The pandemic has kept seniors homebound during 2020, and folks have increasingly turned to their computers and smartphones to keep in touch with the world and connect with friends and family. Sadly, the scammers and hackers of the world have seen this as an opportunity to get even busier and more sophisticated with how they attempt to steal our money or our identity, or to simply cause our devices to ‘misbehave.’
So, as we do at the start of each new year, we are reminding you about best practices for keeping yourself and your computer safe and secure. Here are some situations that should raise a red flag and prompt you to appropriate action:
* If you receive an email asking you to verify your account information: Many people have been fooled by emails that look legitimate, even using a familiar company’s logo. These scam-in-disguise emails ask you to update or verify your account information (usually by clicking on the provided link), or they may even warn you that your account has been temporarily frozen until you contact them with your information. These emails are especially alarming when they appear to be from a company you actually do business with.
One of the newer versions of this is the email that appears to be from PayPal or a bank containing a ‘receipt’ for your recent payment to Nextflix or some other company – which you didn’t actually make. And very often it’s a substantial dollar amount. In that moment of panic to straighten this out right away, it would be tempting to click the link in the email to pursue correcting the error. Don’t do it!
** What to do: Never click on the links in these emails. Just delete the email. Though they may look official and legitimate, they are actually coming from scammers who hope that you will provide them with your personal information. This type of scamming is referred to as phishing. Legitimate businesses will never send you an email asking you to click on a link and enter your information.
* If you are browsing on the internet and a pop-up notification appears: Examples of this type of pop-up notification include messages like “Your software is out of date, please click here to update now,” or “Is your computer infected? Click here to find out.” Or the most startling one: “Your computer is infected!” Like the scam emails we described above, these online notifications can look very legitimate, but they are really invitations to download malware to your computer. Malware is software designed to harm or disrupt your computer.
** What to do: Never click on links provided in pop up notifications. If, for example, you get a pop-up notification that your Adobe Flash Player – legitimate software you may have on your computer – needs updating, do not click on the provided link. Instead, visit the official Adobe website yourself to find out if your software is up to date.
One way to ensure that you are on a company’s official website is to check the URL, or website address. Right before the .com in the website address there will be the organization or company’s official name, like apple.com, wellsfargo.com or amazon.com.
Here are some examples of official Apple website addresses followed by an unofficial variation of the address:
apple.com is legitimate, but not myapple.com
support.apple.com is legitimate, but not applehelpdesk.com
apple.com/music is legitimate, but not appletunes.com/music
It is not always easy to discriminate legitimate from fraudulent or unofficial website addresses, and scammers are good at creating official-looking addresses. When in doubt about the legitimacy of a website address, ask someone who knows online security well before clicking!
* If you receive an unsolicited phone call from any organization or business asking for money or information: By now you’ve probably heard about the scammers who call seniors claiming to be the IRS and threatening to arrest them if money is not sent immediately. Or they say, “This is your grandson, I’m in jail and need you to help me post bail.”
Modern day phone scams often involve your computer too. Several of our clients have received phone calls claiming to be from “Apple tech support,” and notifying them that their iCloud accounts have been “hacked.” They may ask the person to grant them remote access to their computers, and may even direct them to pay for their “services” by purchasing gift cards and scanning the gift card numbers to them. (Why gift cards? Because they are not traceable.) You can read about one such “gift card scam” on Apple’s website: https://support.apple.com/itunes-gift-card-scams
** What to do: Hang up the phone! We seniors have been trained from a young age to have good phone manners, but this is one time when you shouldn’t worry about being polite. Unless you have called a company or organization yourself and have arranged to receive a return phone call, do not engage in any conversation with the caller. Just hang up. If you’re concerned about whether a phone call is legitimate, call the company and ask if one of their reps attempted to contact you.
Our Golden Rule for our students and clients is this: Never respond to any caller, email or online message that you yourself did not seek out. If you’re uncertain about whether your computer has been compromised, or whether a message or website is really legitimate, ask a trusted friend or family member or a tech professional for help. Stay safe and secure online, and enjoy living in this digital age.
And may 2021 be the start of a safer, healthier and more hopeful world.
Challenge: How many scam clues can you spot in this email that one of our clients recently received? (We blurred out the client’s name wherever it appeared, to protect her privacy.)