April 27, 2021
Chances are, you know or have heard of someone recently who has fallen victim to a cyber scam. You may roll your eyes thinking, “That would never be me.”
The thing is, though, cybercriminals are becoming more and more sophisticated, and today, even the most technologically and financially savvy people fall victim to their antics.
While some scams are relatively obvious, others are quite complex and reminiscent of something straight out of a spy novel.
It’s unwise to assume you could never fall for any of today’s cyber scams. Protecting your personal finances from scams and threats to secure your financial future is too important to let down your guard.
To help you maintain your personal financial security and keep your money where it belongs (in your bank account), we’ve highlighted some of the most common cyber scams so you can spot a potential cyber thief and stay safe.
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Why is Cybercrime So Prevalent?
Cybercrime is not new. It was not brought on by the pandemic. Inflation didn’t create cybercriminals. Those things, however, have played a role in the increasing threat of this digital crime.
As unemployment numbers rose, people became desperate. Job seekers, finding nothing available on the market and their bank accounts draining quickly, turned to cybercrime to keep the lights on and keep food in the refrigerator.
The dark web became flooded with job posts offering cybercrime services to nefarious individuals and organizations at a hefty price. A skilled hacker could easily charge several hundred thousand dollars for one heist, outpacing a full year’s pay in one shot.
The increase in unemployment and people facing financial trouble led to a significant increase in cybercrime. As this trend continues, it puts you and your financial well-being at risk if you aren’t on your toes.
Massive Amounts of Data Exposed
Near the beginning of the pandemic, we saw a massive leap in the number of data records exposed as a result of cybercrime. According to a recent study, in Q1 of 2020, nearly 80 million data records were exposed. In Q4 of the first year of the pandemic, that number ballooned to over 125 million.
While increased vigilance by companies and individuals and some technological advances in online security have helped calm those numbers down, they haven’t gone away altogether.
In fact, in Q3 of 2022, we saw a 37% increase in the number of data records exposed due to cybercrime, rising back up to over 15 million over the previous quarter. That’s nothing to sneeze at. And with such huge numbers, there’s a good chance you’re more at risk than you may think.
What Scams Should You Look Out For?
To help keep you safe, we’ve highlighted three of the more prevalent cyber scams gaining popularity in 2023. Be sure to stay on high alert if you run into anything that appears that it might be a part of one of these common cyber scams and threats.
Odd Payment Method Requests
Phishing attacks via email are commonplace and can be very harmful to your personal financial security. One such phishing attack involves emails that look like they’re coming from a co-worker or colleague, but they’re actually from an ill-intentioned cyber thief.
Have you ever received an email from one of your co-workers, a figure of authority perhaps, requesting you purchase gift cards and provide them with the numbers?
These types of requests often show up in the inboxes of unsuspecting team members who see their CEO’s name in the email and jump at the chance to prove themselves worthy.
The problem is, the email isn’t really from your CEO. It’s from a fake email account set up to look like it’s from your CEO. Or, it’s coming from a hacked account from inside the office.
You buy the gift cards, give away the codes, and the scammer is off to the races to spend your money. If you ever receive an email like this, you can assume it’s false.
If you have any questions or you’re worried about possibly letting down your co-worker, however, go directly to that person and ask them if the email is legitimate before making any purchase.
Image: Example of “gift card for boss” email - Source
Student Loan Forgiveness Scams
The student loan forgiveness frenzy gave rise to a wave of new cybercrime activity. With the chaos surrounding the legislation and the lawsuits that followed, cybercriminals saw an opportunity to take advantage of confused student loan holders.
Clever cyber criminals created fake websites to lure in unsuspecting borrowers who thought they were applying for student loan forgiveness. In reality, they were serving up their social security number and other sensitive information to cyber criminals poised to harm them financially.
Never give away any sensitive information unless you’re 100% certain you are providing it to a legitimate organization with your best interests in mind.
Any website you visit in an official government capacity should have a URL with “.gov” at the end. For example, you can find official information directly from the federal government at studentaid.gov.
If you see something like studentloanforgiveness.com or forgiveyourloans.org, click away from the site immediately and report the imposter site to the official student loan services provided by the government.
Identity theft is far more common than you might think. This occurs when someone steals another person’s personal information and files fake tax returns, opens credit cards, or uses that information in other ways to steal money from the victim.
Identity theft can occur in a variety of ways. One of the most common ways happens when an internet user is browsing on an unsecured website or a site that’s been compromised by cybercriminals.
If you receive a warning from your browser that you may be entering an unsecured website, or if you see “http” instead of “https” in the browser, it’s best to avoid that site altogether. If you enter an unsecured website and provide your personal information for any reason, that information could be easily accessible by cybercriminals.
Data breaches are another path leading to identity theft. To ensure your information doesn’t end up as a part of the next big data breach, avoid saving your financial information in your store accounts and in other unnecessary places.
While it may seem inconvenient to have to re-enter your info each time you make a purchase at your favorite online store, just imagine the inconvenience of having your identity stolen and spending weeks, months, or even years fixing things.
How to Protect Yourself From Cyber Scams
To help keep you safe, we’ve highlighted several key actions you can take to secure your financial future and shut out aspiring cyber criminals. The good news is, while cybercriminals are getting smarter, so are consumers.
So take note of the following security measures, and be on high alert to stay on financial track and ensure you avoid the surprise of waking up to your bank account being drained or your credit cards being maxed out.
Verify the Sender of Any Emails
There are hundreds of different types of email scams running rampant today. From phishing to malware to gift card scams, your email inbox has become a danger zone.
Never take an email at face value. Always verifying the email address in the sender field is from a legitimate domain. For example, if you work for a company whose email addresses end in @thecompany.com, make sure that’s the domain the sender is sending the email from.
While the email may show your boss’ name as the sender, if you click on the actual email address it’s being sent from, you may see something like ‘tmac@HAJJnknk6867.com’ which should instantly raise an alarm.
It’s easy for cybercriminals to sign up for an email address and input a name you’d be familiar with. The email would show up with their name shown, but often, email providers hide the actual email address. So, you need to take that extra step, click on the sender, and reveal the email address to ensure it’s correct.
Never Give Away Sensitive Information (Even to the IRS)
If anyone ever asks you for your social security number, credit card, or bank account number and you aren’t 100% positive about why they need that information, say ‘no.’
One of the biggest areas where fraudulent requests for sensitive information occur is under the guise of the IRS. Receiving a letter or a phone call from the Internal Revenue Service strikes fear in many people.
Am I being audited? Did I do my taxes incorrectly? What did I do wrong?
In a panic, unsuspecting victims answer the call from someone saying they work for the IRS. The fake representative stresses the urgency of the matter, maybe even mentions jail as a repercussion for not taking care of whatever the issue may be.
The person on the other end of the line reassures the victim that all they have to do is provide their credit card info and social security number and all their tax problems will go away.
Sadly, that’s not the case. If you fall for this scam, that’s when the issues actually begin rather than go away. And it’s very challenging to recoup any money lost from an online scam like the ever-growing IRS scams.
To help you avoid such scams, the IRS provides guidance on its website to help taxpayers understand when contact from the IRS is legit and when it’s most likely coming from a cyber thief.
You should also work with a trusted tax professional to help keep your personal finances and your tax refund safe.
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Regularly Monitor Financial Accounts
While many scams aim to steal thousands or more in one shot, there are a lot of scams that shoot for slowly draining bank accounts over time. These types of scams can go unnoticed for quite some time if you aren’t on top of things.
Think about it. You fall for a phishing scam, and someone grabs your info. Each day, a few dollars leave your account. Blissfully unaware, you leave your account vulnerable for weeks, months, or even years. Suddenly, those small amounts add up to a major loss, and it’s too late for you to do anything.
Check your bank accounts regularly. Daily, if you have the time. But at the very least, keep tabs on your accounts weekly. Review all recent transactions, and if anything seems out of place, contact the impact financial institution immediately and take action.
Rebounding From the Financial Impact of Cyber Crimes
If you’ve already been impacted by cybercrime, you’re not alone. It can take time to rebound, but if you have a professional on your side, you can weather the storm much more quickly.
To ensure you’re able to keep up with your bills and other financial commitments after a cyber attack, consider starting with a small installment loan from a trusted company like Sunset Finance.
A small installment loan can keep you from defaulting on your financial obligations and help you maintain a spotless credit record, even after being hit by cybercriminals.
You’ll also want to contact all of your financial institutions to alert them about what happened. This way, they can provide you with insights into steps and safeguards you can take to avoid any similar situation occurring in the future.
Be sure to contact all three credit bureaus as well. Request your official credit report from each. You’ll receive a full report which will allow you to see your score with the ability to dig deeper to check the status of all accounts in your name.
The key to securing your personal finances from cyber threats is to stay vigilant. If you have any questions, the Sunset Finance team is here to help.
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