You’re careful not to walk through deserted streets alone at night, but you probably spend far less time considering how to protect yourself when you’re online. Each time you open your inbox, you’re at risk for cyber crime. In 2012, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received nearly 300,000 complaints from American consumers who lost a total of $525 million due to cyber crime. Many of these complaints were due to phishing attacks involving falsified emails.
Emails From an Old Friend
With the easy availability of your friends’ names from Facebook, some scams may contain personalized information to make it seem legit. For example, California Polytechnic Institute reported that members of its community received emails stating that an old friend wanted to reconnect, encouraging recipients to click a link embedded in the message. If you receive an email on behalf of an old friend, be wary of clicking any links. Instead, reach out to the person by initiating your own email to their last known address or reconnecting on Facebook. Friends who are legitimately trying to get in touch with you are unlikely to do so through a third-party application.
After visiting a malicious website or opening an email attachment from an unknown sender, your computer may be infected with a type of software called “ransomware”, as Microsoft.com explains. In one version of this scam, you may receive an on-screen warning of violation of U.S. federal law with an email stating that your IP address was implicated in procurement of child pornography or other illegal materials. The email states that to avoid prosecution, you must immediately pay a fine to the U.S. Department of Justice. Email users should be aware that the FBI, U.S. Department of Justice, CIA, and other federal agencies never send unsolicited emails or hijack your browser.
If you receive such a message, delete it immediately and file a complaint with the FBI’s IC3. It’s also a smart idea to invest in an identity protection service such as LifeLock, which monitors your credit score and alerts you to any unauthorized charges to your bank account.
Perhaps you’ve been looking to score some concert tickets on Craigslist, reaching out to several individuals offering rock-bottom prices. Beware of the email responses you get. One common email scam includes posting lucrative offers on Craigslist and requiring would-be customers to send a wire transfer to addresses in the area. However, the tickets never materialize. Whenever you’re purchasing something through Craigslist, arrange to meet in person to make a transfer. According to Consumerist, it’s wise to avoid purchasing tickets or other easily counterfeited goods through peer-to-peer sales systems. Instead, search Ticketmaster, StubHub, or another official ticket exchange.
A More Sophisticated Nigerian Scam
Most savvy Internet users know to steer clear of poorly worded emails littered with misspellings stating that you’ve won the Nigerian lottery, and that you’ll gain millions if you’ll just send an advance fee to a particular address. However, these scams have become more sophisticated in recent years.
Perhaps you’re a member of Homeaway, AirBnB, or another popular vacation rental site. Imagine you get an email from a British student planning to visit your city for two weeks. She is very interested in your property and immediately sends you the requisite funds by check or money order. The next day, however, you get a panicked email stating that she miscalculated the exchange rate and accidentally sent several hundred dollars too much. You kindly agree to wire her the difference from your own money. Your wire transfer goes through immediately, and you don’t realize that her check failed to clear until several days later. To avoid these scams, never agree to wire money to anyone abroad. Simply destroy the check or money order and ask the person to send it again.