5 Good Habits that Improve Your Online Security Without Software

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Good security software can do a lot to improve online security and to protect you from the consequences of online mistakes, but many scams require you to cooperate with the scammer in some way, voluntarily (if unintentionally) providing access to your online data. The best protection against those types of attacks is not software but good security habits. Many of the common sense rules that keep you safe in the real world can also protect you online.

This is the single most important behavioral change you can make. Scammers rely on our natural instinct to trust other human beings. In general, we believe what people say until they’ve been proven false. But by that time, a scam may have run its course. Social engineering attacks rely on exactly this kind of good-faith trust. And to a certain extent, it’s necessary for society to function properly. But a heavy dose of caution and skepticism can end many scams.

Double check suspicious information with the supposed source of that information. Make sure to use a phone number listed on the company’s official website, not the email signature, which may be false.  Be especially wary of unusual communications requiring immediate resolution. This goes double for situations involving your bank, PayPal account and other financial holdings.

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Always question whether a deal is too good to be true. An unbelievable deal often doesn’t actually exist. Many scammers rely on people’s natural greed to get access to money and credentials. Whether it’s financial scams that promise an outrageous return or Amazon listings for way below the market price, scammers often entice us with an unbelievably good deal. The same works on a smaller scale, with websites and downloads. Attackers can often sneak malicious software on to your computer by using websites that promise something like free movies or tech products. Be wary of the programs you download and install and the websites you visit.

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Most email-based scams rely on users casually opening email and following the instructions found therein. While many folks have been educated about the risks of these phishing attacks, they’ve also become more sophisticated. It requires a keen eye to spot a fraudulent email message by sight. Few folks are even looking that closely. But if you think critically about what the email is asking you to do, you can often avoid scams.

For example, are you being asked to log in to your Google or PayPal account immediately? If so, don’t follow any links in the email. Visit the website by typing the domain in to your browser and logging in that way. If you’re uncertain about the origin or legitimacy of an unexpected email, communicate with the sender to confirm its authenticity.

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Be wary of anyone trying to convince you to take a specific course of action without thinking it over. In a distressingly common Western Union scam, scammers call individuals and imitate the IRS. You owe major back taxes, they say. And to make matters worse, the police are on the way to arrest you right now. But if you pay your back taxes by wire transfer immediately, they won’t let you get arrested.

Of course, this is not at all how tax fraud prosecution works. The scam is so common that wire transfer companies like Western Union are on the lookout for it. But in the grip of fear and uncertainty, and faced with an apparent authority figure, many people have insisted that Western Union send the money, even after being assured that it’s a scam and that the IRS will not arrest them.

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Many scammers are successful because they pose as authority figures or loved ones. Humans are simply less likely to question apparent authorities or those they already trust. Scammers have been known to pose as utility workers and government officials. From this apparent position of power, they’re able to convince their victims to do things they otherwise might not.

Some scams also manipulate the elderly by imitating their children or grandchildren. Using a fake Facebook account, the scammers contact the grandparents, claiming that their relative is trapped in a foreign country and needs money to gain their freedom. A phone call to the grandchild or their parents will often reveal this scam, but it’s still successful frequently enough to make it worth their while to try it.

As we’ve mentioned already, make sure to confirm identities and apparent authorities through separate channels than those provided by the potential scammers.

If you’re in doubt about information you’ve received, be suspicious. Confirm the origin and veracity of claims. By simply being skeptical and cautious, you can often avoid online scams.

Image credit: Wooden signpost with two opposite arrows over clear blue sky by DepositPhotos

2 comments

  1. The main habit you need to cultivate is to BE AWARE. Don’t be drifting through life like a leaf on the breeze. Don’t get me wrong. There are elaborate scams that are hard to detect. But most scams are so stupidly simple that anybody with couple of brain cells to rub together should be able to recognize them.

    “You owe major back taxes, they say.”
    Income Tax time is very traumatic for most people and the process of paying taxes leaves an indelible mark. If you do not know that you owe ‘major back taxes’ then you are either a habitual tax dodger or you are not even aware of what day of the week it is. People who fall for this scam deserve what happens to them.

    “contact the grandparents, claiming that their relative is trapped in a foreign country and needs money to gain their freedom”
    Unless one is going from the US to Canada or vice versa, a foreign trip is a big deal that most of the immediate family knows about. In fact, it is hard to keep it a secret. So if you don’t know about it, it either is a scam or you are not much of a grandparent.

  2. I agree Dragonmouth. There’s just some things you should “know better” about. If you’ve been alive for the past 25 years, then you should KNOW the IRS?….DOES NOT CALL YOU DEMANDING MONEY! And its quite simple really, to ascertain why……if they called people asking for money, and you decided to “fight” it and go to court….they’d have no leg to stand on because they need a PAPER TRAIL to PROVE that you owe money and that they exhausted every means of informing you of that, and CALLING you isn’t enough, they need to prove that you “knew” you owed the money from a previous date, and the ONLY way to do that?…is to print TWO letters and send YOU one of them! After like – 8 months of letters being sent?…they have enough “evidence” to prove that you received it. (By showing that you received and replied to other mails within that time frame proves that you did indeed receive letters from them and that you chose to ignore them!) So anyone calling from the IRS….the CIA….or the FBI?…needs to be hung up on immediately! Trust me…..if the FBI or CIA want to reach you?…they are NOT going to do it by PHONE!…LOL! As for relatives?….listen even the ones I DON’T keep in touch with regularly would know better than to go ANYWHERE without notifying EVERYONE. And if anything WERE to happen to them?….they wouldn’t call ME to help them!..But they’d definitely call me to PICK THEM UP!….(see the difference?)…not asking for money….but needing a ride/to be picked up from anywhere in the world (except the Middle East!…you find yourself there?…then you should have figured out a way to get OUT of there!) I would gladly take off from work immediately to come and get you, but even that comes with some conditions and stipulations……I’m ONLY picking you up from the police precinct, or the US Embassy….NO WHERE ELSE!…..not a subway station….not an office building lobby…and not the airport. Period. You don’t like those rules?….find your own way back then.

    Other than that, I’m 40-some odd years old….I already know that I didn’t win some lottery in South Africa…and there is no deceased leader from some country who’s left me millions. If we wold stop letting ourselves e tempted by foolish greed or the lust for immediate wealth, we’d find a lot of these messages / emails / texts in the Recycle Bin where they belong. In order to REALLY be safe? online? Its rather simple, at least for me….there’s only a set number of people I communicate with on a regular basis. My tax guy…(in Jan)…my barber…(year round)…and my family…as for work?…I only ever speak to or associate with them AT work. I don’t socialize, not with co-workers, or anyone who’s not family. So I don’t ever have to worry about getting a “phony” email from my boss….because we’re not on that level. I’ve been told (by my boss and other higher ups) that anything that needs to be said?…can wait until either they…or I…am back in the office. This is the way it should be worldwide….you’d find a lot of these scams would go away since they’d have no one to impersonate!…..LOL!

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