It started as a wonderful day.  Mary finally got the time to address her numerous bills with not so abundant funds in her account.  Today, she was going to address her procrastination and pay her important bills.  On the top of the list, she needed to pay for her out-dated internet security software annual subscription.  As she checked her banking online, she opened up her credit card statement.  There must be a mistake!  She had reached her credit limit.  On further perusal she did not recognize several charges in the $2000 range.  As a sick feeling rumbled through her stomach, she started to feel off balance and a tightness in her throat.  How could she possibly pay this bill?  How could this happen?

It turns out that Mary is increasingly not alone.  Due to the numerous emails, texts, social media advertisements etc. many people are making online purchases from hyped up advertising offering one time only and time sensitive deals (or steals).  The marketing for online scams is becoming more sophisticated appealing to one’s sympathies and/or greed and so too must the consumer become equally savvy of such scams.   Mary recalls while sipping her Starbucks drink on their public Wi-Fi, opening up a text message for an (incredible) investment opportunity and having to submit her credit card information.  She so wanted to make easy quick money so that her money problems would be solved.  Instead, it caused her incredible anxiety, a feeling of intrusion and betrayal and much time to sort out a remedy for her credit situation.

How did Mary get scammed and what could she have done to better protect herself?  Due to increasing fraud are we destined to never buy online again?  In many instances of a modern marketplace this would not be practical.  Despite internet use for scams, there is also much information to read on the internet to better understand the many scams out there and what to do about it.  Although there are many practices one could adopt to ward of fraudsters, through my research, the five best practices as suggested by the Toronto private investigators at Haywood Hunt & Associates Inc. would be:

  1. Use free Wi-Fi with caution.  Your home network is most secure due to your strong router password, limiting devices that can get on to your network and turning on encryption.  The biggest threat to free Wi-Fi security is the ability for the hacker to position himself between you and the connection point. So instead of talking directly with the hotspot, you’re sending your information to the hacker, who can see all of your information.  New hijacking tools can make this easy for your personal information such as private documents, contacts and even login credentials up for grabs.  
  2. Have Virus Protection and Watch out for links and attachments.  Malware, viruses, and other types of malicious material can be easily downloaded to your server or computer by clicking a link – it doesn’t have to be just an attachment. Watch out for unfamiliar links, especially if somebody is claiming to share a file with you from places like Dropbox or OneDrive. Your computer protection package should check to see if the Uniform Resource Locator (URL) you are linking are malicious before loading the page.  
  3. Check to see that the site you are using is secure.  Be wary of anyone who asks for your bank or credit card details and only use secure (known and reputable) sites when shopping online.  Be aware that even reputable businesses can fall prey to a copycat imposter.  A secure URL should begin with “https” rather than “http”.  The “s” stands for secure (Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) Certificate).  Also look for the lock icon.  Paying close attention to the site’s URL in your browser’s location field can help you be certain that you are on a legitimate site rather than a look-alike imposter.
  4. Create strong passwords and change them often.  If you lose or change computers, it is possible for someone else to gain access to your passwords.  In addition, many companies are victims of data leak.  Regularly updating your passwords means that even if someone finds an old or saved password, it will no longer be of use.  Another consideration is to use multi-factor authentication technology and “authenticate” your activity on a different device and/or answer personal security questions as an added layer of security.  
  5. Consider additional protection.  If reported early enough, your credit card should offer protection from unauthorized use.  You will unfortunately have to go through a process of proving that you did not make such charges followed by cancelling your card and being issued a new one.  Of course, this is a big inconvenience due to having to notify companies who bill monthly, of your new credentials.  There are also some insurance bundled coverage’s that protects individuals from losses such as compromised data on computers, mobile devices, and other connected home technology.  There is also Identity Theft insurance which involves significant recovery from an experienced identity theft team to help restore your identity to pre-theft status.  

Mary was lucky to check her statement and report the fraud early as it could have evolved to a much larger threat. Mary was using free WI-FI without any virus protection and did not pay attention to the URL.  This event was a chilling wakeup call on how anyone who performs transactions online can be vulnerable.  It was so easy to be scammed and she made it her mission to become more informed.  

A large part in becoming successful is not wasting your hard-earned money to scammers.  Be aware and be informed on the zealous marketing campaigns strategically used to separate you from your earnings and follow the precautions listed above to keep your information safe.