If anyone here actually believes that someone in Nigeria wants to share a huge sum of money with you, I give up.
But there are plenty of people who do fall for these schemes. And they’re not only lonely old people or stupid old people. Young men and women ages 18-25 — part of the supposedly tech-smart digital-native generation — are the most susceptible victims, according to a recent study. In 2007 (the most recent data available), consumers in the US were scammed out of $3.2 million dollars.
So we really do have a problem here. And as scammers grow more sophisticated, the chances that smart and savvy people will be tricked into giving up personal data or unwittingly allow crooks in their bank accounts grow.
The original phishing schemes worked on a simple principle: The scammer tossed a really wide net, knowing he would get only a minute percentage to bite. (Hence the term “phishing.”) The letters, which used to arrive by post and these days flood our email boxes, are absolutely absurd.
Quick, what’s 15% of $500 million? Besides, the grammar is lousy.
Sneakier — and More Dangerous
These days scams are more pernicious. You get an email from, say, your cable TV provider. “We need to verify your account,” the letter says. “Click on the link and provide your account number, password, and email address.” So you do, and the page you land on certainly looks a lot like the your cable company.
Now get scared. That page IS NOT from your cable company. And when you enter your information, it goes to a “spoof” site run by a scammer. So that you’re not immediately suspicious, some of these crooks will then toss you back to the REAL webpage.
Some phishing scams are pretty innocuous. Click on a link, and an ad for a penis extender will be sent to those whom you email. Worse ones can infect your computer with a virus. The most dangerous allow criminals into your bank accounts.
Stay Safe Online
Some simple practices can ensure your safety on the Internet.
Become familiar with the various types of scams. Bankersonline.com has a comprehensive list of the varieties of phishing letters. It’s worth a read.
Never click on a link unless you know where it’s going. We get an email from a friend. We click on a link. Next thing we know, we’re spamming! Before clicking on any link, hover your mouse over it. Notice the yellow box! Make sure the link that becomes visible goes to the place it’s supposed to. (This is from my spam box, so I knew not to click anyway.) The security firm CKD3 provides a great explanation about how to understand URL addresses. PayPal also gives useful advice about avoiding financial scams.
Change Your Passwords. It’s a good idea to switch out your passwords for important sites you use —your bank, online shopping sites, Facebook, your email — every few months. You can have a basic core, and shift some characters at the beginning or end. Or you can use a password manager that creates codes for you. One easy way to fashion your own passwords is to use a simple phrase or the title of a song or poem and then add a number or two and a character such as % or !. If your friends say they’re receiving spam from you, immediately change your email password. If it seems your Facebook or other online community account has been hacked, again, change your password, but also notify the platform.
Don’t Give Out Personal Information Online. Do you know how easily I could find out your mother’s maiden name or city where you were born? And have you noticed that “your mother’s maiden name” or “city where you were born” are often a security questions for banking and other websites? So if your first car was a Mustang, tell your bank it was a Porsche. In other words, lie. But keep track of these lies because you may need to get into your accounts!
Final word of advice: When it comes to clicking on links, follow your gut. If something tells you it’s fishy, it’s probably phishing.