A new scam operating out of Tallahassee has been asking Bank of America customers to divulge their account information. The text message asks Floridians to provide personal information – including debit card numbers – in response to ‘fraudulent activity’ being detected. In truth, the only fraud being perpetrated is by the authors of the SMS; no legitimate financial institution will ever ask for details via text message. One 21-year-old victim learned of the scam after being charged a few hundred dollars for a dress costing just $50.
She’s not alone. With the majority of the populace surfing the web for gifts every holiday season, it’s little wonder that so many are affected by scammers. Last year, a staggering number of Americans fell prey to a data breach at Target stores. It operated for less than three weeks, but managed to harvest bank details from more than 70 million citizens.
This year won’t be any different – unless shoppers change their habits and become more alert to the warning signs of fraudsters. The rise of online scams correlates with the increase in web shopping. Bottom line is, more people shopping on the internet = more potential victims. So how can you protect yourself?
Cyber Scams and How to Spot Them
Annually, more than 16 million people report identity theft. During the holiday season, the number of victims increases. Cyber fraudsters view online shoppers as easy marks.
It’s not just the increase in the number of consumers that attracts criminals. From mid-November to mid-January, retailers start slashing prices, often with aggressive time-limitations. Shoppers act hastily in the face of perceived competition, with scant regard for the possibility that they’re being conned.
Protect yourself by learning the fraud indicators that should set alarm bells ringing:
- No padlock icon. When visiting a site purporting to be a bank, check the far left side of your browser for the green padlock icon. As a security measure it’s far from failsafe – the padlock just means the site is encrypted – but clicking on it should bring up the true site address. If what you see doesn’t match the URL in the address bar, the site may well be a fake. Look for the lock. It’s something all legitimate websites will have.
- Non-secure protocol. Never give your financial information to a non-secure website. Check the URL: if it begins with https it’s secure; http means it’s not. Again, neither protocol guarantees safety or scam, but no legitimate banking institution would use http, so its presence should put you on high alert for other fraud warning signs.
- Being asked to pay by money transfer. Private sellers who ask you to pay using a prepaid card or via money transfer are highly suspicious and may be operating a scam. Always use a secure payment platform like PayPal.
- Public wi-fi. Incredibly useful for using in-store apps or comparing deals on retail goods, access to free wi-fi is understandably tempting for shoppers - just don’t use it to input any personal data. That includes logging into your email account. Public networks are gifts for hackers, especially in busy malls where it would be extremely hard to identify who the perpetrator of a fraud is. Not that you would know you’d been hacked until much later.
As long as you remain vigilant to the possibility of being defrauded, and are aware of the methods they use, you stand a very good chance of surviving the holiday season without falling afoul of cyber criminals.