This October is Cyber Security Month and we’ve been doing our best to give you practical, useful tips to help keep you safe online.

So far I’ve covered mobile security, and keeping kids safe online. This week I’ll show you some simple steps to avoid scams and social engineering. Whether they are online or over the phone, scams are still very popular and confidence tricksters are developing ever more sneaky schemes to convince us they’re legit.

 

1) Hang up on Phone Scams

We warn you about online scams nearly every week, but scams also happen offline. A popular scam for the last 2 years has been to call computer users either on their phones or by Skype, and pose as a company such as Microsoft. The crooks claim there is a problem with your computer, and they need access to it to fix the problem. Of course, there isn’t really anything wrong with your computer, and these guys don’t work for any legitimate company.

Actions:

  • Don’t provide these scammers with access to your computer, don’t install any software they ask you to install, and don’t follow any directions they may give you.
  • Don’t provide any sort of personal information or payment information to these callers. Any information provided to them is likely to be abused.
  • Always remember that no company, not the company that made your computer, not Microsoft, not even AVG, will know that you’re having a problem with your computer unless you contact that company first and tell them about it. If someone contacts you to tell you about a problem with your computer that you don’t already know about, and that you haven’t already told them about, it’s a scam.

 

2) Don’t install Fake AV

Have you ever visited a website and noticed a strange window in your web browser that claims to be scanning your computer for a virus? You try to close it, but you can’t, and soon you find that you’ve got some new software installed on your computer. According to this program, your computer is a cesspool of viruses and malware. You’ve got more infections than your hard drive even has room for!

As it turns out, you’re not infected by anything at all. You’ve just got an annoying little program on your PC that’s claiming you are, and offering to remove these non­existent infections for the right price.

Actions:

  • The best way to avoid these threats in the first place is to avoid “bad websites.” While not always true, the majority of the websites that host these threats are places you shouldn’t have visited to begin with, they are malicious sites that exist only to draw you in and infect your computer.
  • All anti­virus software tends to have trouble with these, especially when they’re very new. This is because there is no malicious payload in these programs, so they can be difficult to detect if they haven’t been added to a database of virus definitions yet. If you find yourself infected by one of these, look for removal instructions online. They usually aren’t very difficult to remove. Seek help from a knowledgeable friend or a professional if you get stuck.
  • Don’t provide payment information to any of these programs. Any payment information you provide is being delivered to criminals who might very well abuse the privilege of having your credit card number.

 

3) Don’t Fall for Hoaxes

Watch out for hoaxes that spread online. They may not usually pose a threat to your security, but they can make you look silly! If in doubt, check for more information on a site like snopes.com before spreading a rumor any further.

Actions:

  • Research before sharing something you see online. Sometimes a quick Google search is all it takes to discover whether the content you’re about to share is based in reality, or if it’s a hoax.
  • Avoid looking silly. Just because you’re not willing to take the time to look something up doesn’t mean someone else won’t. If you’re always sharing things that your friends point out aren’t true or are hoaxes, then you’ll start to look silly, and you could risk straining some of those relationships when you misinform someone too many times (making them look silly as well), or if an argument ensues with someone who tries to correct you.