Recognizing and Protecting Oneself from a Cyber Fraud (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

There are countless ways out there that cyber frauds and hackers can attempt to trick people, online, for whatever reasons.  In the past two years, I have become very active, online.  During that time, I have also observed a number of my contacts’ e-mail accounts to be hacked, as well as having experienced several attempts by cyber fraudsters to try to trick me and/or gain my trust in regard to doing business for them, meeting them, and beginning an intimate relationship with them.  This week, after having been contacted by an individual through LinkedIn, and realizing after one communication after having connected with “him,” online, that he is a cyber fraud, I have been inspired to share some suggestions regarding how to identify such people, and how to protect oneself from them.

We live in such a computer and technology-based society now that it is difficult to imagine what life may be like without it.  This week, I did a mental count of the number of online accounts that I maintain, and those that I use with regularity (from at least once per week to once per month).  For different banks, organizations, associations, educational institutions, e-mail providers, retailers, and other entities, I realized that I have 40 online accounts, using 30 of them with regularity!  The other 10 online accounts are maintained, but I might check them only once per year because they do not hold extremely sensitive or financial information.  Two other accounts that I have are only accessible by phone, through an automated system.  So, in all, I currently have 42 technologically-based accounts!  Only a few years ago, I did not have any online accounts, so the number “40” is staggering!

So, that means there are at least 40 online accounts that I have within which cyber frauds and/or hackers could potentially access my personal and private information.  Knowing that, I am aware of and do my best to screen contacts and/or connections as much as possible.  Regarding LinkedIn, for example, I am an open-networker, which means that I am willing to connect with most anyone.  My personal conditions are that the person should have at least 20 or so connections, as well as a profile that is thorough, at least somewhat verifiable, and relatively legitimate in appearance.  I have about 1,100 connections on LinkedIn, which is great for professional networking, however I have received a number of requests to become intimately involved with some male connections.

These requests are typically from men whose account is “based” in another country, such as the United Kingdom, Pakistan, and Iran, for examples.  Usually, I respond to the men that I appreciate their interest, but that such a relationship is quite impossible because they live outside of my country (the United States), or I just ignore their communications and/or sever connections with them.  These are a few ways of protecting oneself from a potential cyber fraud.  There are always those men who believe that a single woman will fall for any man who wants to become romantically involved with her.  It never ceases to amaze me.

Another way of recognizing a cyber fraud is one who e-mails you and wants money, after having hacked and used a contact’s e-mail address to make his or her request.  This has happened to three of my professional connections, that I know of, through LinkedIn.  Typically, the unsuspecting individual’s account is hacked, and is used to send a mass e-mail to all of the contacts of that person.  What I have noticed that is usually in the hacker’s message is something like, “urgent, need help” or “please send money immediately,” etc.  Another hacker who used the e-mail address of one of my contacts included a link in the message regarding registering with a work-from-home business (scam) that was supposed to “phenomenally” increase one’s income by six-fold.  After receiving both of those e-mails, I contacted the authentic holders of those e-mail accounts and asked them if they had been hacked, and surely enough, they had been.

One man who was hacked also runs a non-profit, and stated to me that all of his contacts had been compromised due to the hacking.  The person who hacked his account stated that “he” was vacationing in another country, lost his passport, and was at the consulate, needing $2,000 to return to the United States.  I knew this man would never ask any such thing, and that is why I contacted him, through a separate e-mail message, to inquire about whether or not he had been hacked.

Also take care to notice that hackers and/or cyber frauds typically have poor or very poor English.  While I always receive spam mail from people asking me to be a financial intermediary for them to transfer countless $1,000s as a third-party to their bank account, if one ever notices, those messages typically use poor and incorrect English.  Just this week, the connection that I made through LinkedIn “appeared” to be legitimate on the surface, however his “base” location is in Minnesota, while he identified that he graduated from college in Canada (from a degree program that is not offered at that school), and that he works at a bank in the United Kingdom.  Apparently, his wife died of cancer, and he is a single parent, but his cousin has custody of his young son in Wisconsin, while he visits him only occasionally because he lives and works in the UK.  How ridiculous is that?  I suppose it could happen, but the biggest identifier of a cyber fraud in that situation is the person’s extremely poor use of English, with many errors.

Additionally, I also have a contact whose e-mail address has been hacked by an eBay vendor in New Zealand.  Apparently, this person purchased an item from the UK, but the original vendor for the item is in New Zealand (or the buyer’s information was sold to a company in New Zealand).  This individual’s e-mail address has been hacked and used in attempts to gain business for the hacker in New Zealand.  This has been discovered by the person whose e-mail account was hacked printing out the html information and codes that can be found by clicking on the “view sender” portion of the e-mail message, without even having to open the message.  Reading the “view sender” information without actually opening an e-mail is a wonderful tool for protecting oneself from cyber frauds and hackers, particularly when receiving messages from individuals who are unknown, or even those who are known, but who appear to be sending suspicious messages (because their accounts have actually been hacked and used by the hacker).

Lastly, some of the most risky situations, online, may not only be through the hacking of financial information, but by people attempting to connect on dating websites.  One often sees commercials on TV and advertisements, online, about the joys and wonders of online dating websites.  Give me a break!  I have been a member of several such websites within the past five years, and am no longer a member of any of them.  First of all, no membership fee should be required to join such sites – they are just another way to take one’s money.  Next, many such websites do not verify the identity or authenticity of their members, particularly those that do not require membership fees.  And, lastly, one does not actually know whether or not the person whom one may be trying to connect with is representing himself or herself correctly, and/or whether or not he is honest.  Those are the biggest downfalls of online dating websites – you really don’t know what you’re getting, and you wonder if it is really worth the risk to find out.  Often, the risk is not worth the rare reward that may be acquired, particularly if someone is seeking a serious, long-term partner with similar values.

Therefore, a further way to protect oneself, online, is to sign out, log off, and shut down one’s computer when one has finished using it.  This is imperative in a public place, and/or even in one’s place of work.  In the privacy of one’s home, there is greater protection because strangers do not have access to one’s information.  However, in families in which there is conflict, strife, and/or issues such as divorce, one must take care to keep one’s online accounts protected.  A person should not allow another to use and/or have access to his/her online accounts unless they are a person who is trusted with one’s life.

Sometimes, people desire information from you to use against you.  Sometimes, people just take or steal such information for their own potential gain.  Having observed and/or experienced such situations, myself, it is important to take steps to protect oneself as much as possible.  Therefore, these are just a few ways to recognize and protect oneself from cyber frauds, hackers, and potential threats to one’s online accounts and personal safety, particularly those that hold personal, private, and/or financial information.  Certainly, this is not an exhaustive list, however they are ways that I have found better protect me from online harm.  I hope they are also helpful to you in identifying and protecting yourself from harm, online, as well.

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