Protecting Your Income Requires Cyber Hygiene
5 minute read
It doesn’t take much to feel overwhelmed by technology these days. With things changing so quickly, there’s a lot to learn and it can be hard to keep up. Not only with the latest developments, but also with the latest scams, many of which target older Americans. In recent years, financial scams – from fraudulent sweepstakes to romance schemes – have become more and more prevalent (and disturbing). According to the Federal Trade Commission, there was a whopping $8 billion lost to financial fraud in the United States in 2022. That’s up more than $6 billion from 2019.
Surprisingly in 2021, members of Gens X and Z along with millennials (in other words, adults age 18 to 59) were 34% more likely than folks over 60 according to the FTC. But, once you hit your ‘70s and ‘80s, the median amount lost to fraud grew precipitously. The median loss for people 70 – 79 was $800. Over age 80, it climbed to $1,500 an incident. Yikes.
WATCH Your Money Map: Protecting Your Income Requires Cyber Hygiene
Kim Komando is an expert in teaching people how to protect themselves – and their money – from scammers who are using technology to make their misdirection much more tricky to spot. Her talk radio show about technology, “The Kim Komando Show” reaches more than 6.5 million listeners nationwide, many of whom call in to share their rip-off stories. She’s heard it all and says that no matter how tech savvy you might be, there are steps everyone should be taking to avoid being targeted.
Keep your online life as private as possible: The FTC reports that annually, people lose $1.2 billion to social media scams. Komando says one of the most important things people can do is to keep their online life as private as possible. This means making all of your social media accounts private, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok. You’ll also want to opt out of people search sites, like FamilyTreeNow.com. This site, says Komando, masquerades as a genealogy site, but really is a free people search tool, similar to PeopleFinder or PeopleLookup. These and other similar sites are used by scammers to collect your name, address, phone number and other personal information.
Practice smarter online banking: Komando recommends never banking on your primary device – whether it’s your laptop, desktop computer or phone. Instead, she suggests getting a separate, less expensive device for the sole purpose of online banking. Doing so will reduce your risk of clicking on something that could infect your device with malware and wipe out things like your online bank account. Komando says that right now, there’s a scam spreading like wildfire impacting Google Chrome that notifies users that they need to update their browser (note: Chrome simply updates itself automatically when opening and closing the browser, so there’s never a need to manually update). Once someone clicks to update, it puts a “transparency layer” over Chrome that sends your online activity to scammers. “Anytime your browser is open and it says, “we need you to download this to update” that’s potentially a big red flag,” says Komando.
Be aware of AI: Some of the newest – and scariest – scams involve artificial intelligence, or AI. Here’s how they work – scammers grab a minute or so of someone’s voice from videos on sites like Facebook, TikTok or Instagram. With that, they can use inexpensive software to clone the voice and then simply type whatever they’d like it to say. “I had a woman on the air, she got a call from her daughter who said that she was kidnapped,” says Komando. “They wanted $5,000 to release her… it turns out, it wasn’t, obviously, her daughter.” In this situation, the mother did the right thing by hanging up and calling her daughter to see if she was actually in trouble. “That’s really what you have to do,” says Komando. “You have to call whoever it is… whoever [the scammer] is pretending to be.”
Get a VPN: A “virtual private network,” also known as a VPN, is a piece of software that establishes a secure connection between your devices and the Internet. A VPN helps prevent third parties from tracking your online activity, as well as stopping hackers from intercepting your internet data. Komado says having a VPN is one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself online. However, you have to make sure you’re using the right type. “You don’t want to use a free VPN,” she advises. “The free VPNs… will collect everything you’re doing.” Komando, noting that it’s a good thing to keep in mind whenever a service is provided for free you should assume that you (and your data) are the product. A secure VPN can cost as little as $7 a month.
Keep your tech up to date: “Make sure that whatever [computer or other device] you’re using hasn’t reached the end of life,” stresses Komando. “A lot of people are using old Chromebooks and they don’t realize Google stops supporting these things after a number of years. They have an end of life.” The same thing goes for iPads, phones and other devices. Even if they still work, they may be so outdated that they no longer keep you protected.
Claim your real estate: Recently, scammers have been creating fake listings on Zillow. These listings will request interested parties provide a deposit via a bank transfer to schedule a time to view the property, or ask for personal information, like your bank account number or social security number. Any listing that makes these requests should trigger a red flag. For property owners, Komando advises claiming your property on sites like Zillow or Redfin. That way, if there’s a status change–like it being listed for sale – you’ll get an automatic notification. “Some counties are now putting steps in where the county will notify you,” says Komando. “That’s slow to happen, so this title theft is really a big issue.”
Finally, Komando says we should all freeze our credit, which will prevent scammers from opening a credit account in your name, and make a practice of using two-factor authentication. Commonly referred to as “2FA”, this security step requires two separate forms of identification in order to access something (like your online bank account). The first factor is typically a password and the second usually includes something like a text sent to your phone.