On Her Own

How to spot technology-based scams

Usually when we think about bad guys hitting us where it hurts, we’re thinking of physical attacks. Our bodies aren’t the only place where they can injure us in ways that will affect our physical well-being, though. As a reader recently reminded me, and as I’m sure many of us have been thinking about as we watch prices of just about everything rise, being hit in the wallet is painful too. While we might mutter about the highway robbery prices of our daily needs, the real criminals are the ones who are trying to cheat us out of our hard-earned money in return for nothing but heartache and shame. These days, many of them try to reach us via our phones, by using social media, text messages, email, ads, or even QR codes at our favorite places. It’s not always easy to spot these technology-based scams in particular, since we don’t have body language and other similar visual indicators to go by, so here are a few things to watch for instead:

Are you getting the request or link from a trusted source? Sometimes, it’s obvious that you are hearing from someone you don’t know, from somewhere you aren’t associated with. Other times, you can tell that they aren’t calling from the right area code, or that their email address is from the wrong domain or isn’t in the format you expect from a place you know. If you aren’t certain, you may need to call back using a number you know from previous experience is correct, or use a known quantity such as a past email or mainstream search engine to find confirming information. QR codes can be dangerous because you might expect to use one in places like a bar or restaurant when they might not have them at all, or have a fake one placed where a real one was. Before you blindly scan it, confirm that it is legitimate with an employee, or see if you can opt for a paper option instead. Either way, no matter where you got the message, phone call, or website from, there may be other tell-tale clues that something is amiss.

Does the message or website have flaws? The URL or user name might seem a little off, but you might have to look very closely to be sure. Dig into the full email address or social media handle a message is from, or look in the address bar of your browser for the complete address you are accessing. Scammers may use names that are minor misspellings of or visually similar to what you’d expect. Another trick is to use the expected domain name as the left part of the address, like this: onherown.life.scammersite.co. If a website, it may lack security certificates. If you don’t know what those are, spend a few minutes today searching for how to check security certificates on the browsers you use (you may need to use a regular computer instead of your phone or tablet). Beyond that, the content itself might have typos or odd sentence structures, especially in live interactions. Legitimate businesses and sites can screw up too, but it’s better to be suspicious of them as well rather than risk assuming that the problems you see have an innocent explanation.

Is it asking for sensitive information inappropriately? There are, of course, good reasons why you might be asked for your password or to send payment, but it’s an indication to to double check that everything is in order before you start typing or reading off your credit card number. That’s especially true if they should already have that information or you’re having to type in the password for a site you’ve previously saved through your password manager. It’s one thing if you contacted them through a known-good channel; it’s another entirely if they reached out to you. Another red flag is if you are asked to provide more information that should be necessary for the interaction, such as a credit card number to “keep on file” even if you haven’t purchased anything yet. It’s more common with more active scammers such as those using live chat or who have called you might dig for more and more. You will need to be careful because that can take the form of idle conversation, and may not even be in the context of trying to get you to pay money or ask for anything else so obviously sensitive.

Are they asking you to pay in an unusual way or act particularly quickly? You may have heard about vacation rental scammers who ask users to pay outside of the official app or website in order to get a better price or save on fees. The problem is that part of what those fees pay for is ensuring that the seller is able to and will follow through on their obligations. If they don’t, and the service has records of your deal, then they are more likely to make right any problems you run into. Worse, it may be impossible for you to get your money back from the alternate payment methods the scammers recommend. You should never be asked to pay in the form of gift cards or similar credits, and “friends and family” payments should not be used with strangers. It’s also suspicious if they are pushing you to pay or act by an arbitrary deadline. We’ve talked before how bad guys try to short-circuit your thoughtfulness by rushing you into a decision, and financial scammers are no different. Their flavor of insistence will be that you’ll lose out on a low price if you don’t act soon, or that your accounts could be at risk if you don’t log in right away at their provided link.

You’ll notice that a lot of the red flags for financial scammers are the same as for any other bad guys, whether they’re trying to cheat you out of money or lure you into physical danger. Once you learn a few of them in any context, you can start applying them to the rest of your life and be safer in all areas, not just one.

Hi, I'm Annette.

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