I wrote an article in the Leader about a year ago about the dangers of being scammed and what people need to be on the look-out for, so they can prevent themselves from being duped into giving out their bank details unknowingly, or being conned out of giving up their credit card details.
It seemed that the advice was timely because I received an email from an elderly lady in County Limerick who had just read the column and realised that the person who called her earlier that day, supposedly from her computer manufacturer, telling her she needed to, of all things, upgrade her security software, which was something he could do straight away for her if she gave him her credit card details. Luckily for her, she couldn’t locate her card because if she could, she would have given it to him.
Anyway, it seems that the art of scamming is still very much alive and well because only last week figures released from the Garda National Bureau of Fraud Investigation revealed that since January 250 people have reported that they have been the victims of this type of crime, with amounts stolen ranging from €100 to €40,000.
It seems that the most popular form of scam that criminal gangs are now using is what is commonly referred to as “phishing”.
This is where someone uses a fake email to draw people to a counterfeit website in a way to collect their personal information such as bank account details, passwords, user names, credit card information and so on.
You might, for example, get an email from your “bank” and it might have their logo, the email address it was sent from might include the banks name in it, and it is written in the style that mimics other emails you may have received from the bank in the past.
This email might tell you that you need to update your information or confirm your account details and provides you with a link to a landing page that looks exactly like the one you see every time you go to check your account balance. But beware - it’s a scam.
No bank would ever ask you to provide sensitive information by sending you an email or calling you on the phone. But if you ever receive an email like this and you are worried it might actually be legitimate, pick up the phone and call the bank directly. Use the contact number of your bank by finding it when you type their web address or name into your search bar, not the number included in the email sent to you or listed on the page linked to the email you received.
One way of keeping your email address out of the hands of scammers, is by having three email accounts – one for business, one for personal use and the third that you might use for things that could generate a lot of spam or when you don’t know who is on the other end of the transaction. That way, you can give your two primary email addresses to friends, co-workers and relatives only and use the other address, the one that could get into the hands of scammers, for use if you were shopping online or using it to sign up for offers/receive information etc.
And apparently in the case of identity theft type scams, I was surprised to learn that about one third of scammers are friends or family members of the victim! Which means that using your house name, or date of birth for example is not a good idea to use as your password. And in the age of Facebook, those kinds of passwords may not even be strong enough to keep strangers out. There is so much information out there in “cyber land” about you that anyone can see it.
So, when choosing a password, consider three things: Length – the longer it is the harder to crack; Variety – use a mix of numbers, styles, letters, spaces and mix it up for whenever possible and try make use of everything on the keyboard; Staying Power – a password is no good if you can’t remember it so choose something that will stick with you.
And remember, not to use the same password for all of your email accounts or access to your bank accounts on line. Yes a pain in the ass having multiple passwords but if you want to make it as difficult as possible for scammers to access all of your accounts, then you need to do this.
Here are just some warning signs that someone might be trying to scam you:
n A promise that you could very easily win or earn money on line.
n A refusal to provide written information as back up.
n Pressure to act quickly or persistent phone calls or emails.
n An e-mail requesting personal information that the company should already have on file for you
n A request for your bank account number, credit card number, passwords, PPS number or other personal details.
n An email claiming that you have won a prize you didn’t realise you had even entered.
n A friendship or relationship that starts on a line where after a while they try and convince you to send them money so they can come over and visit you.
If something in your gut is telling you a situation is off, a little bit strange and not just right, and you are being asked for money or information, then simply do not comply, at least not, straight away. Figure out a way to end the interaction and then do your homework.
I’m always happy to hear from readers who want to share their stories or give others a “heads up” so to speak, on what happened to them or what scam they were nearly the victim of.