You know Internet scams have become widespread when a member of the Federal Trade Commission – whose job is to protect consumers from cyber-crooks – admits getting burned by a scammer.
Attorney Julie Brill, who recently left the FTC for private practice, says she went public about her phishing experience in order to warn others.
“These are not the prince-from-Nigeria types of attacks of the past that we’re used to,” Brill said. “These are deeply sophisticated.”
Brill’s troubles began when she opened an email from a business contact and then clicked on what she thought was a Google attachment. She began entering personal information before realizing she had linked to a fake site.
Luckily, none of her data was compromised because safety measures were in place that alerted her to the risk in time.
Keep in mind Brill is a sharp and talented attorney. The Washington Post describes her as “a deft lawyer and a defender of consumers’ rights.” If she can get scammed, anyone can.
Five Common Phishing Scams
Here are some common cyber-traps, courtesy of Bullguard Security:
- Too-good-to-be-true offers on social media. Do you use Facebook or Pinterest? Beware of ads offering free gift certificates, deep discounts or other goodies – especially if you have to fill out an online survey to receive the giveaway. It’s probably a survey scam. The phisher’s goal is to obtain personal data, including bank info and credit card numbers. The fact that a trusted friend shared the offer doesn’t necessarily mean it’s legit. They could have simply taken the bait before passing it on to you.
- Phony job ads. Job seekers are a prime phishing target. Some of the ads appear to be legitimate. They have company logos and appropriate language, but when you click on the link you’re directed to a scam site.
- Fake alerts from banks. Banks never send warnings of credit card expirations by email or text. Nor do they typically ask you to update account information online.
- Charity scams. Cyber-crooks prey on natural disasters and global health issues. They lay their bait on social media and online forums.
- Fake e-cards. “Even companies have adopted the practice of sending e-cards to their customers to get closer to them,” writes Bullguard. “Not at all surprising is the fact that cybercrooks know just how to take advantage of the joy-spreading e-cards and breach your internet security. They send you legit-looking e-cards that once downloaded either direct you to a phishing site or install some kind of malicious software on your PC.”
Simple Steps to Stay Cyber-Safe
- Install antivirus software on your computer and keep it up to date.
- Thwart hackers by using a two-factor authentication process for accessing sensitive information. This requires you to enter login credentials as well as a special code sent to your phone or another device.
- Verify the prospective employer or recruiter before responding to an online job ad.
- List your CV only on reputable sites that have privacy policies.
- Steer clear of unsolicited emails from your bank. Call the bank to confirm the validity of any questionable message.
- Don’t make a charitable donation through a social media link. Go directly to the charity’s website. Even then, make sure the site is secure before disclosing financial data.
Remember: anyone can fall for a phishing scam – even FTC commissioners.