Common Online Scams and How to Avoid Them | Montana Elder Law
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Common Online Scams and How to Avoid Them

The online world is rife with scams, and the number of people in the online world makes it a target rich environment for scammers. Seniors and near seniors should be aware of some of the more common attacks aimed to gain access to your money as well as identity. If you have social media accounts, email, or shop online, you are being targeted by scam artists. Here is what you need to know about some of the most common online scams.

The product reads or sounds to be amazing. There are testimonials of success or satisfaction galore with the product that includes a Free Trial Offer! What can go wrong if all you do is pay a modest sum for shipping and handling? Here is what is wrong. Your payment for shipping and handling allowed them access to your credit or debit card information and buried deep in the fine print are the real terms of the deal which obligate monthly payments of some much higher monetary amount after your free trial expires. This payment has to be canceled within the stringent guidelines of the contract you agreed to by clicking a box. Read the user agreement or contract parameters before accepting the free trial. Reputable companies will allow cancellation of the advertised product however, if you cannot get out of the contract immediately cancel your card and negotiate a refund. If that doesn’t work, contact your credit card company and make an appeal for their help to gain restitution.

Always be aware of your digital surroundings as local Wi-Fi zones may leave you vulnerable to a hotspot imposter. In a coffee shop or an airport if you are logging onto free Wi-Fi or what resembles a pay service like Boingo Wireless you may be logging onto an illegitimate site designed to look like the real thing. A criminal can be hosting a false Wi-Fi site near you on a laptop. Free, unsecured sites allow for crooks like this to data mine your computer or phone for credit card, password, or banking information. The information is then typically resold to another criminal who will exploit your information for money. It can be tough to tell what a legitimate Wi-Fi spot is. One protective mechanism is to ensure you are not automatically set up for non-preferred networks. If you are not sure how to do this, ask a trusted internet savvy family member or friend. When traveling pre-purchase a credit gift card through MasterCard or Visa and use this for online purchase for access to airport Wi-Fi to protect your data and do not do banking or internet shopping from any public hot spot unless you are sure the connection is secure as it is not worth the risk.

Don’t fall for click bait. The chances of you being the winner of a contest for a free iPad or other expensive prize is likely a scam to get you to click the link provided to “learn more”. Often the connection is grabbing your IP address and adding your computer to a botnet that can be used for a multitude of nefarious purposes. Before clicking on a shortened URL typically found on Twitter and other social media that limits characters check the profile of the user promoting the link. For instance, if the user is following thousands of people, but no one follows them, it is most likely a bot set up to trap your data.

Sometimes on a computer, a window will pop up about seemingly legitimate antivirus protection with an alert stating that your machine has been compromised with a dangerous virus, bug or malware. You are then prompted to click on a link that will scan and remove the offending virus for a fee and the promise to clean up your computer. When you click on the suggested link, the bogus company will instead install malware, or malicious software, on your computer, compromising all of your data. The front is to scare you into acting right away out of fear to protect your computer, but the opposite happens. Often the design of these pop-up windows has a look and feel that mimics reputable companies like Microsoft. If a pop-up virus warning appears, close the window without clicking on any links, and then use tools in your operating system to run a scan to check for system integrity.

If your bank sends you a text message on your cell phone stating there is a problem with your account and you need to call right away with account information it is not legitimate. Another text message might read that you have won a gift certificate to a well-known store and that all you have to do is call the toll free number and provide your credit card information is also a scam. The gift certificate scam will ask for payment information for shipping and handling to receive your winnings. This is a technique known as smishing, which stands for SMS phishing. Like its email version counterpart phishing, you will lose control of your credit card data and have to chase down fraudulent charges. A real bank and legitimate store would never ask you to reveal account information over the phone for security or to claim a prize, so don’t do it, ever.

It is noble to be charitable, and Americans are some of the most generous people in the world. Whether in email, social media, text, or phone call do not donate sums of money to charitable causes as the charity is most likely a scam designed to gain access to your money and banking data. Many of these bogus charitable scams will use current headlines to garner your sympathy and get you to act now. Donate to real charities on their legitimate and secure websites only. Write a check to the Salvation Army or Hospice and send it to their valid mailing addresses. Do not be goaded into immediate action. Have a plan for what you choose to donate to charity and follow your plan.

One of the cruelest scams online is the dating site or chat room scam which preys upon the lonely elderly. You might play a virtual game together online, exchange pictures, or even talk on the phone; that is the hook. You feel like you have met someone you can relate to that eases your loneliness. Typically, what happens next is there is a need to wire money to escape a foreign country, an abusive parent, get medical care, or buy a plane ticket to travel to you. It isn’t true. This person isn’t the new love of your life, and you will lose your money and have your heart broken. Scam artists in online social networking specialize in luring the lonely into friendships and love affairs. Be smart about how you approach dating and social networking sites. The minute someone asks for money immediately sign off and employ these tips for keeping yourself safe from online dating scams.

Even be wary of online shopping sites like Amazon or eBay as they allow resellers access to their platforms. Just because you are on a reputable site does not mean the reseller is trustworthy. In some cases, the scammers will send a product, but it will be counterfeit. In other cases, they will post delivery to you 3 to 4 weeks from purchase date, knowing that Amazon pays sellers every two weeks. The scammer will then receive the money from the you and the legitimate company, and you will never receive anything. They have your money, and you have nothing.

The online world is always changing, and scam artists change with it because it is so lucrative. Even if 1 percent of their targeted victims fall prey to their tactics, scammers can make a lot of money. Don’t let that money be yours! Dealing with reputable companies and trustworthy information is the key to your ability to enjoy a successful aging strategy. Contact our office today and schedule an appointment to discuss how we can help you with your planning!