It’s already painfully obvious that identity thieves and cyber crooks are getting better at coming up with ways to rip us off. While it’s easy to feel one step ahead by using a personal VPN like Private WiFi and installing the most updated antivirus and firewall software on the market, sometimes we do, well, dumb things.
And thieves are hoping they can pounce when we’re not paying attention, cleverly exploiting all kinds of new technology to find fresh ways to steal our financial identity.
In fact, a new Consumer Reports study out this month reveals various ways hackers and crooks are using technology to steal from unsuspecting people. Here are just a few examples:
- “Win an iPad!” links and cramming. If a pop-up ad lures you with a bid to win a hot new piece of technology, but you must include your cell-phone number to play, think twice! Submitting your bid sends a text message to your cell phone that, whether you respond or not, may authorize an unwanted $9.99 a month subscription to some useless service. The charge gets tacked onto your cell-phone bill, where you’re unlikely to notice it. Instead, guard your cell-phone number like a credit card and demand a refund from your cell provider if you’ve been crammed. Tell your wireless and landline carriers to block all third-party billing to your account, and check previous bills for cramming charges.
- Social media ploys. Consumer Reports points out that social-media networks are “fertile ground for fakery” especially when it comes to fake apps that claim to let you see who’s checking out your profile. Such messages can be spam in disguise, leading to “bait pages” or a link that collects personal information. According to the study, “don’t reveal personal information online to anyone who initiated contact with you unless your trust is certain. Look for the survey company’s name and go to its website independently by reopening your browser, or call it. Ignore product promos from Facebook friends. Use caution in granting access to your profile. And think before you ‘like’.”
- Smishing. In this type of fraud, a phony link from a major retailer appears in a text message offering, for instance, a $1,000 gift voucher. The goal? Grabbing your sensitive personal information.
- Email phishing. These scams look like an email from a legitimate company or person but lure unsuspecting consumers into clicking on malicious links or providing personal information like date of birth or Social Security number. Never click on links in emails from banks, or other financial institutions — go directly to their URL and enter your log-in information from their homepage.
- Old-fashioned scams. This could be a phone call offering a too-good-to-be-true deal, assuming a fee is paid or sensitive financial information is disclosed.
“Fraud operates like a business these days,” said Jeff Blyskal, a senior editor at Consumer Reports. “It’s as if thieves have their own research and development departments looking into the latest technologies and figuring out new ways to trick you. And the Internet makes it’s easier to reach and market their schemes to people than ever before. Even if they only fool a small percentage of people, that’s still a lot of victims.”