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Cybercriminals have become increasingly crafty at scamming people. While there are often heightened holiday computer scams, cyberattacks are a year-round concern — and they go beyond computers. Scams are now sent to people across many technologies, including texting and other messaging platforms, under a variety of pretenses. To better protect yourself from becoming a cyberattack victim, it’s important to understand five common scams and how you can avoid them.
Scam #1: Questionable Text Messages
Packages, prizes, and possible friends — the world of scammy text messages is almost never-ending. Cybercriminals are now attempting phishing via SMS (text message) in a scam known as “smishing.” When this happens, your best bet is to ignore it, without opening the message or clicking on any links, and delete the message. You can also block the number that’s texting you, but savvy cybercriminals rotate the phone numbers they use. Here are three examples of text message scams:
The so-called acquaintance: Like a typical phisher, this type of scammer pretends to be someone who knows you, thereby deceivingly building trust so that you’ll hand over information. They will lure you in with a seemingly friendly message. The message may look like this: Beautiful weekend coming up. Wanna go out? Don gave me your number. Check out my profile here: [URL].
Package pending: If you’re an avid online shopper, you may not think twice about phone notifications related to your orders — which is why the “package pending” scam has caught on quickly. With this, people receive a text that their package is pending, and they are prompted to click a link to claim it and confirm delivery. If you receive messages like this, think about 1) whether you have ordered a package and 2) how retailers typically notify you. Chances are, retailers text you from a specific number every time, send app notifications, and/or email you.
You’ve won a prize: The idea of winning a prize sounds great, but if you don’t remember entering a contest, this “prize” is a disguise for smishing. The text message will often look like this: You’ve won a prize! Go to [URL] to claim your $500 Amazon gift card.
In any of these scenarios, clicking on the link can install malware onto your phone, which can damage or disable your phone, and if you’re prompted to enter personal information, it also allows scammers to steal your identity or access your bank account.
Scam #2: Phishing Emails and Messages
As one of the most common cyberthreats, phishing is very similar to the smishing mentioned above. In these instances, phishers take on the persona of someone trustworthy — such as a friend, family member, or well-known company — so that you’ll give them personal information or click a malicious link. While this most often happens through email, it’s increasingly common on messaging platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
Here are three telltale signs to watch out for in phishing attempts:
Urgency: Creating a false sense of urgency is a common trick of phishing scams. Often, emails or messages asking you to click, call, or open an attachment immediately are bogus. These types of communications may claim that you have to act now to claim a reward or avoid a penalty.
Suspicious links: If you suspect that an email or message is a scam, don’t open any links. When a link is displayed, it can actually look like a real web address, but if you hover your mouse over it — but don’t click it — you can see the web address pop up (on most internet browsers, the URL will show in the bottom left corner). This is a good way to double-check any links that seem suspicious.
Mismatched domains: Be wary of scammers that imitate legitimate companies. When this happens, the domain in the email address of the sender won’t match the domain of the company it’s claiming to be. For example, if the email claims to be from a company like Apple or your bank, but the email was sent from another domain like Yahoo.com, or applesupport.ru, it’s a scam. Also look for subtle misspellings of the real domain name. For example, app1e.com, where the “L” has been replaced by “1.”
Scam #3: Remote Access
With a remote access scam, a cybercriminal poses as the employee of a legitimate business such as a software company, cable/internet company, or large retailer (like Amazon) in an attempt to gain control of a user’s device. Contact is often made with a user via a phone call or a pop-up ad, where the scammer asks the user to initiate remote access or download an app to their device under the guise of resolving a fake technical or billing issue. This allows the scammer to access financial accounts, passwords, or personal data. It also enables them to install viruses or malware onto the device. When this happens, the scammer may even ask for money to fix the problem caused by the virus or malware. Be wary of any “tech support” that charges money to fix your device.
To protect yourself from remote access scams, keep these two tips in mind:
Scam #4: Fake Antivirus Software
It happens to the best of us — you’re browsing online and suddenly a pop-up window says your computer is infected. While it may cause you to worry about a computer virus, this is not a virus. When this happens, it’s usually an online scam that will actually infect your computer if you click on the ad and download what it’s offering.
Fake antivirus software ads and pop-ups are often flashy with language that encourages users to take immediate action by downloading an application. However, doing so will give you a computer virus, malware, or ransomware.
The only antivirus software you should trust is one that you’ve already purchased from a trusted provider like Norton or Bitdefender.
Scam #5: Counterfeit COVID Tests
Sadly, scammers are now preying on the pandemic. With the demand for at-home COVID tests rising, so have the amount of pandemic-related scams. In January, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General warned that scammers are using the phone, email, text messages, social media, and sometimes door-to-door visits to take advantage of this demand.
With COVID scam emails, be especially mindful because they are designed to impersonate labs, test providers, or test results. Watch out for what appear to be test-related emails that sell COVID tests or medical supplies like masks or gloves. Not only are the products counterfeit, but they can include links to fake websites that steal credit card or personal information. Other emails notify recipients that they have unpaid orders for COVID tests with a link to a PayPal account to complete their purchase. This allows scammers to steal bank and login information.
When searching for COVID tests, ensure that any website you visit, or email you take action on, is valid. Double-check email addresses and website URLs before you click or reply.
The bottom line: Stay vigilant to keep yourself, your devices, and your privacy secure. If something feels fishy, it probably is phishy. Cybercriminals are creative, but if you’re protected, you’ll be better equipped to spot a scam before it’s too late. My Computer Works offers peace of mind with ongoing support, device security, and expert advice — call us or email us to learn how we can help you stay safe online.