Email and Social Media are the number one tools for scammers and hackers. Here’s how to protect yourself.

When I set out to write my latest book, Online Safety: The Complete Guide to Being Safe Online, I wanted to write about the most pressing safety issues in the digital world. In order to do this, I referred to FBI statistics to determine what areas of the internet scammers are using to target their victims. According to FBI statistics, this turned out to be email and social media, and the numbers were staggering. Email is still the #1 method scammers use to target their victims, and the methods they use to target you have evolved.

We all, at one point have been the recipient of a spam or junk email, and most of us can recognize one when we see it. Fortunately, most email providers today have an excellent spam feature that will catch most of this, and move it immediately to your junk folder. The typical spam email is generally not a concern for most people. In my opinion, the more pressing threat today is phishing emails. These types of emails are made to try and “fish” certain information out of you, such as passwords, bank details, and more. Moreover, these emails are hard for spam filters to catch, and can look like perfectly legitimate emails. These emails can be the most dangerous, as they are very effective at tricking its readers into believing what they say, especially since they look real. A common phishing email is one that states “You need to reset your password.” Fortunately, there are a couple of best practices you can follow that will always protect you from phishing email attacks. The simplest best practice is to never trust a link in an email message, and instead go to links manually yourself. This best practice can be a little burdensome, which is why I emphasize a couple of other best practices in the book that are easy to follow.

The other platform that has become an area of major concern is social media. Naturally, this is to be expected as social media’s popularity has skyrocketed in the last decade, and so has to the sophistication of hackers and scammers. Most social media platforms have excellent built-in defenses to protect you from you many threats, however these defenses are not foolproof, and you are bound to be targeted by a scammer at one point. Most of the threats that I have encountered on social media originate in direct or private messages. The messages can be from someone I know or from someone I have never heard of, which adds to their layer of complexity. There are common themes in these suspicious messages, with the most obvious one being links. Fortunately again, there are a couple of simple best practices you can follow when dealing with suspicious links on the internet. I won’t give all of them away here (you’ll have to read my book), but a simple best practice that is relatively easy to follow is to always inspect the true domain of any link. By simply looking at a link’s true domain, you can determine if a website is fraudulent or real fairly quickly. You should also look for signs that the true domain of a website is intentionally being masked or hard to recognize; this is a telltale sign that you are dealing with a dangerous website and should avoid using it if at all possible.

These are just two examples of how scammers today are using the internet to target their victims and steal their data. There are plenty of simple ways to protect yourself from these threats, and you can do so with ease by following my Best Practices in my book, Online Safety: The Complete Guide to Being Safe Online. There are also third-party programs and apps you can download that can help protect you from many of these threats. I provide my recommendations in the book as well.

Stay Safe.

-Joe Malacina

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