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How to Spot Scams and Keep Personal Data Secure

With the COVID-19 pandemic still in the horizon and as people spend more time staying at home, it is a perfect time for scammers to confuse you and take advantage of that confusion. The question is, can you spot the signs of a scam when you see them?

Before we get started, you have to first remember that scammers will:

  • try to gain your trust by impersonating a known contact or by claiming to be from a known company
  • know how to appeal to your emotions to get what they want
  • create a sense of urgency to get you to make decisions without thinking through


Here are some of the most common scams, how to spot them, and what you can do:

Email Phishing

Knowing how to check if an email is valid is key to helping you avoid becoming a phishing victim. A CAIDA study shows an average of nearly 30,000 spoofing attacks take place each day. Email spoofing is a tactic that’s core to virtually all types of phishing scams. Cybercriminals use this tactic to impersonate someone else to get what they want. Anyone can be a victim. So, how do you spot and avoid email phishing (and spoofing)?

Here are some common signs to look for:

  • Use of language that conveys a sense of urgency
  • Mismatched or inaccurate information in the "from" field
  • Ask you to click a link, download a file or call an unfamiliar number
  • Use of poor language, grammar, and punctuation

What you can do:

  • Always verify the sender info before taking any action. For example, does the sender's name matches the email address?
  • Always inspect the links in the email before clicking it. Hover your mouse over the link and a URL preview will open for you. If it directs you to a website you are not familiar with, do not click.
  • If you suspect the email is fraudulent, report email to your organization's security team or to your email service provider if you are using one.

Smishing (SMS Scamming)

Smartphones have become an essential part of our lives – for communication, online shopping, banking and any other online activity. The amount of data stored in our mobile devices make them vulnerable to online criminals either to steal your identity or access your bank accounts. Smishing is a similar technique to phishing but instead of emails, fraudsters send text messages to their potential prey.

How does this happen?

You receive an urgent text message on your smartphone with a link attached saying that it’s from your bank and you need to access it in order to update your bank information or offer you a too-good-to-be-true loan or credit. You can find some of smishing attack examples here.

What you can do:

  • If you don't know the sender, don't click any links or call any numbers provided in the text. If you want to make sure the text messages is legitimate, look up the correct contact information of the company or bank in question, and then contact them directly to verify they're the ones who contacted you.
  • Do not bother responding to a suspicious text - just delete the message and block the sender.

Website and Online Shopping Scams

As online shopping gets more prevalent these days, it’s the easier and more convenient way of purchasing goods without the long line and the anxiety of possible COVID-19 exposure. However, as consumers, you have to ensure your online safety is paramount. There are thousands of websites out there that provide false information and will ask you to give your personal information whether exchange for a great online offer or spoofing a company’s website you already have business with to gain your trust.

What you can do:

  • Check if the website is secure. Companies treat their customers' data with utmost importance, and thus, will make sure it's protected at all times. You can spot a secure wesbite by looking at your browser. If you see that their domain has https before their domain name, it is a secure site.
  • Check the domain name. Company websites typically match their brand name. If you see extra words in the URL like "" or "" or "" as well as extra characters, there's a pretty good chance the website is a scam. You can also verify a site's safety rating through Google Transparency Report.
  • Be wary if the seller is requiring you to pay by money order, wire transfer or bitcoin. Reputable shopping sites will always allow you to pay with any of these secure payment methods: credit cards, debit cards, or PayPal.

If you think you’ve been scammed, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, your state attorney general, or the Better Business Bureau (BBB). If you suspect you have become a victim of identity theft or your information was exposed in a major data breach, visit the FTC Identity Theft website.

Some scams are so well organized and can be really convincing, we need to always keep our guard up and stay updated with the latest scamming strategies


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