Use these tips for safety from online scammers

Today, it seems like we get more emails and phone calls from scammers than we do from our actual family and friends. These contacts pose a very real threat to people of all ages but particularly the seniors who can least afford to lose what they have been able to save. I hope to provide some sage guidance to help you safeguard yourself from online scams. All it takes is one mistake for half of a second and you can lose all of your personal data, your finances, or your social media account.

Stay informed about the latest tactics used by scammers. It used to be emails from Nigerian princes, but now people are creating fake accounts that are exact copies of real people and asking you for financial help. It is hard to keep up with all of the new scams. Contact your local senior center or a regional service organization and ask if they have classes or workshops specifically about online scams and frauds. It might also allow you to meet some new people to call friends, too. You can also read through reliable online resources, such as government websites and organizations you know and trust.

Use a unique password for your online accounts. Create complex passwords by combining letters, numbers and symbols, and avoid using easily guessable information such as birth dates or names. If you have memory problems, you can use a passphrase instead. For instance, you can use “fAgh56EWlas#$” as a password, or you can use a quote you love and always remember; like, “4ScoreAnd7YearsAgo!” or “My1stDogWasBornIn1962!”

Be cautious when sharing personal information online. Never provide sensitive details such as Social Security Number, bank information, or passwords over the internet or email for any reason. Never share the information over the phone unless you can verify the legitimacy of the recipient. Did they call you? Then hang up and call them back at their customer service number to make sure you really do owe that bill. If they say you cannot hang up or they will call the police, it’s a scam. If it’s someone calling about a family member, hang up and call that family member.

Never enter personal information on any website unless the website begins with HTTPS://, not just HTTP:// That “S” after HTTP means it is secure. Avoid sharing personal information on social media platforms as scammers can exploit such information for identity theft and they can make a copy of your social media page and add your online friends. Always leave your friends list set to Private and not viewable by anybody. The website you are using will tell you how to, or ask someone to help you with that.

Be skeptical. Do not trust suspicious emails, messages or phone calls. Never click any links in an email that says it will take you to a login screen or a payment page. Instead, go to your internet browser and type in the address of the company. Many people hide really dangerous websites with links on words you trust, and you can’t see the bad link until after you click on it – which results in the scammer getting a copy of your login information when you log in from their link. Verify the identity of the sender or caller by contacting the organization directly. Never click on any email links or download attachments from unknown sources. That’s why you always verify it’s really the person talking to you on messenger by calling them to verify if they ask for personal information or for money.

Reach out to a trusted family member, friend, or caregiver for assistance and guidance regarding online activities. Allow them to share any concerns or questionable online experiences they may encounter. Loved ones can help monitor your online transactions, assist in installing security software, or guide you through unfamiliar websites or applications.

As the digital world continues to evolve, people must equip themselves with the knowledge and tools to protect against online scams. Staying aware, practicing secure online habits, and seeking help when needed can significantly reduce your vulnerability to fraudulent activities. Remember the bottom line: If it doesn’t sound right, it probably isn’t right.

Christian M. Hartley is a 40-year Alaskan resident with over 25 years of public safety and public service experience. He is the City of Houston Fire Chief and also serves on many local and state workgroups, boards and commissions related to safety. He lives in Big Lake with his wife of 19 years and their three teenage sons.

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