17 Ways You're Making Yourself a Target for Scammers

Just say no to those sketchy sweepstakes and faux friend requests.

Hacker on a Computer How Scammers Work

If you've been the target of scammers—whether it's being on the receiving end of an email claiming that you're about to come into serious money from a recently-deceased relative you never met or have gotten a too-good-to-be-true job offer that requires you to cash a foreign check to get the ball rolling—you're in good company. According to the Federal Trade Commission, approximately 2.7 million fraud reports were filed in 2017, and $905 million was lost to imposter scams, identity theft, and similarly nefarious pursuits. Yes, despite increasing protections against scammers, like website security warnings on browsers and anti-malware programs, approximately 1 in 5 Americans lost a portion of their hard-earned cash to a scam in 2017.

While scammers are getting more sophisticated with every passing year, that doesn't mean being targeted by one is a foregone conclusion. Herein, we've outlined how scammers work and the steps you can take to avoid becoming one of their marks. And for more ways to live your best life, check out these 100 Amazing Summer Buys Under $100!

You're not keeping your security up to date.

thoughtful woman on computer How Scammers Work

Hackers and scammers are constantly looking for ways to sneak past your security protocols and into your computer. That's why it's important to always make sure that the programs on your computer are updated. As digital security software service Norton explains: "A software vulnerability is a security hole or weakness found in a software program or operating system. Hackers can take advantage of the weakness by writing code to target the vulnerability." In other words, a hacker can easily exploit your older software's security failings to take over your computer and steal your data.

You're using the same password for every account.

Guy on a Laptop Logging in to Facebook How Scammers Work

Scammers aren't just sitting around and guessing at your passwords until they get them right. Rather, notorious hacker organizations will hack the security systems of big brands like Target—and once they've successfully done that, they will attempt to use your password on all of your other accounts.

If you're worried that you won't be able to remember multiple passwords for different accounts, IT expert Liz Rodriguez suggests using a password manager site like LastPass, which will safely encrypt your data.

You're using public WiFi networks to access sensitive information.

Phone with a WiFi Signal How Scammers Work

Public WiFi networks are like all-you-can-eat buffets for hackers. That's because "this type of open connection is often unencrypted and unsecured, leaving you vulnerable to a man-in-the-middle attack," as Norton explains. In essence, everything you look at, every password you type in, and every purchase you make while using that WiFi network could be easily accessible, in plain text, to a scammer with the right tools.

You're not double-checking email addresses.

Email Inbox How Scammers Work

Scammers love to uncover information from their victims via a practice called phishing. Typically, when a scammer is utilizing this trick, they will contact you via email pretending to be from a business or social media site and ask you "to provide or confirm your personal details," as the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) explains.

Phishing emails created by scammers are almost impossible to tell apart from authentic ones, but one way verify that they're the real deal is by double-checking the email address of the sender. Since hackers can't actually create email accounts with the organizations they're pretending to represent, their email addresses are usually one or two letters off. If a hacker is pretending to contact you from Target, for instance, their email might look something like service@targt.com.

You're not reading emails for typos.

man emailing on laptop How Scammers Work

Another way to differentiate a phishing email from a real one? Look for typos. Though many scammers will try to copy the format and verbiage of the emails they're attempting to replicate, they're not nearly as precise as the professionals—not to mention that many hackers don't speak English as a first language—and so they often end up including typos and/or grammatical errors in their correspondence.

You're only using short passwords.

men checking passwords How Scammers Work

"Using a longer password is much more important than anything else," says Rodriguez. "The longer the password, the harder it is to crack. Say your password is 'babyblue,' for instance; that's more likely to be in a dump of dictionary words that hackers use to run against the site. But 'babybluebuggieismyfavoritethingintheworld' isn't going to be in there."

You're taking online quizzes.

Person Using Facebook on an iPad How Scammers Work

Those online quizzes that claim that they can tell you your favorite breakfast food based on your mother's maiden name or those Facebook questions that ask you to reveal the name of your favorite high school teacher aren't quite as random as you think. Rather, scammers use the information from these quizzes and questions to hack the security questions on some of your most sensitive accounts. "They use this data to hack your accounts or open lines of credit in your name," the Sutton Police Department warned on Facebook.

You're posting too much information on social media.

man on phone social media online How Scammers Work

Nowadays, it's commonplace for people to share their every thought on social media. However, less is more when it comes to what you post on your various accounts—at least from a cybersecurity perspective. All day, every day, hackers are scouring Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media sites just waiting for you to reveal information that might be part of your password.

You're giving away sensitive information on sketchy phone calls.

woman on phone How Scammers Work

Don't give a caller your passwords or credit card numbers just because they claim to be from your bank. Scammers love to dupe individuals—particularly vulnerable ones like elderly folks—into revealing their information by pretending to be from their bank or insurance company. Similarly, hackers will try to get information by offering fake deals, like credit card cash back offers or free trips—so if you ever get a phone call out of the blue about a deal that sounds too good to be true, that's because it is.

When in doubt, always call your credit card provider or bank directly to verify that they're the ones calling you before revealing any information about yourself—or better yet, just don't pick up from unfamiliar numbers at all. Instead, wait until they've left a message, Google the number they're calling from, and call back if need be.

You're using SMS for two-factor authentication.

teenager on smartphone How Scammers Work

"Using SMS as two-factor authentication is not recommended," says Rodriguez. But why? Well, according to the tech expert, SMS—the technology used for text messages—is relatively easy to hack, and so it's always safer to use an authenticator app, like Google Authenticator or Authy, than simply having potentially-sensitive information sent to you via text.

You're shopping on new websites before verifying their legitimacy.

woman shopping online with a laptop and a credit card How Scammers Work

"Shopping on a fake website could result in your personal or financial information being stolen or your device becoming infected with a virus or malware," warns security site ASecureLife. Before you make a purchase on a site you haven't used before, the experts recommend both confirming that there is an https:// before the name of the site—only secure sites have this before their URL—and looking up the name of the site on Whois to make sure that it's registered to a legitimate business.

You're saving your information on shared computers.

Woman on the Computer at Work How Scammers Work

There's a reason why web browsers and websites always warn you not to save your login information on shared computers. Even if you're only doing so on a work computer used exclusively by you during the workday, you never know who has access to that computer after you've gone home for the evening. Plus, you have no idea how secure the WiFi network at your workplace is; for all you know, it could require little to no effort to hack it!

You're accepting Facebook friend requests from strangers.

Facebook friend request How Scammers Work

According to the ACCC, scammers will sometimes set up fake profiles on social media sites in order to get to their victims. So, how does this work? A con artist can use a social media site to their advantage by luring someone into a fake relationship and then convincing that person to send them money. Other criminals will simply collect information available on your profile and through messaging with you until they have enough to either hack your accounts or assume your identity.

You're letting your mail sit in the mailbox for days at time.

Pile of Mail on a Desk How Scammers Work

Opening someone else's mail might be a crime, but that's not stopping scammers from doing it anyway. Mail from your bank, credit card company, or the IRS could have everything from account numbers to your social security number on it, making it easy for scammers to steal your identity. And the longer you leave your mail out, the more vulnerable it is, so make sure to empty your box every single day.

You're responding to sketchy sweepstakes.

online sweepstakes on ipad how scammers work

That pop-up message claiming that you just won a free cruise to the Bahamas probably isn't real. Rather, it's almost certainly a ploy by a scammer to get money or other information out of you. According to the Federal Trade Commission, you can usually tell whether a sweepstakes is a scam when you have to pay to enter or have to deposit the check you've won and then wire some of that money back.

You're throwing sensitive information out in the garbage.

Waste basket How Scammers Work

Scammers often obtain information about you "through… discarded personal documents such as utility bills, insurance renewals, or health care records," warns the ACCC. When you do need to throw out sensitive documents, your best bet is to put them through a shredder first. If you don't have a shredder, make sure to rip and destroy all of your papers until the information on them is no longer legible, or get a text-obscuring rolling stamp to cover up any sensitive information.

You're sending photos of your credit card via email or text.

hands holding a credit card shopping online with a tablet How Scammers Work

Never, ever send a picture of your credit card somewhere where hackers can access it. If you absolutely have to give someone your account information, then do so over the phone; otherwise, meet up in person and you can avoid the possibility of a scammer accessing your information. And for more safety tips, check out the 15 Best Ways to Protect Your Home.

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