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Be aware, so you can beware

In the last decade, cyber-frauds have arisen using increasingly sophisticated technologies — all designed to obtain your personal data which then can be used to steal your money or identity. Here is a review of today’s most prevalent types of scams.


This is the intent to steal your personal information through fraudulent emails. They are often very believable and deceive recipients into providing user names, passwords, account and Social Security Numbers via email or by directing victims to a fake website. IRS scams are on the rise where criminals ask an individual to update their e-files. Do not click on links or open attachments or pop-up screens from unknown sources. Immediately delete emails from suspicious sources. Never send private or financial information via unsecured email.


This is the text message version of phishing. While most people are aware of the security risks of clicking on links in an email, this is less true with text messages. Many assume that their mobile device is immune to attack. Smartphone users tend to respond to texts quickly and may not realize the message is fake until it is too late. In addition, fake website addresses are harder to spot on a smaller screen. Do not respond to “urgent” text messages or click on links from numbers that you do not recognize. Also, be aware that attack messages can appear to come from people you know, so check before you click. Never install an app from a text message. Don’t respond to a text requesting private or financial information. Look for suspicious numbers that don’t look like real cell numbers, e.g., “5000.” Never call an unknown phone number included in a text message.


The phone-based version of Phishing that attempts to trick consumers into revealing personal information over the phone. Attackers will pose as representatives from reputable companies or organizations, and by utilizing Caller ID spoofing, the phone number may appear to be legitimate. While on the phone, the fraudster will ask you to verify your personal information. If no one answers the call, a voicemail is left with an urgent message to call a toll-free number regarding an issue such as a problem with one of your accounts or an outstanding debt with the IRS. Scammers posing as IRS Agents complete with false badge numbers are using the phone to collect personal and financial information. Be suspicious of unknown callers and do not trust caller ID. Either hang up or ignore the instructions left on the phone message. Instead call a trusted phone number for the organization in question.


A category of malicious software that is installed on your computer or mobile device without your knowledge to perform unwanted tasks — hackers use it to steal personal information. Protect your computer from malware by installing security software and keeping it up-to-date with the newest versions. Types of malware include:

  • Spyware — The term used for criminal software that a victim unknowingly loads on a personal computer. It is a type of malware that is hard to detect. Spyware most commonly gets access to your computer through the internet or by clicking on a link or opening an attachment within an email. Once there, the spyware collects personal information and uses the internet to send it back to the criminal.
  • Keylogger — A type of spyware that secretly tracks or logs the key strokes you use on your computer so thieves can access your personal information such as usernames, passwords, and bank account data. It is often installed without your knowledge through phishing or vishing. An example: scammers posing as support technicians called consumers claiming they needed access to their computer to help remove a “virus,” but instead install malware.
  • Ransomware — Hackers use this software to gain control of your computer or mobile device and block your access until you pay a ransom. Ransomware gains access from an email, an infected website or through your computer network.
Card skimming

Attempts to hijack your personal information and your identity by tampering with ATM machines. Fraudsters set up a device that is capable of capturing the debit card magnetic strip and keypad information from the ATM. This information is used to create new cards with your account numbers. Only use ATM machines from institutions you know and trust. Additionally, if you notice a change at an ATM you use routinely, such as a color difference in the card reader or a gap where something appears to be glued onto the slot where you insert your card, do not use the ATM.

Fake check scams

This scam involves the victim accepting a fake cashiers check from a scammer, which is given to the victim as supposed winnings from a lottery or contest. Then the scammer requests that the victim sends them a “redemption fee.” The victim keeps the worthless check and the scammer cashes the real check. Another form of this scam occurs when the victim sells an item, and the scammer pays more than the asking price via a fake check, and then asks to be refunded the difference.

Tax return fraud

Identity thieves are filing fake returns using stolen Social Security Numbers and claiming refunds worth billions. Taxpayer victims only learn of the fraud when their return is rejected by the IRS because someone already received the money. Don’t answer any emails, phone calls or text messages from the IRS requesting personal or financial information — the IRS will never contact you via these channels.

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