I like to think I’m pretty tech-savvy. As a web writer, it’s part of my job to stay on top of digital trends and have up-to-date information on the Internet of Things. As a Millennial, I grew up knowing about hackers, scammers, con artists, and every other type of villain known to the 21st century. I know not to give out my credit card information willy-nilly. I know not to make my password “Password.” And I know not to click on link-bait emails from addresses I don’t recognize.
You can imagine my surprise when my MacBook came down with a mega-virus—one that completely crashed by hard drive (irreparable even by the Geek Squad) and made me lose five years’ worth of stored data that was not in the cloud. Three-hundred dollars and a new hard drive later, the Geek Squad employee handed me my poor, infiltrated laptop and told me it was most likely a link I had clicked that caused the virus.
I frantically thought back to my activity leading up to the attack, wondering what had been the fatal click. I’m still not sure where I went wrong—the video that popped up on my Facebook wall of a dog and an orangutan in an unlikely friendship or the “Which Disney Couple Are You?” quiz I couldn’t resist? Somewhere down the road, I fell prey to a dangerous link-bait scam—the very enemy I’d been trained to detect and avoid since I first touched a keyboard. It made me think perhaps I wasn’t as tech-savvy as I thought. Or perhaps I’m one of many people who still fall for a few common scams.
In the cyber-sea of phishing scams, we’re all fish waiting to snatch up the next worm dangled in front of us on a lure. The fishermen are the scammers, hackers, and fraudsters who know society’s weakness when it comes to link-bait. We’re all familiar with link-bait: emails telling us we’ve won a Caribbean cruise for two or luring us to click on social media ads listing the top 10 celebrity fashion mistakes at the Oscars. Link-bait isn’t always scam related, but scammers certainly take advantage of our propensity of clicking on fascinating tidbits to attach harmful viruses.
The IRS released a Security Awareness Tip last November warning people about link-bait and the dangers of releasing your personal information online and over the phone. The organization states that phishing is still a problem because it works—and I have to agree. As long as people like me still fall for scams, phishermen will still come up with new ways to trick people into giving out their information or clicking on a virus-infested link.
While most of us know not to give out sensitive information over unsecure methods, it has become increasingly difficult to tell the unsecure from the secure. Sophisticated scammers are using technological advancements to their benefit, coming up with clever ways to pose as your credit card company, bank, or other financial institution.
You can’t always avoid giving out your information altogether. Many legitimate websites request your social security number, phone number, or credit card information to continue with a purchase or service. The best way to protect your information is to avoid clicking on emails or opening attachments from companies you don’t recognize or from people posing as the IRS or other websites. Check the web address carefully; phishing scams can use addresses such as “IRS.gov.com” to trick users into thinking they are “IRS.gov.”
Small Business Debt Collection Scams
At a glance, debt recovery and collections appear to be a win-win-win: your small business balances its accounts and gets paid a lump sum right away, the debt recovery company makes a profit, and customers settle up on their missed payments. Unfortunately, a popular way for con artists to steal sensitive financial information from small businesses is to pose as debt collectors over the phone.
Many small business owners are unable to tell the difference between a legitimate debt collector and a fake since scammers’ techniques have gotten more advanced with new technology. Scammers don’t go into a debt collection scam without doing their homework. They conduct research on the business they want to cheat ahead of time, accessing credit score information and other facts to sound realistic over the phone. The scammer can then talk with you about actual debts your business owes and pose as a collector for a company you’re indebted to.
Debt collection scammers often use scare tactics to harass small business owners into giving out sensitive business information, such as client data. A scam artist may use harsh or abusive language, make outright threats, harass you, or say he or she has contacted the police with a warrant for your arrest. While real debt collector companies have been known to be abusive, they won’t go as far as to threaten customers or use abnormally abusive methods. If a “debt collector” is threatening you, it’s a red flag of a scam.
Another sign of a debt collector scam is if the collector demands you make payments immediately over the phone. The caller’s insistence that he or she gathers your payment that day is a sign that he or she isn’t the real deal, as legitimate companies won’t make threats if you can’t pay the same day. Fake debt collectors will only take payments over the phone, while real collectors accept mail, telephone, online, or debit card payments. This is so the scammer can record your card information for use later.
These two major scams are still tricking thousands of users annually, leading to stolen identities, financial hardship, and complex battles to regain what’s rightfully yours. Stay informed about the dangers of Internet and phone scams in 2016 to protect yourself and your company from problematic scams. Take it from me—it can happen to anybody.
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