The holiday season is around the corner, and being vigilant during this time is very important. We offer the following tips to help keep you, your family, and your finances safe—during the holiday season and beyond.
Being extra cautious as you navigate online can save you time and money. Each year brings new online threats. Here are a few ways to try to lower the risk of compromise at work and at home.
- Keep personal computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones up to date on anti-malware and anti-virus protections.
- Fraudsters "spoof” or impersonate legitimate web sites and email senders to get your personal and financial information.
- Purchase only from reputable websites with secure checkout.
- Never open attachments or click on links embedded in unsolicited emails. If you are interested in the potential offer, manually enter the web address for the retailer versus clicking on a link or attachment.
- Be wary of offers for better than advertised sale prices and discounts. This is a common trick to get you to open a malicious email.
- If you are uncertain about the sender of an email, you can hover your mouse over the sender’s name and it will reveal who the actual sender is.
- Be wary of emails that have misspellings or grammatical errors. This is common in online fraud.
- Always be suspicious of an email that asks you for money, be it from a family member, friend, or a charity. Contact the named individual directly.
- Legitimate entities such as your financial institution, creditors, or government authorities will never ask you for your personally identifying information or banking credentials in an email.
- A common scheme is to send an email implying there is a problem with your account or that if you don’t respond to the email you could face criminal penalties or possible arrest. This a ploy to get you to reveal personal information such as name, date of birth, SSN and contact information, bank account and credit card information, or online banking credentials.
- Beware of files that ask you to "click to launch”, "click to run” or "enable macros”.
- Beware of file attachments that are often used to launch malware, they may have extensions such as .bat or .exe.
- Utilize the "preview pane” feature in your email to avoid actually opening suspicious emails.
- Try to avoid personal email accounts that are made up of your actual name (email@example.com). This gives someone information about you that can be used for social engineering.
COVID-19/Natural Disaster Cyber Scams
In times of disaster and/or emergency, bad actors attempt to take advantage by instituting clever schemes that play on the anxiety of affected citizens. To avoid being a victim, please be aware of the following scams that have been identified:
- Imposter Scams – Bad actors attempt to solicit donations, steal personal information, or distribute malware by impersonating government agencies (e.g., Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), international organizations (e.g., World Health Organization (WHO), or healthcare organizations.
- Investment Scams – The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) urges investors to be wary of COVID-19-related investment scams, such as promotions that falsely claim that the products or services of publicly traded companies can prevent, detect, or cure
- Coronavirus Product Scams – The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have issued public statements and warning letters to companies selling unapproved or misbranded products that make false health claims pertaining to COVID-19. Additionally, FinCEN has received reports regarding fraudulent marketing of COVID-19-related supplies, such as certain facemasks.
- Fake Site Hacking- Attackers put up websites related to COVID-19 and prompt users to download an application so they can stay updated on the situation. This application doesn’t actually need to be installed, but still displays a map of how COVID-19 is spreading. While looking like a legitimate website, it generates a malicious binary file and installs it on the user’s computer. It not only steals data from computers but also infects them with other malware. While it is important to stay up to date about COVID-19, to avoid getting hacked users should only view dashboards from legitimate sources such as those operated by John Hopkins University or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Also, do not click links in unsolicited emails that promise updates about COVID-19.
Keep your online access and accounts safe with strong user names and passwords.
- Use a combination of letters (both capital and lowercase), numbers and special characters (like "&” or "%”) for your password. Use acronyms or nonsense sentences.
- Choose a unique username that you don’t use for any other site (and one that can’t be guessed easily).
- Never use personally identifiable information like name, birthdate, Social Security Number or email address.
- Avoid common words.
- Avoid using information that is publicly available about you or your family.
- Monitor your accounts on a regular basis for unusual activity and report questionable transactions to your financial institution or creditor immediately.
- Report the loss or theft of debit and credit cards as soon as possible to prevent fraudulent spending on your cards.
- Never carry the PIN to your ATM/Debit card on your person. If your wallet or purse is stolen, the thief now has access to your funds.
- Never let anyone borrow your debit or credit cards. If they make purchases that you did not intend, you will be liable for their spending.
- If carrying cash, place cash (men, in your case, your wallet) in your front pants pocket. Also, minimize the amount of cash you carry.
If you venture out for some holiday shopping, always be aware or your surroundings.
- Check around your car before entering. Is someone lingering? Is there more than one person? If so, go back into the store or building.
- Be careful not to overload yourself with bags. Not having either of your hands free can make you a more attractive target.
- Shop during the day if possible. If you must shop in the evening, park in well-lit areas.
- Carry your keys in your hand to avoid searching for them, they also double as a weapon.
- Lock your doors upon entering the vehicle. Don’t sit too long in the parking lot.
- If you feel threatened, call the Police. Locate store/mall security for an escort to your vehicle.
- Ladies, carry the smallest purse you can. Cross-body bags and wristlets are ideal when shopping in crowds. A large purse is a target. If you must carry a larger bag, keep it tucked in close to your body.
Please consider the CDC guidelines as it pertains to traveling. If you do travel, adhere to the following tips to help ensure a safe trip.
COVID-19 Travel Tips
- Wear a mask to keep your nose and mouth covered when in public settings, including on public transportation and in transportation hubs such as airports and stations.
- Avoid close contact by staying at least 6 feet apart (about 2 arms length) from anyone who is not from your household.
- Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol).
- Avoid contact with anyone who is sick. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
General Safety Travel Tips
- If you are traveling out of town, place a hold on mail and newspaper deliveries or arrange for a neighbor to collect them for you. A sign that your home is unoccupied is the buildup of papers on the walk or porch or an overflowing mailbox.
- Use timers or sensors on outside and indoor lights in living areas you normally occupy in the evenings.
- Never advertise your travel plans on social media. Thieves troll social media for targets. Save those travel photos for after you return from your trip. Advise your friends and family not to post your plans on their pages.
- Never leave your bags unattended or with a stranger.
- Try not to travel alone, but if you do, always use reputable travel services at your destination for transportation to and from the airport, lodging or the train station.
- Be wary of a stranger that wants to share your transportation or asks you to go anywhere with them.
- Use family safe words in the event you are separated from members of your family while traveling.
- In social settings, do not leave food or drink unattended. If you do, discard remainder and order a fresh drink.
- Always leave an itinerary with a family member or friend so that you can be reached in an emergency.
A little planning and extra vigilance goes a long way. Practicing safety measures now will help keep you and your loved ones safe and healthy in the long term.