Cybersecurity: How to Recognize and Avoid Online Scams

A closeup of a person typing on a laptop.

Over the years, the internet has become an essential tool in our daily lives for shopping, banking, working, learning, and connecting with loved ones. However, as technology evolves, so does cybercrime.

Scammers are always trying new ways to hack into our passwords, credit cards, or other sensitive information. Educating yourself about strategies cyber criminals use and being aware of available protection tools helps prevent you from becoming a victim of fraud or identity theft.

In honor of Cybersecurity Awareness Month, we’ve listed three tell-tale signs of a scam below, as well as some tips for you to be proactive about safeguarding your personal information when using the internet.

Common Signs of a Scam

1. You are contacted unexpectedly.

If you receive a phone call, email, or text message from your bank or other establishment out of the blue, there’s a good chance it’s a phishing attempt. This is a common cybercrime in which a scammer poses as a legitimate institution – such as the IRS, the Social Security Administration, or Medicare – to trick you into providing financial or personal information.

Phishing scams typically include alerts that urge you to act quickly to fix a problem with your account by clicking on a link or downloading an attachment. Doing so exposes your device to malware that gives hackers access to your passwords, credit cards, and other sensitive data. When in doubt, delete the message and contact the legitimate business to verify they tried to get in touch with you. Usually, it turns out to be a phishing scheme.

Phishing scam depicted with a metal hook piercing credit card on top of keyboard.

2. You’re asked to pay money.

Legitimate businesses, banks, and government agencies will not ask you to provide financial information over phone, email, or text without notifying you in advance. Any message that asks you to pay a sum of money with a gift card, transfer money, or deposit a check and send the money back is likely a scam. If you receive this type of communication, report the message to the Federal Trade Commission, delete it from your device, and block the sender to keep your information safe.

3. The message sounds too good to be true.

If you receive an alert about a prize or a deal that seems too good to be true, it probably is. This is especially true if you are asked to provide a form of payment to claim the prize. Always go with your gut and delete the message to prevent exposing your device to viruses, malware, or other cyberattacks that could compromise your private data.

Tips to Protect Yourself Online

Anyone who uses the internet is at risk of cybercrime. Fortunately, there are many simple ways you can protect yourself and your family online:

  • Create a passcode and use a secure cloud storage platform to keep your information safe in case your device is lost or stolen.
  • Do not click on links or download attachments from senders you do not know.
  • Always do your research about who is asking for your information, and confirm they are a trustworthy source before divulging personal details.
  • Keep your software up to date.
  • Use strong passwords with at least 15 characters and consider using a password manager to create and safely store your passcodes.
  • Sign up for a security system to protect your device from threats, viruses, malware, and spyware.
A closeup of a person’s hands holding a locked mobile device

Most of all, use good judgment when using the internet, and stay alert to security threats when using your phone, computer, or other device. If you are unsure if a message you received is a scam, contact our team and we’ll be happy to assist you.