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Staying Safe from Phishing Attacks and Online Scams this Holiday Season

The Holiday Season is rapidly approaching. At Garner IT Consulting we want to take a moment to help our clients and friends focus on what we call Thanksgiving Technology Thieves (TTT) and Christmas Cyber Criminals (CCC). Did we make these names up? Yes. Overly dramatic? Actually, no. These hackers can also ruin your Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa celebrations. Don’t let them!

To strengthen your defense, here are a few valuable tips that will stop these holiday hackers cold. Knowledge is a powerful tool. At Garner IT, we want to assure that you have a wonderful holiday season without any computer-catalyzed problems.

First, you must be concerned about Phishing Attacks (pronounced fishing). The second concern is Online Scams. Let’s look at phishing tricks first.

Just as bait or a lure entices a fish to bit a hook, phishing is designed to entice a computer user to take some step or action that will do him harm in some way: financial loss; ID theft; or transfer of personal information that can be used to accomplish both.

How do phishing attackers go about baiting or luring a computer user? Here’s how:

  • These criminals place a hyperlink in the text of an email that promises some wonderful benefit or states an urgent need for your action to protect an account you have. When clicked, the hyperlink redirects you to a foreign or sometimes counterfeit website that requests sensitive information.
  • They invite you to open an email attachment or click on an ad. Opening any attachment or clicking on an attractive ad can allow the hacker to enter a doorway to obtain and exploit your sensitive and/or financial information.
  • They use spoof (fake) emails that appear to be from a reputable source, such as your bank or any well-known business. Then they request sensitive information.
  • They call you in an attempt to obtain your company or personal information over the phone by impersonating a known company, like your bank or credit card company, vendor, or IT department.

What about online scams? What are the sinister strategies used in these crimes?

  • Scammers can create bogus (counterfeit) websites that appear genuine and that offer rewards or deals too good to be true.
  • Scammers also run ads that are too good to be true. Clicking on the ad takes you to a bogus website where you can pay for purchases you’ll never receive.

At Garner IT Consulting, we want to help protect our friends and neighbors. So here are some valuable Do’s and Don’ts to help secure your holiday online purchases and avoid being conned by phishing attacks or online scams.

  • Don’t reveal any personal or financial information in an email reply.
  • Don’t click on any links provided within an email.
  • Don’t open any, and we mean any, unexpected, unfamiliar or unusual attachments.
  • Do use secure websites when making online purchases. They will be identified as such by your computer security software. Most security software will have an “Secure” or “Safe” notation or something similar. Look for that security assurance.
  • Do check the website address for security. It will always begin with https:// – the “s” lets you know the site is secure.
  • Do shop on websites you know and trust.
  • Do call your bank or vendor if an email appears to come from them but asks for sensitive information or includes hyperlink back to their website. Banks and reputable vendors won’t ask for such information via email.
  • Do keep your computer clean. Keep up to date with the latest patches (updates) for your operating system, software, web browsers, antivirus protection, and applications.
  • Do verify. If an ad appears legitimate, independently and directly go to the Amazon, Best Buy or other vendor website and search for that special bargain. If it’s not there, the ad was likely a scam leading to a bogus site.
  • Do pay with credit cards only, don’t use your bank debit card. Federal laws let you dispute an item on your credit card bill if you don’t receive your purchase. Also, many credit card providers have a “zero liability” policy that frees you from payment if a bad guy gets your card and uses it. While banks have recently become more helpful regarding fraudulent charges from using your bank debit card, they are not required to do so.
  • Do use different passwords for each website. There are ways to organize those passwords – independent of your computer – for easy retrieval. It’s a little bit of effort that can provide a lot of insurance against theft and loss.
  • Do create a “throw away email account.” Gmail and Yahoo allow free email accounts. We suggest you create an account for just this year’s shopping and stop using it after the holidays.
  • We hope these tips are helpful. For any of your computer, software, or security needs we invite you to contact us. Give us a call at 850.250.3210 or drop by our offices at 1330 Harrison Avenue, Panama City, Bay County, Florida. We’ll give you a warm welcome.

Best wishes, Randall and Julie Garner and the entire Garner IT Consulting team of professionals.

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