Has your computer suddenly slowed down? Are you seeing an uptick in pop-up advertising? Have you received a phone call claiming to be from the IRS or Apple tech support telling you to take immediate action? Or a legitimate-looking email from “your bank” asking you to verify or update your account information?
For all the wonders and conveniences of this digital age we live in, there are a host of lurking threats to our online security. We chose our topic for this month’s column because in recent weeks we have encountered potential security issues on almost every computer we have worked on. We want you to be safe and secure when you are online.
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.
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and a pop up notification appears: Examples of this type of pop up notification include messages like “Your software is out of date, please click here to update now,” or “Is your computer infected?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.” 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 to find out if your software is up to date.
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 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.