How to Protect Yourself from Being Scammed

Scammers know all kinds of tricks to convince you they are genuine in order to get you to hand over your personal information or money. Here are the tricks to watch out for and tips on how to protect yourself from scams.

  • Know the tricks scammers use
  • Protect your personal information
  • Use strong passwords
  • Secure your computer and cell phone
  • Be mindful when shopping or sending money online 
  • Question offers of easy money

Know the tricks scammers use

Scammers can trick you behind the scenes by hacking your computer or cell phone, or they can actively approach you online, by phone or email. Scammers may try to reel you in by:

  • Pressuring you to make a decision. They will use the terms “last chance” or “limited offer” to make you act fast. They don't want to give you time to check if their offer is real before you commit to it, and they want you to commit to it early, so you feel like you can't back out.
  • Becoming your friend. By being polite, scammers know you're more likely to listen to them and go along with something they suggest.
  • Threatening you. They will pretend to be from a well-known organization or government department to try to scare you into giving them your personal information or money. They may threaten you with a fine, court, arrest or deportation.
  • Claiming to be professionals. Scammers will say they are approved or associated with another reputable organization or government agency, or they might claim to be a professional broker, portfolio manager or investor. Even if they look and sound professional, they are reading off of a carefully crafted script.
  • Making persistent phone calls, text messages or emails. Scammers often approach a large number of people this way, in the hope of receiving a response. Once you respond, they will be persistent in contacting you and promising you wealth or opportunities lost if you don't take up their offer.
  • Creating fake websites and emails. Professional-looking websites “prove” their product is real and worth the money they want you to pay. They may also send links to these websites in fraudulent emails which look like they're from your bank or another business.
  • Making fake social media profiles. Some scammers create fake profiles and send you a friend request or message. If you respond, they then send you offers to make quick money or invest, or ask for money to help them solve a problem. They could also gain access to your personal information and steal your identity.

Protect your personal information

Protect yourself online and stay one step ahead of the scammers with these tips:

  • Do not share your personal, banking or credit card information with people you don't know or trust.
  • Never give people you don’t know or trust access to your computer.
  • Check your bank and credit card statements every month for suspicious activity.
  • Instead of throwing out personal documents, destroy them by shredding or ripping them up.
  • Beware of entering online competitions where you must provide personal information.
  • Activate privacy settings on social media sites and be careful what you post online, as information can be easily stored and archived, even if you delete it.
  • Never share your banking PIN or the passwords to your devices.

Use strong passwords

Passwords protect your personal information, so make them strong and change them regularly. Here are some tips on creating and using passwords:

  • Good passwords should have a combination of at least eight characters and include upper case and lower case letters, numbers and symbols; e.g. sDke$5!2.
  • Don't tell anyone your passwords - a legitimate business or company should never ask you for your password.
  • Use different passwords to access different online accounts, and make them difficult for others to work out.
  • Don't allow your computer to save your passwords, and don't store them in a file on your computer.

Secure your computer and cell phone

Online viruses (also called worms or Trojan horses) can access personal information, infect your computer or cell and delete files. They can even use your computer to attack other computers. Here are some things to consider to protect yourself against these threats:

  • Make sure you have good security software (anti-virus, anti-spyware and a firewall) and keep it updated.
  • Turn on automatic updates for the computer’s operating system and update all other applications and software programs when updates are available through their official websites.
  • Make sure your wireless network is encrypted. If you're not sure how to do this, ask your internet provider.
  • Turn off your computer or disconnect it from the internet when you're not using it.
  • Scan devices such as USBs or external hard drives for viruses before opening them.
  • Delete and do not open any unsolicited or suspicious emails you receive. If you've already opened them, don't click on any links or open any attachments in these emails.
  • Do not accept messages or friend requests from people you don't know.
  • Be wary of clicking on advertisements about banking, finances or investments in your social feed.
  • If you use public computers, never save your passwords on them.
  • Avoid using a public Wi-Fi to log into your bank accounts.
  • Be cautious of installing third party apps onto your phone, as they can be used by scammers to steal account details.

Be mindful when shopping or sending money online

When shopping online, make sure you only buy from reputable companies. Use payment methods with built-in protections, such as credit cards and secure online payment facilities.

If you haven't dealt with a business before, search online to check recommendations and feedback from other customers. Be aware of counterfeit items and remember: if an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Never send cash overseas or to people you have never met, as this could be a scam. Clarify payments with your family members, as some scammers will pretend to be a relative to get you to send them money.

Protect your kids online

Your kids can also fall victim to scams, so here are some tips to help keep them out of trouble when they're online:

  • Set up your computer in a communal area of the home.
  • Always supervise your children when they are online.
  • Consider using filters to block certain search terms and websites.
  • Get your kids into the habit of questioning things online.
  • Ask them to tell you about any suspicious activity they run into.

Question offers of easy money

Some scammers will approach you with offers to make easy money, perhaps by investing in their company or product with little to no risk or by offering you a “loan.”

To check the legitimacy of someone who makes you an offer, ask them:

  • What is your name and what company do you represent?
  • Who owns your company?
  • What is your address?

If they avoid answering these questions, the deal they are offering you is probably a scam. Hang up the phone, delete and block the email or messages, and stop dealing with the person.

Even if they answer all the above questions, be cautious and trust your instincts. Ask yourself:

  • Are they pressuring me to take up this offer?
  • Does it seem too good to be true?
  • Are they asking for money or anything unusual?
  • Have I done my own research?

Never accept unsolicited offers of credit from unfamiliar lenders and only deal with reputable institutions. If you are contacted by someone after submitting an online loan application, don't assume you know who you are dealing with. Scammers can hack legitimate websites of some smaller lenders to target consumers.

Do your own research

Always do your own research on a company. Call their publicly listed phone number. Don't rely on the information they give you in emails or over the phone - find this information separately (via an internet search or phone book). Scammers can impersonate companies and give you a real company's identification number from the Federal Trade Commission to appear legitimate.

Report scams to the Federal Trade Commission online or by calling 1-877-382-4357. You can also forward phishing emails to [email protected].