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Essential Cybersecurity Tips for Any User

As technology advances and mobile devices are used more than ever, new avenues of opportunity open for cybercriminals to exploit cybersecurity weaknesses for financial gain – and people like you are the targets.

How Scammers Operate
Not every technological advancement has enhanced cybersecurity. Capabilities like caller ID spoofing, which allows scammers to change the phone number they appear to be calling from, make it easier to create believable facades, personas, and scenarios.

Imagine your phone rings, and the caller ID displays the name and number of your credit card issuer. When you answer, a man claims to be from the issuer and states your account has been frozen due to your failure to pay. He urges you to verify your full name, address, and payment information over the phone so the payment can be processed, warning you that not doing so will lead to hefty fines.

Sensing something suspicious, you call the customer service number on the back of your credit card. The representative confirms that you have no account alerts or payment concerns and that no representative has called you, then connects you with their fraud department to report the incident.

Though the call appeared to be from the actual credit card company, it was really from a random criminal trying to get your personal and financial information. Had you given in to their request, it could have been disastrous. Sensitive details like your name, address, Social Security number, and birth date can be used to steal your identity and open false accounts in your name. Financial account numbers, card numbers, and login information can give scammers direct access to your money. Other times, cybercriminals may trick you into sending wire transfers or gift cards, which are nearly impossible to trace or recoup your money from.

But how could you have known the call was a fraud attempt when the caller ID displayed the company’s real phone number? With technology making it so easy for scammers to fool people, how can you stay safe?

Tactics to Watch
While no cybersecurity defense is 100% secure, following best practices and staying aware can significantly reduce your risk of being scammed. Cybercriminals can emulate real emails, websites, digital ads, social media pages, SMS messages, and phone calls so closely it’s not always immediately obvious when facing fraud.

Fortunately, even in these cases, scammers leverage the same tactics to get what they want – which means learning to identify them can be a basic and crucial aspect of cybersecurity. These tactics may include:

  • Creating a sense of urgency that pressures you into acting before you have time to think.
  • Supplying partially accurate information about you to seem legitimate and get more details.
  • Demanding immediate personal, account, or financial information to “assist” you.

Remember:Virtually no legitimate organization will contact you and demand that you verify or provide sensitive information. Unsolicited attempts to collect this information from you are likely fraud.

Protect Your Accounts and Devices
Beyond recognizing common signs of scams, you can adopt cybersecurity best practices in your personal and professional life to protect against cybercrime.

  • Install and regularly update your computer, phone, and other devices to ensure you have the latest security patches.
  • Install and regularly update antivirus, anti-malware, and firewall software on all your devices to spot and block malicious content.
  • Maintain multiple backup copies of all important digital files to counter threats like ransomware, which prevents you from accessing information on your device until you pay money.
  • Require multifactor authentication to access sensitive files, log into mobile apps or financial accounts, and more.
  • Use a virtual private network (VPN) to ensure secure internet access.
  • Avoid using public Wi-Fi or devices for actions involving personal information, such as logging into an account or paying online.
  • Check the security of websites before entering sensitive information.
  • Create hard-to-guess passwords that include multiple numbers, letters, and symbols, and use a unique one for every account.
  • Keep a keen eye on your credit reports and scores and freeze your credit profile if you notice any suspicious or unauthorized activity.

Don’t Fall for Common Scams
Scammers may use false threats or grand promises – like freezing your account or paying you thousands for a simple job – to lure you in. Here’s how to avoid getting hooked:

  • Avoid clicking on unsolicited links or files in emails, texts, and instant messages, even if they appear to be from someone you trust.
  • Never send money to someone you don’t know or in response to an odd request or unrecognized sender.
  • Verify unsolicited communications with the organization being represented, using contact information you’ve obtained independently, not from suspicious messages, emails, or phone calls.
  • Be mindful of what you post on social media, which can be a goldmine of information for scammers.
  • Don’t blindly trust your caller ID.
  • Avoid confirming private or financial information via phone, email, or online.
  • Never share a login security code with anyone.
  • Never respond to a multifactor authentication or verification request if you did not send it.

Financial institutions rarely ask you to share sensitive information unexpectedly. However, it should be noted that legitimate institutions may contact you to verify your identity if there is a case of suspected fraudulent activity. In these cases, be sure to independently verify the identity of a caller or texter before sharing information.

If you realize you’ve fallen for fraud, file a report with your financial institution, credit card provider, local authorities, the Internet Crime Complaint Center, and potentially the Federal Trade Commission.