How to Avoid Common Scams
Even amid a global pandemic, scammers don’t take a day off. In fact, they’re working even harder now – preying on those who have let their guard down on cybersecurity while it has been understandably raised on other fronts.
How to Avoid Credit Repair, Romance and Remote Access Trojan (RAT) Scams
Current increases in coronavirus-related cyberfraud attempts are worrisome. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is reporting rises in fraud schemes related to the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may include malware or serve as phishing attempts to steal your personal data.
Businesses face a growing threat from business email compromise (BEC) scams that trick employees into paying fraudsters instead of actual vendors. And individuals face threats from COVID-19 testing and treatment schemes designed to obtain their personal and health insurance information.
At the same time, familiar threats such as credit repair scams, romance scams and remote access trojans (RATs) are still present—and just as troubling as ever.
However, you can reduce your risk against these hazards – and therefore your worry. Doing so requires understanding the nature of these threats and remaining vigilant in your defense against them.
Credit Repair Scams: They’re Too Good to Be True
Your credit score is a vital marker that could mean the difference between securing a loan, buying a car and getting a job – or none of the above. So, when a company promises to erase or repair your bad credit history, you may be quick to accept the offer.
But not so fast. Credit repair scams are prevalent, and your attempt to fix your credit could result in a stolen identity, worse credit and a complicated road to repairing the damage.
Tips to avoid credit repair scams:
- Avoid miracle offers. If the offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Credit repair services that promise to wipe out and fix your bad history can’t really do that. Only you can restore your credit by repaying your debt.
- Do not accept a new credit identity. Among the miracle offers are ones that provide a nine-digit credit privacy number (CPN) to use when applying for credit. However, that CPN is most likely a fake or stolen Social Security Number that could get you into a lot of trouble.
- Take your own action. Many creditors are open to establishing payment plans or reducing interest in exchange for a commitment to paying down debt. A consultation with a certified credit counselor may help you diminish debt and increase your credit score.
Romance Scams: Love May Not Be in the Air
She loves me. She loves me not. It’s an age-old riddle answered in our youths by plucking a flower’s petals one at a time—with that final pluck offering glee or heartbreak. But in the online dating world, searching for love could mean your cash getting plucked—and certain sorrow.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), people lost $201 million to romance scams in 2019. It happens when fraudsters, often part of sophisticated global enterprises, create fake online dating profiles to lure unsuspecting victims into relationships, gain their trust and eventually ask for money.
Scammers’ stories—such as needing emergency cash to travel or for a surgery—may sound legitimate and tug at your heartstrings. But they are likely false. And your newfound romantic interest may either disappear the moment your money arrives or try to trick you into sending more.
Tips to avoid romance scams:
- Don’t rush into relationships. Love at first sight—or contact—can be real. But don’t let that overwhelming emotion bring your guard down. Scammers are notorious for expressing love quickly, hoping to rapidly gain your trust.
- Be wary of remote romancers. Your newfound love may have every excuse for not being able to meet in person. Scammers often claim to be working or traveling overseas and may even manipulate photos to maintain that farce.
- Don’t send money. The best way to not lose your money to a romance scammer is to not send anything in the first place. That means not transferring money from your bank account, sending gift cards or wiring money. If you do, contact the provider to try to cancel the transaction or request a refund.
Remote Access Trojan Scams: How to Smell a RAT
If you smell a rat on your computer, it could be a RAT, or remote access trojan. These malware programs may tag along when you install a new program or open a corrupt email attachment.
When a RAT infects your computer, it creates a back door from which a fraudster can gain administrative control over your machine. Then, the intruder can do significant damage by capturing keystrokes with a keylogger, emailing your contacts, turning on your webcam or performing a host of other actions that threaten your security.
Tips to avoid RATs:
- Keep antivirus software and scans on schedule. Running an antivirus program that monitors for real-time threats is the best way to catch a RAT and prevent it from infecting your machine. Windows 10 users already have a good free program – Microsoft Defender Antivirus – installed on their computers. Top paid subscription programs, according to CNET.com, include Norton 360 Deluxe for antivirus protection and Malwarebytes for malware removal. But your protection is only as strong as your latest update and scan. Therefore, ensure your virus definitions are current and run frequent comprehensive scans.
- Use spam filters. Firewalls and email security programs can block RATs outright. Set them to scan all incoming and outgoing messages. In addition, only open items from trusted sources.
- Be cautious with downloads. Download programs only from trusted websites after verifying their legitimacy. If a link or program seems suspicious, skip it altogether.
Stay Alert and Report Suspicious Activity
To avoid falling victim to the numerous potential frauds and scams you may encounter, your best approach is vigilance. Be wary of offers that sound too good to be true. Don’t trust emails or downloads at their face value without looking into them further. For example, hover your mouse over the email address or any links in a message – but don’t click them. If the link previews don’t match the visible text, the email may be fraudulent. And, finally, protect your devices with robust security programs and protocols.
If you do become a victim of any financial scam or are suspicious that you have, report it immediately to your local authorities, the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) and/or the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).