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Avoid frauds and scams this Christmas

Posted on December 8, 2016 by Westwind Weekly

J.W. Schnarr
Southern Alberta Newspapers

‘Tis the season to eat, drink, and be wary as online and telephone scams ramp up for the holiday season.
With all the extra shopping and money being spent in the economy, fraudsters are also stepping up their game this time of year.
“If it seems too good to be true, it likely is,” said Kevin Vadnais, manager, Information Management and Security for the University of Lethbridge.
Free gifts, surprise deliveries, fake greeting cards, and prize notifications are all common email scams.
“You really have to turn on your skeptical thought process when you see it,” he said. “Did you actually order a package? I’m surprised by the number of people who begin clicking links when they aren’t expecting anything.
“Most of this is common sense,” he added. “People should pay attention to the sites they are visiting, and make sure that they are in the place they wanted to go in the first place.”
A common scam involves email from what appears to be a bank stating the receiver needs to act on account verification. The link in the email may not redirect the person to the bank’s website. Instead, they will be directed to another site which has been compromised by hackers who skim the log-in pages for banking sites.
“It looks exactly like a banking site,” he said. “And if you put your user name and password in there, it basically steals it from you.”
“Banks will never contact you via email, and no company wil ever ask you to validate your credentials out of the blue,” he said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”
Vadnais said these types of scams are more common now as hackers move away from the types of scams claiming a foreign dignitary has died and left large sums of money to random Westerners.
“They are less common now because people have caught on to them,” said Vadnais. “I haven’t had a dead relative in Nigeria in years.”
Scams targeting singles through the use of online dating profiles can end up costing dearly as scammers try to use heart strings to get their hands on purse strings.
“These people are completely false,” said Vadnais. “They will end up bilking money out of you, saying something like they love you but they need a plane ticket, or immigration is fining them and they need money.”
‘It’s human nature to want to trust people,” he said. “We want to love, and we want to be loved. But we really need to be cautious with our personal information, and with our hearts to make sure when we establish online relationships (in this case), that the people are genuine.
“We want to meet them, we want to talk to them, but we don’t want to give them money. Even if we are in love with them.”
Scams where the caller claims to be from Microsoft and the victim’s computer has a virus is really an attempt to gain remote access to a computer in order to hold data hostage.
“Microsoft will never, ever call you,” said Vadnais. “A important as you are in the world, you are not that important to Microsoft.”
“My rule of thumb is to never give out personal or credit card information in a transaction that you did not initiate,” said Vadnais. “If you get phone calls from people claiming you’ve won a trip or offering a great deal, you don’t know anything about the person on the other end of that phone number.”
People shouldn’t trust their caller identification, either, as that is something which can be easily faked. Above all, stay on top of your finances over the holidays.
“Keep an eye on your personal finances,” he said. “Don’t assume that because you put the money in at the first of the month that it’s going to stay there. The longer you wait to inform your bank, the harder it is going to be to get that money recovered.”
Vadnais said bank accounts are not like credit cards, and that insurance practices are different.
“You may or may not get your money back,” he said.
He also said to mix up those passwords for greater protection.
“The worst thing you can do is have the same passwords on your banking and your email,” said Vadnais.”If your email gets hacked, you could lose everything.”
For more information, please visit uleth.ca/information technology/security. Vadnais is also available for information security presentations for community groups.

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