ASHEVILLE – Today’s burning question is about addressing and preventing cybercriminal activity and holiday scams. Have a question for Answer Man or Answer Woman? Email Executive Director Karen Chávez at KChavez@citizentimes.com and your question may appear in a next column.
Request: “I was born BC, before computers. While I have developed reasonable proficiency, my skill set is far from what it is for the younger generation. Many of my friends, myself included, have people impersonating us and trying to get people to befriend them using our names. How does this type of hacking happen and besides being smart enough not to respond what can you do to stop it? Is there any way to identify the hacker?”
Reply: Social media is all fun and games until someone creates a duplicate social media account impersonating you and sends a new request to connect to everyone on your friend list.
It’s happened to the best of us, regardless of age or computer literacy level, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating or violent.
This question led me down a rabbit hole of information about the many ways cybercriminals exploit and scam Internet users.
It goes way beyond social media.
And since it’s peak season for online scams, tips for online Christmas shopping safety are also included.
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Social media identity theft
Cybercrime Support Network, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that supports individuals and small businesses affected by cybercrimes, cites several reasons a cybercriminal creates accounts impersonating social media users, including to connect with friends of the user to get them to send money; to steal your personal and sensitive information such as where you live and work, bank accounts and social security numbers; gain access to your account to post false content and drive traffic to another account; and to exploit you by posting inappropriate images or videos or tricking followers into sending money.
Further acts of fraud, loss of financial and personal information, and a damaged reputation are among the many ways this can negatively impact you and your followers, the organization says.
The first step in combating impersonators is to report your account to the social media platform. Often, there will be a tab on the profile page to “report profile” which the platform will review and fix, ideally deleting the fake account.
Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, provides guidelines for reporting fake accounts and recognizing the signs that a user account or Page is a scam: facebook.com/business/learn/lessons/impersonation-page-profile-account And facebook.com/business/learn/lessons/how-spot-avoid-scams.
Users can make it more difficult for cybercriminals to impersonate or steal information by strengthening their online security, according to the Cybercrime Support Network. Use unique, stronger passwords that are different from those on other websites, and enable multi-factor authentication, which will require entering a verification code sent directly to the user’s phone or email.
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Users are advised to avoid excessive sharing or posting of personal information that may make it easier for someone to impersonate you. This includes posting text, photos or videos showing details like home addresses or license plate numbers.
Also, consider updating your account privacy settings to limit access to what people who aren’t approved followers can see. To run a “privacy checkup” on Facebook, go to the privacy settings listed under your account or visit facebook.com/privacy/checkup/.
Christmas shopping tips online
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein addressed the issue of holiday season scams in a recent newsletter, saying, “For people across North Carolina, we are in the season for giving. But for others it is the season of thefts. Criminals use the holidays to take advantage of people’s goodwill to take their money and personal information. They target vulnerable people and use common holiday activities and stressors as a ploy to deceive them. As you enjoy your holidays with friends and family, look out for common signs of scams to help you and your loved ones stay clear of criminals.
Stein warns of scammers who create fake Web sites with products to lure hurried last-minute shoppers but designed to take a person’s money and personal information. Instead of clicking on a pop-up ad, you go directly to a company’s website to make a purchase, which can be verified by double-checking the URL and looking for the lock icon and “https:” at the top of the web address which means that the connection is secure.
“When shopping online, be careful how you pay. Make sure you pay by credit card and keep receipts in case there is a problem and you need a refund,” Stein said in the newsletter. “Credit cards offer some protection if something goes wrong with your order. “Never trust anyone who asks you to pay for it with prepaid gift cards, wire transfers, or cryptocurrency. Online marketplaces that don’t accept a credit card are likely a scam.”
Also, go directly to the business or delivery company’s website to track packages, and avoid clicking on a link sent via email or text message, as it may be a phishing scam from a crook. Stein notes that shipping companies like FedEx, UPS, and Amazon don’t request personal information via email or text messages.
Track packages to prevent them from being left on a porch or outside a home where burglars can quickly and easily take them. Stein recommends scheduling mail and packages or delaying delivery if there is no person authorized to accept them.
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Stein also warns of holiday scams centered around charitable donations:
“People increase their charitable donations around the holidays, so criminals create charity scams to take advantage of people’s generosity. Donate to charities you know to avoid these scams. Donating directly to the organization on their website helps you avoid fake crowdfunding and social media campaigns, illegitimate websites and fictitious organizations. Contact my office or the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance if you are unsure of the authenticity of an organization.
Victims of scams are encouraged to file a complaint with the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General’s Office at ncdoj.gov/file-a-complaint/ or by phone at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM.
Nazneen Ahmed, press secretary at the Attorney General’s Office, provided additional Internet safety tips:
- Update your antivirus and security software regularly.
- Don’t be fooled by unexpected emails asking you to click a link or download an attachment.
- Do not use e-mail to send and receive personal information.
- Never give out your Social Security, driver’s license or bank account numbers. Be wary if anyone asks for your passwords or any information used to install or access your Internet service.
- Forward phishing emails to the Federal Trade Commission at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Monitor your financial statements and credit report for irregularities.
- If you believe you have been hacked, request a free security lockout and contact our office.
- If you think you have been the victim of a ransomware attack, report it to FBI or the US Secret Service immediately.
Tiana Kennell is the food and restaurant reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA Today network. Email her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter/Instagram @PrincessOfPage. Help support this kind of journalism with a subscription at the Citizen Times.