Scammers and fraudsters are busy at work. It’s little wonder; many people may feel vulnerable during this time of crisis and fraudsters thrive on manipulating people’s vulnerabilities. Scammers spend their entire lives perfecting their ability to win the confidence of others while the rest of the population will be unprepared. This is why it is so important to be extra vigilant at this critical time. The following are some practical steps that you should consider to stay safe from scammers:
1. Avoid getting emotionally involved in stories of woe. Scammers are storytellers. Their skill is to create a story that feeds into the events of the day and also, where they can quickly assess and manipulate the vulnerabilities of their victims. To defend against any type of manipulation, avoid falling for unscrupulous or highly emotional stories. You also need to be strong; scammers can quickly turn charm into bullying to get their way.
2. Ignore the fear of missing out. We might call it F.O.M.O. but the fear of missing out can be very real for a lot of people. Scammers know people are on edge; a Government programme that has just been announced, supermarkets that have scaled back hours of operation, safety clothing that is in short supply. They look to prey on the natural fears people will have and they manipulate those fears. To avoid being taken advantage of, take extra time to consider every key decision. Do not be rushed into any decision that may have a detrimental impact on your family, your finances or your financial wellbeing.
3. Delete all friend requests from unknown people. Social media has become a hunting ground for fake news and fake friends. As with F.O.M.O., reflect on all so-called friend requests. Be tough. Scammers are always on the lookout to get as much information as they can on you…just to use it later to take advantage. Your social media account can be an open book unless you are extremely vigilant about who you accept friend requests from. If you are considering accepting a friend request, research who they are, check the person is genuine by looking up their name, profile picture or any other information they’ve provided you with. If you suspect the photo is fake, you can do a reverse image search using Tin Eye or Google’s Reverse image search. These search engines will show where the photo originated from and where it’s been used.
An important note about profile hijacking - this happens when a fraudster takes over a social media account to use it for their own devious means. There are a couple of variations of this scam. A near-identical account may be set up using an individual’s photo, personal details and location. The idea is to trick other users into thinking they are a trustworthy source, then attempt to befriend them and spread malicious links.
4. Be diligent about all of your social media privacy settings. You really need to examine all of your social media accounts and set the strictest privacy settings. You must also be selective about what you write, how you are feeling at any time and who you share your information with. Establish different groups within your social media accounts and limit your information sharing. Also, use strong and unique password settings that make difficult for anyone to guess password details. Also, where they provide them, use two-factor authentication.
5. Don’t click on suspicious links. Be wary of any posts or messages that ask you to click on a link. Even if you know the person, pay close attention to the language and tone of the message. If something seems even the slightest bit off, ignore and delete the message.
6. Install anti-virus software. The installation of anti-virus software will help detect threats on your computer and block unauthorised users from gaining access.
If you have become the victim of a fraud or if you feel that you were targeted, you should report the incident to An Garda Siochana.