Stand up to Scammers with These 6 Steps

Personal Finances

 Mike Esson By: Mike Esson

Most of us know how to avoid obvious email scams, such as that "friend" who is trapped penniless abroad and needs you to "wire money immediately," to strange companies asking you to verify person information. But, as hackers become both more polished and nefarious in their scamming attempts, it's important to pay even closer attention to seemingly innocent emails and phone calls. Take these six steps to help protect yourself.

1. Verify the Sender.

Even familiar-looking email addresses can be fake. Some scammers change one letter in an address—e.g., "LinkedIn" to "LirkedIn," in hopes you won't catch the difference. If you don't know the source, don't open the email.

2. Hover over links before clicking on them.

Before clicking on a link in an email, hover over it first to reveal where it's trying to take you. If the URL looks legitimate, you may proceed. If it looks strange—or, a glaring red flag, shows an IP address—do not click through.

3. Shore up your security.

Keeping track of complicated passwords can be a pain, but it's nothing compared to the ramifications of identity theft. The more complex a password is, the safer it is. Follow these best practices to ensure your confidential information stays confidential.

  • Minimum of eight characters.
  • Upper case characters (A-Z).
  • Lower case characters (a-z).
  • Numbers (0-9).
  • Special characters (e.g., ! $ # %).
  • Unicode characters that do not fall into any of the above categories.

4. When in doubt, pick up the phone.

If you have any doubts regarding an email's legitimacy, call the purported source to verify. Remember, no financial institution, including banks, credit agencies and the IRS, will ever ask for confidential information via email or unsolicited phone calls. If you receive such a request, always contact the organization at a confirmed telephone number and report the request. Do not reply to a telephone number or email address included in the message.

5. Invest in safety.

Free anti-virus software may not provide the same level of protection as an industry standard product, so do your research and invest in whatever anti-virus and spyware detection software you can afford. Make sure to update all of your computers regularly with the latest versions and patches, opting for at least a medium level of security.

6. Clear your cache.

Before starting an internet banking session—or taking part in any similar activity—clear your browser's cache through the preferences menu. This will eliminate any copies of Web pages that have been stored on your hard drive, making them easy targets for hackers.

It's unfortunate that we have to be so diligent in protecting ourselves, but the effort is worth the reassurance that our personal information remains uncompromised. Strengthening your passwords and verifying emails takes only a few minutes—which pales in comparison to the time spent cleaning up the mess of identity theft.

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Mike joined Plancorp in 2006 to lead our operations team and streamline our internal processes. He draws on his years of experience in sales, operations and investing to tackle any project that comes his way, as well as to ensure seamless execution of ongoing initiatives. More »