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3 online scams to watch out for in 2018 (and how to avoid them)

No matter what precautions we take online, cybercriminals will eventually find a way around them. So what can be done?

Well, half the battle is being aware. Scams are a lot like the common cold virus: they mutate all the time. Once we defeat one, a new and unfamiliar one comes along. This makes catching them all the more difficult, and why antivirus software just isn’t enough.

We won’t ever know the details of every scam in existence, but we can learn their general appearance and practice common sense. Technology is so ingrained in our lives, there are thousands of different vulnerabilities hackers can exploit. But if we’re vigilant, if we “arm” ourselves with the knowledge of scamming practices, we can parry these attacks before they do us harm.

So let’s take a look at the scams to watch out for in 2018.

Phishing attacks

A phishing attack is when a criminal tricks you into revealing personal information by pretending to be a trusted person or institution, such as a friend, colleague, bank, or even a service like Netflix.

The most common phishing attacks are by email, and often include links to fake sites that capture your details. Everything, including logos, language, and design, is made to look as close to a genuine email as possible, so you’ve got to be on your guard. They’re usually easy to spot if you hover your mouse over the sender to reveal the real email address.

Over the years, phishing scams have become ever more elaborate. They’ve spread to social media, where hackers pose as friends to encourage you to click links to fake sites that steal your data. There are even fake apps that do the same. Perhaps most worrying is hackers’ use of artificial intelligence to convince you they’re genuine.

What action can you take?

  • Check the real email address of senders by hovering your mouse over the sender’s address – if it looks strange, don’t open it.
  • Don’t open any links from friends unless you’re 100% sure it’s authentic (if in doubt, speak to the friend first).
  • Hover your mouse over links and you’ll see the URL at the bottom left of your browser. Only click if it’s genuine – if you’re not sure, use a URL Checker.
  • Download solid antivirus, anti-malware, anti-spam, and anti-phishing software with real-time protection.

Ransomware

Ransomware is type of malicious software (malware) that essentially locks down your device until you pay a ransom to the attacker. Or it can steal sensitive information and then blackmail you. Attackers usually demand ransoms in decentralized currency like Bitcoin.

Ransomware is particularly frightening because once it happens, there’s very little you can do to fix it. They’re often used to create botnets, which are networks of hijacked computers doing the bidding of cybercriminals.

Ransomware usually starts with downloading an attachment from a fake email, but it can propagate without the user doing anything. WannaCry, the devastating ransomware that infected thousands of computers in 2017, used Microsoft Windows vulnerabilities to spread.

What action can you take?

  • Check the real email address of senders by hovering your mouse over the sender’s address – if it looks strange, don’t open it.
  • Don’t open any links or attachments from friends unless you’re 100% sure it’s authentic (if in doubt, speak to the friend first).
  • Download solid antivirus, antimalware, anti-spam, and anti-phishing software with real-time protection.

Fake news

Fake news is propaganda on steroids. In the past, the war of words between opposing factions took place in newspapers, on television, and at podiums. You knew who was speaking. You knew their biases, so could take what was written or said with a grain of salt.

But the internet has allowed the power-hungry and malicious to challenge truth itself. This is done by creating alternative “truths” through the propagation of fake news. It’s news that’s designed to look, sound, and feel “real”, despite being entirely false or grossly misinterpreted.

Because we all live in social media bubbles, fake news can continuously bounce around our news feeds, amplified by comments from like-minded friends or other fake stories. This creates a false sense of credibility to rumors, hearsay, and outright lies. The tribalism it creates divides societies – it can even influence elections.

What action can you take?

Hopefully, this list has equipped you with the knowledge you need to stay safe online. Remain vigilant, protected, and be wary of things that seem too good to be true.

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