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7 essential steps to avoid online and digital scams


Photo: FLY:D/Unsplash
Not a day goes by when you don’t hear or read about online and digital frauds. It’s almost as if you’re living in an era of scammers, hackers, phishers and identity thieves. No one is spared – neither the tech-savvy nor the digital novices. Unfortunately, the more advanced the technology to prevent cybercrime, the more ingenious the internet swindlers at beating cybersecurity.

While governments and organisations are doing what they can to thwart cyber frauds, there are a number of steps that individuals can take to avoid falling victim to online scams.

Here’s a checklist of safety measures that work for me:

Be aware – be armed: Make knowledge your first line of defence. Keep yourself informed about some of the frequently used online scams and frauds, even as more notorious ones emerge. Read about the various tactics scammers use, such as fake calls and websites, phishing emails and one-time password prompts.

Use very strong passwords: Write complex and impregnable passwords for all your online accounts and apps. Use different passwords for different accounts. Avoid storing them on your email, phone or laptop. Instead, jot down the passwords including new ones in a book, the old-fashioned way, and share it only with people you trust the most – your family.

Go easy on the apps: Don’t let the allure of apps blind you to the risks they can pose. Download only those you absolutely need to. Excluding the pre-loaded ones, I have minimum apps on my phone which include one each for mobile payments and my telecom service provider. For my banking needs, I use internet banking and sometimes even make in-person visits to the branch. I couldn’t resist chess and Scrabble apps, though.

Think before you take that call: As a rule of thumb, I never accept anonymous or blank calls on my cellphone unless I’m expecting one, say, from a utility or service provider. Banks and financial institutions in India frequently warn customers that neither they nor their representatives will call and ask for information, but instead send a text message or an email. My reluctance to answer calls from unknown numbers stems from stories about how scammers can hack into phones the moment you say “Hello!” I have no wish to find out if that in fact is the case.

2FA your way to online security: Enabling two-factor authentication adds an extra layer of security to online accounts. In addition to a password, a one-time code is sent to a smartphone or biometrics (fingerprint, face or retina) is used to activate an account. Microsoft defines 2FA as “As an identity and access management security method that requires two forms of identification to access resources and data… Businesses use 2FA to help protect their employees’ personal and business assets. This is important because it prevents cyber-criminals from stealing, destroying or accessing your internal data records for their own use.”

Double-check emails and attachments: Not every email you receive is authentic. Companies regularly warn their employees not to click on suspicious links or download attachments from unknown sources. Doing so can compromise your personal data and other sensitive information. Verify the credibility of the sender’s email address or look for misspelt URLs before clicking. Hitting the delete key the moment you smell something fishy can protect you against phishing where scammers trick users into divulging their data. Fortunately, nowadays most questionable emails (and sometimes even genuine ones) automatically go to the spam or junk folders.

Avoid using public Wi-Fi: Tech experts caution against using public Wi-Fi networks for sensitive tasks, such as carrying out financial transactions, as they’re generally less secure than private networks. Besides, public Wi-Fi is shared by many users which increases the risk of cyberattacks. Instead, you’re advised to use a virtual private network (VPN) while accessing sensitive information on a public network. According to Kaspersky, a cybersecurity and anti-virus provider, “VPNs encrypt your internet traffic and disguise your online identity. This makes it more difficult for third parties to track your activities online and steal data” when using public networks.

Apart from adopting these seven measures to forestall online and digital scams, it might be a wise idea to stay informed, vigilant and sceptical about unsolicited deals and offers, and, more importantly, requests for personal information. Your digital conveniences shouldn’t come at the cost of digital larceny.

© Prashant C. Trikannad

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