Protect yourself online

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COVID-19 continues to limit our access to public spaces. Many of our everyday activities, like school, work, doctor’s visits and banking are now online. This makes personal information vulnerable to cybercriminals. Learn more about how to protect yourself online.

Protect your passwords!

One of the most common ways scammers can get at your data is by stealing passwords to important accounts. Making good passwords is one of the easiest and most useful ways to keep your data safe and sound.

Update often.

  • Update passwords often to protect from scammers, and make your accounts less open to large data leaks. Experts suggest updating passwords every 3 months.

Use long phrases instead of short words.

  • Try using famous quotes, common sayings, or even song lyrics for your passwords. Long phrases like “we all live in a yellow submarine” are easy to remember, and harder for a computer to guess.
  • Add numbers, capital letters and special characters to your passwords. (For example, P4$$w0rD.) This is an easy way to make your password more secure. Be careful not to make it too hard to remember.

Create unique passwords for each specific account.  

  • Reusing passwords between accounts puts many accounts at risk. If a scammer gets one password, they can open every account connected to that password.
  • Focus on making your most important accounts safe. Start with your banks, social media or health insurance.

Yellow diamond sign that says Scam Alert

Recognize common scams

Internet scams are becoming more and more common. Cybercriminals make up new ways to get your data. Here are some of the most common scams.

Phishing scams

One of the most popular scams is Phishing. Phishing is when scammers pretend to be a reliable source — like a business, a government agency or even a relative, to get at your personal info. They send bogus emails, phone calls and text messages, trying to get a “bite” from victims. The most common phishing scam is an email with hyperlinks to fake websites that can steal passwords, or infect your computer with a virus.

Look for these signs to spot phishing emails:

  • Grammar and spelling mistakes
  • Strange/unfamiliar email addresses
  • Scary language, like threats of legal action, or demands for money
  • Offers too good to be true, like a big cash prize

Gift card scams

One popular scam is when a scammer tells you to buy a gift card to pay a fake bill or fee. There are many types of this scam, such as:

  • A problem with your Social Security account
  • A power company threatening to cut off your service
  • A message that you won a big cash prize, if you buy a card first
  • A grandchild or relative who suddenly asks for money with no warning

Coronavirus scams

With more business moving online because of COVID-19, scammers have created new scams that play on our fears of COVID-19, such as:

  • Unexpected texts/calls asking you to pay for a vaccine 
  • Scary warnings about new COVID cases in your area
  • Offers for fake COVID tests to steal your insurance info
  • Notes that a package you didn’t order is on its way, with a link to its “tracking number”

In short

While the internet can be a scary place, following just a few basic tips can help you stop cybercriminals and enjoy yourself online. Our three most important tips are:

  1. Take care to create strong passwords, and reuse them as little as possible.
  2. NEVER click on any links from an email you did not expect, or a phone number you do not know.
  3. If in doubt, remember that ANY request to pay a bill or fee with a gift card IS A SCAM.

If you see any of the scams listed here, you can call the AARP Fraud-Watch Helpline at 877-908-3360, or contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Find more password protection tips at the AARP fraud watch network.

Check out more info about coronavirus scams at Consumer Reports.

Want to learn more about internet scams?  Check out the Federal Trade Commission's glossary of common scams.
 

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