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Can You Spot a Scam? Protect Yourself Online.

By Michael Callahan | April 26, 2019

Question. Like most everyone else I assume, I get emails from time to time with some scam or another. Some are easy to spot, but others really appear legitimate, and I came close to falling for a few recently. With so much personal info online, I’m increasingly nervous that I’ll eventually fall victim to an online scam or fraud. I’m wondering, what does ModernAdvisor do to protect my information? And do you have any tips on how I can protect myself from scams and frauds in general?

Answer. Great question. Indeed, it seems every day there are more and more products and services offered online. With that trend, we have increasing amounts of our personal and confidential information online. For example, filing your taxes online with sensitive information such as your date of birth and social insurance number, or buying airline tickets with your credit card or other online banking services. While we want the Internet to be safe place where can conduct transactions safely, we must always remember that we can easily become a target for those who want to steal our personal data.

ModernAdvisor Security

First and foremost, you should know that at ModernAdvisor, safeguarding your information is of paramount importance to us. We use the same security measures as banks to keep your data secure. These measures include:

  • Encryption – We encrypt all the data sent between our servers and your browser using the highest level security keys available.
  • Password Protection – Your personal information will always be password protected. No one, not even our engineers, can see your password. You also have the option of enabling 2 factor authentication (2FA) on your account.
  • Physical Security – The servers where your data is stored are in high-security data centers. Think Fort Knox for computers.
  • Regular Security Audits – Our software and systems are regularly audited by third-party security experts to ensure your data remains safe.

While ModernAdvisor and other reputable firms go to great lengths to protect your personal information, most online frauds and scams happen when you think you’re dealing with a trustworthy source, and instead end up divulging personal information to a malicious third party. Let’s take a look at some of the most common ways this can happen.

Top 5 Online Scams

1. Phishing Email Scam.

According to Wikipedia, phishing is the “fraudulent attempt to obtain sensitive information such as usernames, passwords and credit card details by disguising as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication.” These emails and websites will appear as an official source, such as a bank or credit card company. The scam works by directing you to enter personal information at a fake website, which looks real. Then, the info you’ve entered, such as your credit card number or online banking login/password, is transmitted to the scammers.

2. Smartphone SMS Scam (Smshing).

Similar to phishing, smshing messages also are unsolicited messages that appear legitimate. However, unlike phishing emails, smshing messages are sent to your phone via text (SMS), and require you to click on a link or visit a website for one reason or another. The scam messages are often about issues such as an online bill payment, data usage charges on your phone plan, or updating your phone’s software. Considering the amount of time we spend, the amount of banking and e-commerce transactions we conduct, and the amount of personal data we have stored in our phones, SMS scams can be incredibly dangerous.

3. Fake Antivirus Software.

You’re surfing the web, and all of a sudden a warning message like this pops up on your screen: “Your computer has been infected with a virus! Click here to download Antivirus Protection now.” As with the phishing and smshing scams, the fake antivirus message will also look authentic and legitimate. However, if you click “Yes,” what typically happens is that you end up installing some form of spyware or malware, which then locates personal information on your computer, and transmits that information to the hackers. The best form of protection against this type of scam is to never click on such warning messages, and ensure that you have a legitimate antivirus program installed on your device.

4. Credit Card or Bank Loan.

Remember the old adage, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Yet, thousands of people are tricked into believing they have been approved for a new credit card, or a bank loan at a great rate, or some other special offer. Of course, as part of accepting the “offer,” you are required to pay a mandatory processing fee, or divulge some personal info. Another common credit card scam involves a fake fraudulent transaction. In this case, you receive a call from a scammer claiming to work for the credit card company, asking you if you’re recently attempted a large transaction on your card. And since you haven’t attempted such a transaction, the scammer then positions himself as the good guy, indicating that he has managed to intercept this fraudulent transaction before it was completed. Again, at some point, you are typically asked to then divulge some personal or online banking related information.

5. The Nigerian Scam.

This one is also known as the “Nigerian 419” scam, because the scam originates from Nigeria, and 419 is the section of Nigeria’s criminal code which addresses it. With great emotional appeal, the scammer often presents himself or herself as a wealthy businessman, government official, or elderly widow who has recently inherited a large sum of money, and is asking for your help in retrieving the funds. The way the scam works is that, in order to help retrieve the funds, you are typically asked to help pay some small processing or administrative fee, and in exchange for your help, they promise to reward you with a large sum of money.

Protect Yourself!

The Government of Canada’s Anti-Fraud Centre offers the following tips to help protect yourself against online scams and frauds:

  • Do not reply to any email that requests your personal information
  • Contact your financial institution immediately and report your suspicions
  • Check for the embedded hyperlink in the suspicious email by hovering your mouse over the link to verify the address
  • Do not click on any attachments; they can contain viruses and spyware
  • Beware of unsolicited emails from individuals or organizations prompting you to click on an attachment or link
  • Contact Equifax and Transunion to place fraud alerts on your name if you suspect you are a victim of identity theft

For more information, check out the Government of Canada’s Little Black Book of Scams.

Bottom Line

The internet brings us many conveniences and efficiencies, but not without risk. You should always exercise caution when providing any confidential or personal information, especially banking, tax, or credit card information.

Perhaps the best advice is to be informed, cautious, and assertive, even if it may feel uncomfortable. Scammers and fraudsters often prey on their victim’s passive agreeableness. Do not be intimidated – You have every right to be skeptical, and to be non-agreeable as your default response.

If you feel in any way that a message or request is inappropriate or illegitimate, do not engage. Carefully delete the text or email, or end the call, as soon as possible. Better yet, report the incident at the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre website or by calling 1-888-495-8501.

If you have any more questions about ModernAdvisor’s security and protection measures, or any other ModernAdvisor products and services, contact us today.

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Michael Callahan