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How To Avoid Scams

Internet fraud is alive and well, and it’s costing victims thousands of dollars. The FBI’s Internet Crime Compliant Center (IC3) received a record 791,790 complaints of online fraud in 2020, with $4.1 billion in reported losses—that’s an average of over 2,100 people per day at around $5,000 per person. 

Anyone can become a victim of cybercrime, but older adults tend to be at a higher risk of falling victim to an online scam. According to the IC3, over 40% of internet crime victims are over the age of 50. This group also reports the greatest number of losses (losses of more than $100,000). 

We don’t expect you or your loved ones to unplug from the internet, but we do want you to stay safe online. Familiarize yourself with these common internet scams and the proactive measures you can take to avoid them. 

How To Avoid Social Media Scams 
Scam: Robocalls

Being stuck at home has made everyone more vulnerable to robocall scams. These scams tend to target older Americans in particular. Many of these phony callers pose as government agencies or charities—entities that people are likely to trust with personal and financial information. 

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports more than 131,000 complaints regarding pandemic-related scam calls. But that’s nothing compared to the more than three billion robocalls Americans have received. 

How To Avoid Robocalls 
Scam: Fake credit report websites 

By law, you’re entitled to a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months. AnnualCreditReport.com is the only government-authorized website for ordering your free annual credit report, but the internet is full of imposter sites. Those websites claim to offer “free credit reports,” but often they’re trying to collect personal information, such as your Social Security number or date of birth. These data can be used to steal your identity. Other websites  offer “free” credit monitoring, but then charge a fee to your credit card after a trial period. 

Experts recommend checking your credit report at least once per year. If you find unauthorized activity and think you’ve been a victim of identity theft, place a fraud alert on your credit report. 

How To Avoid This Scam 

Don’t respond to emails, pop-up ads, or social media ads that offer a free credit report. Go through AnnualCreditReport.com instead. Be aware that some fake credit report websites have URLs that are very similar to AnnualCreditReport. Type the address in your search bar carefully and verify you’re on the legitimate site before entering any information. 

Scam: Online Romance 

Dating websites can be great for meeting new people, but unfortunately, romance fraudsters also use these sites to find their victims. And, according to the FBI, romance scams result in greater financial lossthan any other internet-facilitated crime, with the average victim losing over $100,000. 

This type of fraud takes on many different forms, but typically it starts with the scammer developing a supposed online romance with the victim. Once the scammer gains the victim’s trust, they’ll ask for money. They often claim to need money due to a personal emergency or to buy a plane ticket to visit the victim. Romance scammers have even gone so far as to persuade their victims to give them access to private financial accounts. It’s also not uncommon for these conniving criminals to convince their victims to commit financial fraud on their behalf. 

How To Avoid This Scam 

Older adults should be especially cautious using online dating websites, as some romance fraudsters specifically target older citizens. What’s more, women are victimized at a much greater rate than men. No matter what your age or gender, review the tips for dating online safely to help minimize the chance you’ll get duped. Don’t hesitate to break contact with anyone who tries to scam you, and you should always report them to the dating website. 

Scam: Bogus Pop-up Security Warnings 

This scam preys on consumers’ fears. A bogus pop-up warns the user that their computer has just been infected by a virus and directs them to download security software immediately. 

Sometimes, the goal of this scam is to make money by tricking the victim into purchasing rogue software. Other times the supposed security software is free, which helps encourage the victim to download it. Once installed, the software takes control of the victim’s computer, where it can wreak havoc or burrow into your private, stored information. Even experienced internet users can be fooled by this scam, as many phony pop-ups look like legitimate messages coming from Windows or a leading computer security provider. 

How To Avoid This Scam 

One of the most effective ways to help avoid this scam is to protect your computer with genuine antivirus software from a reputable security company. A good option is Sophos AntiVirus, which helps defend your computer against scams as well as viruses and phishing attempts. 

Product Scams Are Booming 

Unfortunately, a significant number of impostor brands are popping up all over social media and on favorite online shopping spots (such as Amazon). It can be hard to know the difference between fakes and genuine products. Here are some pointers to help you spot a product scam: 

What To Do If You Fall Victim to an Online Scam 

Cyber criminals are always thinking of new ways to fool people, so use caution anytime you’re on the web. If you fall for an online scam (or think you may have), don’t be embarrassed. Gather any relevant information about the incident and then file a complaint with the IC3. An analyst from the IC3 will review and research your complaint and send out information about the incident to the appropriate law enforcement or regulatory agencies. 

Talk to your loved ones about these common online scams and encourage them to tell you if they think they’re being scammed. Whether they’re being scammed or have narrowly missed being scammed, recommend reputable antivirus software for their use and protection. If you have kids, make them aware of these and other potential online dangers before they encounter them. We also recommend using parent control software to help protect your kids from cybercriminals. With your friends and family properly warned and informed, you can be at ease knowing the people you care about are cared for.

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