By Charles Hall II
The bottom line is that online fraud is an escalating issue and unfortunately, it’s here to stay. As a result of being inundated with stories of online fraud and fraud claims from customers, I realized that the training and information received by banking professionals is sorely lacking among consumers. Yes, tips to avoid fraud prevention are accessible to anyone that can access the internet, it appears the channels disseminating information on how to avoid online fraud are being obstructed from the average consumer by everything else we see and experience online.
The argument could be made that it is the financial industry’s responsibility to provide sound advice to consumers on how to avoid online fraud but ultimately YOU are responsible for the safety and security of your online behavior. In other words, you have a responsibility to your finances, your family and your future to assess and modify your online habits to reduce instances of online fraud and minimize the resulting impact in the future.
Listed below are some of the most common methods of online fraud and identity theft:
A data breach is the release of secure, private or confidential information to an untrusted environment. Data breaches occur when hackers (or even an employee) break into a corporate or government computer system to steal data. This data can include information such as credit card numbers, names, addresses, Social Security numbers, and much more.
Skimming usually happens in close proximity to where transactions are completed; using a hand-held scanner to steal your information and in some cases store your personal information for later use.
Phishing is an attempt to get you to share personal information or to get you to click a link that essentially exposes personal information stored in your email account or on your hard drive. It usually comes in the form of an email asking for information from someone posing as your bank or other official entity. Phishing can also happen in a popup on your computer screen saying you’ve won a prize or a contest. No matter what the phishing attempts intended goal is, fraudulent persons are only able to reach that goal if you take the bait.
Regardless of what your smartphone manufacturer says, for the most part smartphones are not very secure. When you make a call, use an app, send a text, or send email, it’s possible for someone to be monitoring those activities. With the right equipment or malicious app, it’s easy to gain access to a smartphone and steal any data on that phone or any data associated with that phone.
Unsecure Internet Connections
Using an unsecure public Wi-Fi connection can also be a problem. Since it’s public and unsecured, others can monitor your activity and gain access to your computer. Be very careful about what networks you use.
Now that you have been equipped with some of the ways your information can be stolen and the correct terminology, it’s important that we adopt proven prevention techniques to move you closer to a healthier, more fruitful online life. Doing a simple online search using “tips on how to prevent online fraud” will populate countless articles and blog entries on the subject. What I realized was that the tips were largely similar and lacked the personal elements that prove to the reader how much success they can have with a particular prevention tip.
I have always been vigilant as it relates to my activity online. When I speak with friends, family and customers, I start by assessing how that individual uses the internet. From there I divert the conversation toward effective practices that will benefit their specific circumstance. With that, I preface any solutions with one statement and one directive, that if implemented will overwhelmingly reduce instances of online fraud. Are you ready?! Here they are.
To be clear, NOTHING is free! Absolutely NOTHING! For-profit companies (i.e. Apple, Amazon, Walmart, etc.) are unable to make money if they continuously provide free products to other for-profit companies to give to consumers for completing surveys or for signing up for a free now, pay later service or product. So, no matter how much you want that item or how professional the email or advertisement seems to be, it’ll cost you in the long run!
STOP! Don’t click that link (or button)! When presented with a random pop up offering a free gift or an email made to look like it was sent from your bank, simply close the pop up or for email, immediately report as spam. Keep in mind this directive goes far beyond just pop ups and emails. It also applies to the ads that appear in your social media timeline feeds shared by some obscure company along with a basic, poorly designed image. Often those are also pathways to any numbers of felonious actions toward you. Please note, if a social media timeline ad looks suspicious or you have fallen prey to one of these ads, report it to the website for review. This is the most effective way consumers can help to combat fraud.
Because most online platforms you access online require you to register for their site in order to get wider access to site content I recommend you create an additional email account. This email account would be used in lieu of your primary email address when inputting your contact information into any websites outside of well known, major brands. This practice, when used consistently, will prevent unwanted or annoying emails from flooding your primary email account as well as lessen the amount of spam emails. For example, for purchases made through websites like Walmart.com and Amazon.com it is okay to use your primary email address but if you decide to make a purchase from a site like dresses.com, handbags.com or necktiesrus.com I would suggest using the alternate email address to register and make your purchase.
Utilize a trusted peer to peer payment service like Cash App that will allow you to instantly add cash from your bank debit card directly to an online account. Once money has been added, you are able to send money to other Cash app users by using what they refer to as a $Cashtag. Additionally, this app allows you to order a personalized debit card to access the funds you have available in your Cash app account. Before I make a purchase online I instantly fund the Cash app card through the app and use that card to make the purchase. After using the card, the app allows you to turn off the card until you are ready to use it again. With this prevention practice, you are isolating your online transactions to one card only active during your purchase thereby thwarting any possible chance of that card being used fraudulently.