“Don’t talk to strangers!” Parents have warned their children for decades. Evil often comes packaged in beauty and charm. And so, obedient children have refused to be lured by candy.
Today’s online lures are clever, disguised and not obvious in many cases. Now that we are used to the emails from a Prince in a faraway land who wants to send us money and avoid the demands to “click here to enter banking information”, the scams are getting more sophisticated and aimed straight at our emotions. Let’s look at some common scams that are online today, targeting our curiosity, fear, sympathy or even love and connection.
Shocking social media announcements about a scandalous situation with a celebrity or sudden news that someone has died can be enough to make you click for more. Be aware that not all websites are created equal. False information is everywhere on the internet. Before you click share to be the first to tell your friends, you can verify news via scam-checking websites like https://www.snopes.com/
Have you received a recorded call on your cell phone telling you that you have violated rules with Revenue Canada and there is now a warrant for your arrest? Or perhaps a huge alert appeared on your computer screen, seemingly from the RCMP saying they have detected child pornography on your computer? These terrifying messages are followed by demanding an immediate response from you. Cell phones ask you to press 1 and computers ask you to click a link for help. Stop. If you’re worried about Revenue Canada, call them directly. If you’re worried about a virus on your computer, call an IT company to help you.
There have been numerous fraudsters trying to collect money on group funding websites, or phone calls from a charity. They all tell a sad story with an urgent need. Because this has happened too often, the sites are now tightening up the regulations. To help avoid unwanted cold calls, you should register to be on the “Do Not Call List (DNCL). https://lnnte-dncl.gc.ca/en Let common sense be your guide. Check the story and the source before sending money.
With the rise of popularity and success of online dating, there’s also a rise in catfishing online. Our human need for love and validation, opens the door to the hearts of all ages of people in all walks of life. These clever scammers know how to win trust and what magical words to type so that the victim becomes comfortable. Often it is months before a crisis occurs and a request for money is made. There are signs to look for: never meeting via Skype or Zoom or in-person, outlandish stories about impossible situations or professing undying love forever when you’ve never met. If you suspect this is happening to you or someone you know, search the internet for profiles of this person to see if they are consistent. You can also upload any images you’ve been given to reverse Google image search, or to a website like Tin Eye (https://tineye.com) to request matches elsewhere on the internet. If the images you have been given are actually stock photos, you’ll see that in your results.
If you have spent time on social media, being social with your “friends”, you’ve seen the fun quizzes asking for your favourite colour, your favourite vacation spot, your pet’s first name, your favourite band or the name of your high school. These sound like familiar security questions, don’t they? Of course there may be other harmless questions in there too, but think about the personal information that you’re handing out to the internet and not just your “friends”!
Have you ever received a friend request from someone you thought you were already friends with online? This is another way hackers try to invade your personal accounts. If you think there’s even a chance you may be friends with that person already, double check before clicking accept!
Are you making your accounts easy to hack? Identity theft is a nightmare.
At the end of the day, “Don’t talk to strangers!” is still a solid piece of advice for us all. Beware. Be smart. Be careful, verify and fact check before you click.