal information in exchange for a “special offer.” Other versions invite victims to reset their password or to click on a link that embeds malicious software on their computers that steals passwords or other vital information.
You can protect yourself against phishing scams by examining unsolicited emails with a healthy dose of skepticism. Carefully check the domain of the sender. A real email will usually come from the company’s corporate domain. It will usually be simple. On the other hand, a phishing email domain can be quite bizarre. For example, if you receive an email supposedly from Apple Computer, but the domain is “@applecomputer.com.pk” (the “.pk” means the email comes from Pakistan), you probably have a phishing email and you should simply delete it. And never provide information to a website that is not secure. You can tell a secure website by the little padlock icon that appears in your web browser just before the URL.
Internet fraud is another common scam. If you have ever received an email asking you to send money to Nigeria, you have probably been the target of internet fraud. The Nigerian scam is pretty blatant, but other versions of this scam can be quite subtle. In fact, according to the FBI, this kind of internet fraud accounted for $1.8 billion in losses during 2020.
I was the target of internet fraud about a year ago when my wife and I tried to sell a car online. A buyer emailed us and said he was willing to pay us $2,000 above our asking price if we could arrange the shipment of the car to his location in Florida. We would have to pay the $500 shipping fee by transferring money electronically to the car transport company in Texas, but he would overnight a cashier’s check that would more than cover the purchase price and the cost of shipping. It sounded too good to be true, so we did some digging on the internet and discovered it was a scam.
Here's how the scam works. The “buyer” sends a bogus cashier’s check to the seller. The seller deposits the cashier’s check in his account and immediately wires $500 to the transport company. A few days later, the bank is unable to clear the bogus check and reverses the deposit from the seller’s account but the seller is left holding the bag for the $500 he transferred the supposed transport company. Needless to say, we did not deposit the cashier’s check and we did not wire the funds to the transport company.
Again, your best protection is a healthy dose of skepticism. Distrust strangers offering you super deals. If something seems too good to be true, it usually is.
Steven C. Merrell MBA, CFP®, AIF® is a Partner at Monterey Private Wealth, Inc., a Wealth Management Firm in Monterey. He welcomes questions that you may have concerning investments, taxes, retirement, or estate planning. Send your questions to: Steve Merrell, 2340 Garden Road Suite 202, Monterey, CA 93940 or email them to: firstname.lastname@example.org