The Ripoff Alert is an ongoing series alerting you to the latest scams and ripoffs. What to look out for and what you need to know to stay safe. This is #23 in the series.
Smartphones are everywhere. I remember a year or two ago there were many people I knew who still had old style flip phones. I myself had one until last fall. Now just a few remain who haven’t jumped on the smartphone bandwagon.
We carry these things everywhere with us – to work, on road trips and to the grocery store. Now that so many of us own these mini computers, we have to take a minute to think about how we can protect the information stored on these devices.
Kiplinger has a list of things we need to be aware of concerning phone scams:
1. Your smart phone holds a mother lode of data
2. Think before you click
3. Scammers cast a wide net
4. That big bonus prize? It’s bogus
5. “Toll fraud” could be down the road
6. You can fight back
My thoughts are below.
1. They list some things we now do on our phones including banking, checking Facebook and calling your Mom. You have to start thinking of your phone as a computer. As such, it holds a lot of personal data that could be used against you in the wrong hands.
Lots of folks password protect their computers, and I recommend doing the same for your phone. That’s your first line of defense if your phone is lost or stolen.
2. They offer a common sense solution: “If it’s too good to be true or too enticing to be legitimate, ignore it.” That applies to texts, emails, banner ads, and anything else you may come across.
I recently wrote about scammers’ efforts to target their attacks against us, a crime known as spearphishing. Criminals have more information about us than you think, and are able to use it against us in new ways.
Just delete any emails or texts from senders you don’t recognize.
3. It seems that scammers are always a step ahead of us. They target a wide range of people knowing they only need a few victims to make it worth their while. The article mentions that because of QR codes and URL shorteners, it’s harder than ever to detect suspicious links or websites.
What exactly are the scammers after? Two things: Our money or our personal information (which they’ll then use to steal our money.)
4. I got a text the other day claiming I’d won a $1,000 gift card from Target. All I had to do was respond with some personal information and my “prize” would be on its way.
Now think for a second. Who wins gift cards out of the blue? The scammers know these are tough times and that we’re more vulnerable than usual.
5. One reason you have to be careful clicking unrecognized links is that they could contain malicious code. This code causes your phone to download ring tones or wallpaper without your knowledge or permission, which you’re then billed for by your phone company.
A related crime, carried out by your cell phone company itself, is known is cramming. In cahoots with third-party marketers, they “cram” unauthorized charges onto your bill, hoping you won’t notice. And guess what? Most people don’t. One obvious solution is to go through each page of your bill every month. If you see a strange charge, call your phone company and have it removed.
A more proactive solution is to have your phone company block all third-party charges. That prevents toll fraud or cramming from happening in the first place.
6. The article offer several good suggestions about how to fight back against phone scams. Among them: Complain to the FTC at http://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov; forward spam texts to 7726 to alert the phone company; download and use an antivirus program such as Lookout; and ignore texts you don’t recognize.
It may seem that criminals are one step ahead, but you can level the playing field by anticipating their moves and protecting yourself from their attacks.