Protect Yourself From Cyber Scams – Part 1

I cannot believe the number of scam calls and emails I receive in a given day.  Often I get 4 or 5 scams calls on my cell phone, and a few more on my landline.  That landline has got to go, more than 90% of calls on that number are from scammers or telemarketers.  Emails are even more numerous, although my spam filtering catches the vast majority, so the exact number is hard to know.  At least dozens, possibly more than 100 per day?

Here is a list of common scams, courtesy of Experian.  I have arranged these starting with the ones that I most frequently see:

  • IRS Tax Past Due Scam – This scam usually starts as a recorded phone message, and asks you to call back to speak with an agent.  There is a threat of immanent arrest.  A sheriff’s deputy is on the way.  Calling back for an agent usually ends with a demand for immediate payment, often using Western Union or Green Dot payment cards.  Just hang up.  The IRS never calls, and only communicates by postal mail.
  • Tech Support Scam – This scam can start a number if ways, through a phishing email, a browser pop-up window with or without voice sound track, or a phone call.  Yesterday I got a phone call, a recorded message urging me to call “Microsoft support.”   Just delete the email or hang-up the phone.  The browser pop-up usually stops with a reboot, or at worst a browser reset.  No one from Microsoft or any other entity is monitoring your computer.  In business, it is common to contract with an IT support company, and pay hundreds of dollars a month for it.  But unless you are paying for that level of support (and know it) this is always a scam.
  • The Yes Scam – Often a scammer on a phone call will ask a question like “can you hear me ok?” or “are you the owner?”  They are hoping to record you answering yes, and use that recording to authorize fraudulent charges or password resets at a website you frequent.  Just say “no.”  Seriously, avoid answering any questions, or use a phrase like “I’m fine” or “who’s  calling.”
  • The Hit Man Scam – You are contacted by a hitman who has been hired to kill you, but feels some remorse, because you seem like a nice person.  For a fee, they will not complete the contract.  Personally, I want to know how much money it takes to eliminate the guy who wants me dead!  But seriously, this is a scam.  You can report this to the police if you wish, but they will tell you this is fake.
  • Crypto-currency Scams –  Miss out on the huge surge in the price of BitCoin?  Then there is a scam for you.  Sign  up for any one of the dozens of Initial Coin Offerings (ICO) for competing crypto-currencies.  Many of these offerings failed to materialize, and the perpetrators just disappeared with their investors’ money.  And of course there are endless coining mining scams for existing coins such as Etherium and Monero.  I’m not saying all crypto-currencies are scams, but unless you really know what you are doing, you are more likely to get burned than not.
  • Dating and Romance Scams – This scam starts on a dating website, where you meet your “soulmate.”  Everything about this person is perfect.  Then there is a hitch, your new soulmate needs a cash transfusion for a business deal, or money for airfare so they can finally visit in person.  Once the money has changed hands, the romance may be over.  Or maybe not.  Maybe it is over only after they have emptied all of your accounts.
  • The Grandson Scam – Often targeted at seniors, this scam usually starts with a phone call.  A “police officer” is on the line, and your grandson is under arrest.  Everything can be settled by transferring money for bail, using the untraceable Western Union cash card again.  Variations can include any relative, or instead of being under arrest they are in a hospital somewhere.  The best thing to do is hang up, or you can confirm the story with the relative or another family member.  If you are asked to pay with Green Dot, Western Union, or Apple iTunes cards, this is most definitely a scam.  A real police department won’t ask for money.

These are scams I have happened to me personally, or to a client.  Tomorrow we will look at some other scams that are being targeted to people like you.  The best way to protect yourself from these sorts of scams is through awareness, learning how to recognize a con, and a level of skepticism bordering on paranoia.  Yes Virginia, they are out to get you.

More information:

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About the Author:

Cybersecurity guru to business owners in the St Paul, Minneapolis, and western Wisconsin area. Computer security and hacking have been a passion of mine since I entered the computer and networking business in 2000. In 2013 I completed a course of study and certification exam to become a Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH). In 2016 I was certified as a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP). As Cybersecurity Analyst at The WyzCo Group, I help our clients experience high levels of computer security, network security, and web site security. In addition to consulting on security products and services, we also conduct security audits, vulnerability assessments and full penetration tests. We also provide Cybersecurity Awareness Training for clients and their employees. We also work with companies and organizations that need to certify compliance with regulations such as PCI-DSS (credit card processing), HIPAA/HITECH (medical records), and GLBA. The views expressed on this Web site are mine alone and do not necessarily represent the views of my employer.

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