The pandemic has seen a boom in the digital realm, with everyday tasks such as banking, shopping, and food purchases now online. There is also a massive explosion in streaming subscriptions – Netflix, Disney+, and Spotify, to name a few.
With this, scammers, too, have migrated to the digital front through phishing and other elaborate schemes. Here are some tips on how you can avoid falling prey to such scams, and what you can do to protect yourself.
1. If it is too good to be true, it is!
You are behind on your mortgage payments, creditors are sending you notices, and you have reached the end of your rope. If only there was a way to earn money, and fast.
Suddenly your email inbox chimes with a message saying you have won a lucrative cash prize, or that your assistance is required to release a sum of money. Too good to be true, right?
Sorry to break it to you, but these will only lead to heartbreak and a greater mountain of debt in the end. Do not reply to such emails, and do not click on any of the links. Quickly add such messages to your spam folder and delete them forever.
2. Thou shalt not pass(word)
This cannot be stressed hard enough: under no circumstances would a legitimate online service provider – be it your bank, online shopping account, email provider, or streaming service – ask you for your password or PIN number via email.
The problem is, such emails can appear very convincing, company logo and all. Always scrutinise the email as, more often than not, a phishing message would include an inappropriate email address inconsistent with official correspondence.
Check with the company’s helpline regarding such suspicious emails before acting further.
And if you would like to change your password or PIN, always do so by logging into that particular account directly through the official webpage or app.
3. Typos are your friend
This is where paying attention to grammar and punctuation pays off. If you can spot typos or grammatical errors from a mile away, you should be able to easily discern that this email is likely to be a scam.
Of course, a genuine email could still contain errors due to human fallibility. In that case, it would be wise to refer to the second point: is the email asking for your password or PIN by clicking on a link?
If it isn’t, this could likely be a genuine mistake on the service provider’s part.
4. Get a password manager
While it is a good practice to change your passwords regularly, keeping track of them can be a huge headache. Some of you might have organised your passwords into a spreadsheet to keep track of your many accounts, which is certainly commendable.
That said, it is highly recommended not to use the same password for all your accounts, no matter how complex they are.
Stick to having different ones, and use a reliable password manager to store your collection, where you only need to remember a single password to gain access to all your accounts.
Some of the encrypted password managers require a monthly or annual subscription, but this is a small price to pay for your long-term privacy and security.
5. Don’t keep it simple, stupid
Online service providers have done their part to force users to include special characters and at least a number and an uppercase letter in their passwords.
All this effort, however, will amount to nothing if you incorporate common information about yourself, such as your birthday or anniversary, in your password. For instance, rather than “JohnDoe1980”, why not use “Ch4rKoayT30w”?
While the only 100% way of remaining safe is to lead an Amish lifestyle and keep off the grid, sticking to the above guidelines should allow you to enjoy a fulfilling digital experience as you shop, spend, and mingle online.
Edwin Kee dreamt of being a pro-gamer only to have circumstances mould him into a programmer in a past life. He has since moved on to write about consumer electronics and other topics. Check out his blog at manatau.com.