Don’t Be Tricked by Online Spooks and Scams

Along with the ghosts and goblins running around town this month, there are also some spooks lurking online, seeking out ways to spread viruses or part you from your cash or personal information. Here, 5 tips to keep your computer safe.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) and The U.S. Department of Homeland Security have these Halloween-inspired tips that will help you stay safe while you work, play and shop online.

Don’t trust candy from strangers.

Anyone with an internet connection can write and publish anything they want at any time, but that doesn’t make it true. Never accept any statement or advertisement as fact — instead do your research. You can find out if a source is reliable by checking them out at the BBB’s website.

Many online scammers spoof email addresses so they appear to be coming from your bank or online payment service, so be suspicious of anyone asking you to verify account information. (I was nearly fooled by an email that I thought was coming from Paypal, when it turned out to be a fake email address.) Do not give your financial information to anyone over email, and refrain from opening attachments from someone you don’t know.

Don’t be tricked into falling for an offer that is too good to be true.

This happens all the time. You get an email that seems like a great deal but in the end it will still ask you for your credit card information ‘just to cover shipping costs’. The ‘free’ product will then be shipped and charged to you every month after the first order, at cost – not free at all.

There are also those emails and pop-ups that offer incredible prizes like a new iPad just for taking their survey, from rich strangers offering to send you money, or ‘companies’ claiming you won a sweepstakes – they are all after your account information.

These are never legitimate and you should mark them as ‘spam’ or ‘phishing scam’ in your email so your provider can report them and put a stop to the emails. Stay away from pop-ups that advertise free software downloads as well. These are where viruses come from.

Don’t advertise that you’re away from home.

Many email accounts have an ‘Out of Office’ auto-reply system for when employees take vacation time and are not able to immediately respond to email. It is helpful in the office, but unnecessary on your personal account, and you should always be careful about what the reply says. Do not provide details of where you are or your itinerary. It is best to leave it at the dates you will be unavailable to respond, and when you will be returning.

Try to restrict the message so it only replies to those within your organization. If the away message replies to everyone who emails you, it could increase the amount of spam emails you receive.

Don’t leave “treats” out in the open.

It is a smart practice to protect your personal data by always locking your computer when you are away from it, using anti-virus software and firewalls, installing appropriate software updates and using strong passwords. Hackers and viruses are always scanning for available computers to target, so don’t leave yours vulnerable.

Don’t throw caution to the wind.

In the event of an equipment malfunction, error or cyber attack, all your information could be lost instantly. Avoid this by always backing up your work. Regular backups on a simple external hard-drive will ensure you always have access to your files.