Don’t let email scams hijack your holiday!


illustration of thief robbing santa

As seasonal shopping ramps up both on and offline, there are many opportunities for scammers and thieves to separate you from your hard-earned money.  Dial up your fraud awareness radar to the max – particularly when shopping online. Today, we’ll focus on email scams, a favorite tool for crooks. We’ve been monitoring our email spam folders and monitoring news reports to bring you some common scams this year.

Shipping status phishing emails: Be alert for emails telling you to login to check shipping status for recent purchases. This often works because it uses the names and logos of large retailers that you might actually have made a recent purchase from, such as Amazon or Walmart. Or it might be an email pretending to be Fedex, UPS, or another shipping service. Take the time to check these out carefully – did you make a purchase? Look at the information of the sender in the email header – is it legit? Hover over the link to read where it is taking you before you click. If there is any doubt, go back to the site where you made your purchase and check shipping info form there.

Emails using your name. There are many ways that scammers can get your name so that is no guarantee of legitimacy. They can even spoof your email address so that an email looks like it is coming from your own account. Here are some recent scams we’ve see using our name:

  • Cash advance for {your name}
  • Verify this charge to your {name of large retailer} account
  • Are you {your name)
  • We found your missing money {your name}
  • Hey {your name} !! Do You Remember me ?
  • Why did you text me (your name}

Gift card scams. Be alert for emails or phone calls telling you that you’ve been selected to get a $50 card or that you’ve been sent a card. In the last few weeks we’ve had malicious email attempts touting McDonald’s, Kohl’s, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Target, CVS, Apple and PayPal. Some of these mails can look very legit. Here are a few tips to stay safe:

  • Don’t buy gift cards from emails or from online auction sites. If you want to a purchase a gift card, go to the actual vendor site or their offline store.
  • When purchasing a gift card, never give private information such as your Social Security number, bank account number or date of birth.
  • Only use gift cards at the intended sites. If a caller or an online vendor tells you they only accept payments via gift cards, beware. Don’t give anyone gift card claim codes. Also, no reputable vendor or service will ask to be paid in Amazon or Apple gift cards, or any other gift cards.
  • If you purchase a gift card in a retail store, ask the cashier to scan the card to verify that the card actually reflects the stated amount and correct balance.

The TN Department of Commerce & Insurance has a good list of common holiday scams: Letter from Santa? Or is it bait from a scam artist? It’s worth glancing at their list of scams as well as  checking out their tips to stay safe.

Other common email scams and pitches we’ve seen in our spam folder lately that lead to malicious sites:

  • Check you Experian score
  • Letters from Santa offers
  • Instant loans: Get approved for $15,000 Immediately
  • Credit card offers
  • Pain drugs and medical marijuana offers
  • You have been selected for clinical trials
  • Please confirm receipt
  • Free samples

A few common signs of scams:

  • Offers that are too good to be true – they usually are fake.
  • Demands or threats to take action now to avoid consequences; emails saying “Final notice.”
  • Requests to update your information or change your password

Crooks have a lot of tricks and are good at exploiting human weaknesses. Here are a few sites that will help you learn more about current scams and improve your online safety savvy.

 

 

Infographic and expert tips for Cyber Security Month


October is National Cyber Security Month – an annual reminder to safeguard your digital information and review your online safety practices. It’s a good time to ensure your software is up-to-date and take a few moments to review expert advise to ensure you have maximum protection against emerging threats.

National Cybersecurity Awareness Month is a collaboration between the U.S. Department of Homeland Security the National Cyber Security Alliance, a private consortium. Whether you are an individual, a family or a business, each of these links offer tips, tools and resources to help you stay safe online. We’ve included an infographic below.

Here are some other tips from cyber security experts

Infographic with syber security tips

Equifax Data Breach: Here’s what to do if you haven’t acted yet


criminal looking through computer data

If you’ve been immobilized about taking action related to the mammoth Equifax data breach, you’re not alone – many people have been. The sheer enormity and scope of the breach – 143 million records in the US alone – left many feeling hopeless. There have been big breaches before so it is easy to become numb to the significance, but this is a truly alarming incident that merits a response. Equifax, as one of the nation’s big three credit reporting bureaus, has access to your most sensitive personal data, including your birth date, Social Security number, driver’s license, address, account history and more.

We’ve gathered the best consumer advice we’ve found from trusted sources on what you can do to protect yourself.

First up: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has compiled an excellent summary page: The Equifax Data Breach: What to Do. It explains more about the breach and the steps that you should take to protect yourself. FTC also points to a very useful site from IdentityTheft.gov related to what you should to when your information is lost or exposed. In a simple drop down menu, they guide you through the steps you should take for various types of exposure, including information about specific breaches. You can see more about these services in this video clip:

Next up: This brief video from AARP is also quite good. Here’s the accompanying article: How to Protect Your Personal Data From Hackers.

Finally, more excellent advice on actions consumers should take comes from Trend Micro, the digital security firm. Their Simply Security blog features a post on The Equifax Data Breach: What Do I Do Next? At the end f the post, they offer a bulleted list of action stops.

Key links you need:

Your seasonal flu prevention reminder!


fight the flu graphic

Flu season runs from October through May, generally peaking from December through March. Flu vaccines can take a few weeks to kick in so it’s good to get your shot early. Find out the place closest to you at the HealthMap Vaccine Finder.

Health experts say that everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every season, but it’s particularly important for people at high risk for developing potentially serious complications. These include:

  • Children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old
  • Adults 65 years of age and older
  • Pregnant women (and women up to two weeks postpartum)
  • Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
  • American Indians and Alaskan Natives
  • People who have medical conditions

There are a lot of myths about the flu and vaccines – for example, many people think you can get the flu from a vaccine or that healthy people don’t need a vaccine. Harvard Medical School separates fact from fiction in 10 Flu Myths. Another common myth is that the flu is just a very bad cold – wrong! This Healthcare Triage video explains the difference.

Handy Tool: Consumer Action Handbook


cover of Consumer Action Handbook

If you’ve ever wondered what services to expect from a bank, how to choose a new doctor, scams to avoid when buying a new car, or how to deal with an unanswered complaint on a faulty product, USAGov has a handy free tool that just may help. They’ve just issued a 157-page Consumer Action Handbook (alert: 3 mb PDF) with many valuable tips, how-tos, scam avoidance advice and directories.

Here’s how they describe the resource:

“The Consumer Action Handbook brings together consumer information from across government. It includes practical questions to ask and factors to consider when you buy products and services. The Handbook features topics that affect everyone, such as credit reports and identity theft. It also addresses specific issues, like managing someone else’s finances and gas pump skimming. You’ll also find tips for detecting and reporting scams, throughout the book. Use our consumer assistance directory and sample complaint letter to file a consumer complaint.”

The guide is broken into four sections:

Part I — Be a savvy consumer – advice before you make a purchase. Covers general tips, banking, cars, credit, education, employment, food & nutrition, health care, housing, insurance, investing, privacy & identity theft, telecommunications, telemarketing & unwanted mail, travel, utilities, wills & funerals

Part II — key information resources – a list of public resources for seniors, persons
with disabilities, military families, and also for emergency preparations.

Part III — File a complaint – Suggestions on resolving consumer problems, including a sample complaint letter (page 60)

Part IV — Consumer Assistance Directory – Find contact information for corporate offices, consumer organizations, trade groups, government agencies, state authorities and more in a 70+ page directory.

You can also search for topics in the Index beginning on page 138.

You can download a copy or order a free print copy of the Consumer Action Handbook here.