We honestly want to believe that the Internet is a secure place where online scams never happen, but it’s always a good reminder to take a “reality check.” The truth is that simply being online makes you an easy target for scammers looking to obtain precious personal information. Criminal minds may now infiltrate our personal lives, families, and workplaces more easily than ever before. Identity theft is a real problem, but there are solutions. 

If you use the Internet to shop, pay bills, or manage your account, you must protect yourself from online scammers. There are a variety of ways to do this, including avoiding giving your social security number out over public Wi-Fi and keeping up with your credit and bank statements to identify suspicious behavior. You can also invest in a good identity theft protection service to protect yourself from fraud and other online threats. Let’s look at the best ways to protect yourself and your loved ones from online scammers.

Avoid Giving Out Your Social Security Number and Personal Information

Scammers often pose as legitimate government agencies and charities. They use official phone numbers and letterheads, as well as fake badges with the name of a social security official. Often, these phishing schemes are disguised as the real government and promise you financial help, investment opportunities, or business advice.

With your social security number, scammers can open new credit card accounts in your name or apply for loans. Their fraudulent actions can also ruin your credit score, causing you to have a difficult time obtaining loans and other services.

If you’re ever asked to give your social security number over the phone, you should stop the call immediately. Another type of scam is called “phishing.” Scammers often use a malicious link or email attachment to trick you into revealing confidential information. The phishing message may appear to be from a legitimate business, but in fact, it’s a scam.

It is vital to keep your Social Security card safely stored. Never enter it into websites without verifying their legitimacy. In addition, it’s a good idea to contact your financial institution to ensure the company asking for your social security number is secure.

Avoid Shopping on Public Wi-Fi

If you’re shopping on public Wi-Fi, you need to be extra cautious. Unless you have an encrypted connection, there’s a high chance your data will be compromised. Unfortunately, not all public Wi-Fi is created equal. Some free hotspot providers may have no encryption at all. 

To avoid giving up personal information when on a public connection, you should stay away from sites that require you to log in. Additionally, avoid sending sensitive information over an open hotspot. This includes your social security number, date of birth, and other information about your identity.

Use Anti-malware Programs and Security Software

Using an anti-malware program will help to protect your device. Fortunately, there are plenty of free web browsers that notify you of any malicious programs before you install them.

It’s also a good idea to keep your security software updated. For example, you can install the HTTPS-Everywhere Firefox add-on to ensure you’re using an encrypted network.

Another easy way to protect your identity is to use a VPN. VPN stands for “virtual private network.” Essentially, a VPN creates a secure tunnel between your computer and the server you’re connecting to. In addition, it makes it harder for other users to see what you’re doing. There are many free apps that can help you easily install a VPN on your device. While it’s not always necessary to use a VPN on your home network, it can add an additional layer of protection. And using a VPN is essential if you do need to make a financial transaction on public Wi-Fi. 

Avoid Sending Payments to People You Don’t Know Through Payment Apps

Using a peer-to-peer payment app is an efficient way to send and receive cash using your checking account without the hassle of writing out checks. However, despite the convenience of the medium, there are still a few scams to be wary of. 

One common scam is telling you that you’ve won money but need to send a fee to get it. This is a scam every time. The scammer will use your account to make purchases. It’s highly unlikely you will randomly win a monetary prize through a payment app, but you wouldn’t have to pay for it even if you did.

Thankfully, some apps offer robust fraud protection features to help keep your money in your pocket. When deciding which service to use, choose the one with the most powerful security features. Also, ensure the app includes features where you can set up alerts.

Monitor Your Credit and Bank Statements for Suspicious Behavior

Regularly monitor your credit and bank statements for suspicious behavior. Check your accounts to see if there are unusual or low balances. You should immediately report any unauthorized debit or credit card charges to your card provider.

It’s also a good idea to review your credit reports each year. Use a reputable credit monitoring service to check your credit reports for suspicious activity. Some of the best services include LifeLock, Aura, and Equifax.

Invest in Identity Theft Protection

Identity theft can occur in many forms. For example, scammers use stolen personal information to open bank accounts, make false health insurance claims, and apply for loans and credit cards. Investing in identity theft protection is a great way to protect yourself from scammers.

These services will provide multi-layered protection for your personal information and identity, beginning with credit monitoring. This service will alert you to instances where your data is used. Some services will even assist you in recovering any losses and often have insurance coverage of up to $1 million.

Many premium identity theft plans include safe web browsing tools. These tools protect you against malicious software and viruses. Some companies also provide VPNs. Many identity theft protection companies offer free trials, too. This will allow you to try out the features and see how well the company fits your needs.

Change Your Passwords Often

Another way to keep your data safe is to change your passwords often. You should also keep them secure in a safe place, and never share them with anyone. Use strong, complex passwords rather than generic ones. Also, try to avoid using the same password for more than one login. This way, if you do get hacked, you don’t have trouble with all your accounts at once.

Using password managers is an excellent way to keep your password updated and safe. Many of them generate, encrypt, store, and change your password for you. This way, you are always secure. Additionally, a password manager will keep you from forgetting your passwords and getting locked out of your accounts.

What To Do if You Suspect Fraudulent Activity

Hopefully, with these tips on protecting yourself and your loved ones from online (and telephone) scammers, you won’t ever have to deal with fraudulent activity. But what if you do?

If you suspect you’ve been the victim of identity theft or a scam, immediately contact your financial institution and the program or app it happened on. In the case of identity theft, you should always contact law enforcement. After reporting the scam, you should also contact the Federal Trade Commission. Depending on the type of fraud you suspect, you may need to ask your bank or credit card company for a new account number. 

Fraud is everywhere. However, protecting yourself from scammers is usually just a matter of making a few minor changes. Stay safe!