October is National Cyber Security Month. I got a reminder from a cloud-hosting company called SingleHop. They’re encouraging websites to write security articles outlining basic safety measures.

Readers of this site know that we do that all the time and sometimes I feel like maybe everyone has heard this all before… But then last weekend, I was with my husband while he was getting his hair cut and I overheard a stylist on the phone yelling at her poor husband. It seems he fell for the scam where a crook calls pretending to be from Microsoft and asks you to make certain changes on your computer. The guy had remote access to their computer and he basically got it locked up and then demanded $200 to fix it. When the stylists husband said he would hunt him down and hurt him, the guy on the other end said, “You’re not very old are you?”  These scammers are fond of targeting seniors.

Fortunately, all the guy had really done was put the computer into safe mode and I was able to butt in and help. So I decided that it’s not a bad idea to go over the basics of what you need to look out for.

Online Scams

The FBI lists dozens of variations on email and online scams. From the Microsoft is calling to fix a problem with your computer, to fake auto auctions and fraudulent relatives in need of help… There were more than 250,000 complaints submitted to the FBI. And that’s just the ones that were reported. Although scammers have a reputation for going after seniors, 20% of victims were under 30.

Phishing

We’ve told you about it many times. Phishing is when a scam uses a legitimate looking website to get your password, credit card or other important information. Their fake websites often look so real that users don’t recognize the difference.  They might send an e-mail saying there’s a problem with your account and you need to enter certain information to unlock it.

Data Breaches

Every single time you turn around, you’ll see that another retailer or bank has been hacked exposing the credit card and personal information of customers. Hackers then sell that information on the black market.  A friend of mine saw almost $1,000 in fake charges to her account after Dairy Queen was hacked. That was some expensive ice cream.

What can you do?

First of all, check any website carefully before giving important information. Look for misspellings or anything that just doesn’t look right. You could also skip clicking on links in emails all together and just put bookmarks in your browser for your bank’s website or any site you regularly purchase from or have an account with.  If a site you use offers two-factor authentication, consider taking advantage of it.  If you have the option of telling a site to forget your information, do it.

You can also make sure you have your system updated with security software, malware protection and a firewall in place. 

One final thing… If someone calls you at home and says they’re from Microsoft: It’s not real. I don’t care what they tell you. Hang up, preferably after blowing a loud whistle in their ear.

Please share these tips with your friends. You may think everyone already knows these tips, but sadly many do not.

~ Cynthia