Nancy Bagranoff, University Professor and Professor of Accounting
University of Richmond
Our digital world has introduced a new set of challenges when it comes to avoiding scam artists. Cybercriminals have found many ways to harm us and staying safe in cyberspace takes both knowledge and diligence. A recent study found that it’s not age, gender, education, or any other demographic that makes us fall prey to those who would take advantage of us, but rather it’s vulnerability. That’s why we need to be constantly alert for fraud schemes.
“Don’t click unless you’re absolutely sure,” is a good rule to live by. The most common way for people to get scammed is through phishing attacks. In a phishing attack, hackers send an email message to a massive population, hoping that someone will bite by clicking on an embedded link. When we are tired or vulnerable, we are more likely to miss that there is something ‘fishy’ in this phishing attempt. Phishing emails may have misspellings, poor grammar, or a domain name that is just slightly off. They often come with a sense of urgency, telling you that you must act now. Any email that comes from someone you don’t know, promising you a prize or telling you that you’ve been hacked or have something wrong with your IT, is likely to be a phishing scam. Instead of clicking on the email link, go to the website for the named company and check to see if the message actually came from that source. For example, you might get an email saying that your Social Security account has an issue. Instead of clicking on the email link to Social Security, visit the site itself and check your account there.
Another way to stay safe in cyberspace is to be careful with social media. The Federal Trade Commission recently reported that there were $770 million in losses on social media platforms in 2021. Investment scams are most prevalent. If you see an investment opportunity on social media, particularly one that involves cryptocurrency, ignore it. You should never wire or transfer money to someone you don’t know, and that includes a romantic interest you meet online. After investment scams, romance cons are the next best way for you to lose money on social media platforms.
While all of this may just sound like good common sense, many individuals with common sense and a solid education still get taken advantage of in cyberspace. It just takes one moment when you are tired or have your guard down to have your data or financial resources stolen, so be careful out there!