Budgeting | Personal Finance | Article

Financial Identity Theft – 5 Ways to Avoid Getting Duped Online

by The Simple Sum | 19 Nov 2020 | 4 mins read

For most of us, 2020 has been a difficult and challenging year. A time of uncertainty and unrest, and also a time for hackers and scammers to thrive.

That sinking feeling in your stomach when you realise you’ve clicked on a link you shouldn’t have? We’ve all been there.

Maybe it was late at night; eyes bleary from pulling an all-nighter, maybe you were in a hurry, or maybe you were reading an alarming email about a problem with your PayPal account.

Whatever the reason, you panicked and clicked on the link, or more regrettably, gave away personal information before you realised the magnitude of your mistake.

Most identity theft, especially online, happen because of human errors. Hackers and scammers know this. They know exactly how to manipulate you into slipping up, whether by high tech means like phishing or just plain old scamming using online tools such as social media.

Let’s take a look at the ways we can protect ourselves from the predators in the online jungle:

1. Don’t click on links in emails you didn’t expect to receive.

Look for bad spelling, unwieldly grammar or poorly-strung sentences. Sometimes the logo may look out of place. The email layout may appear like its put together in a haste. It used to be easy to tell apart fake emails from the real ones, but scammers have gotten better at what they do. The most obvious, and often overlooked, thing to do here is to look at the URLs and see if they check out. After that, mark them as spam.

This goes for SMSs too – if it looks scammy, don’t click on the link (they always have links).

2. Use secure (read: difficult) passwords on your computer and website accounts.

Change them often and don’t use the same password twice.

To make life easier, use password managers such as 1password or LastPass, which can automatically generate long and complex passwords (just don’t use ‘PASSWORD’ as your master password for whichever app you decide to use, but you already know this).

3. Use two-factor authentication (2FA) for your online accounts.

It adds a valuable layer of added protection by requiring you to personally verify and key in a code for every log-in attempt. Whenever possible, opt for authentication apps like Google AuthenticatorAuthy or Microsoft Authenticator over the commonly-used SMS-based 2FA method as hackers can trick carriers into porting a phone number to a new device by using a method called ‘SIM-swapping’.

Cumbersome, but not as bad as having to deal with the bank for weeks trying to get your money back for that lawn mower that you definitely didn’t buy. Then there’s the chance you might not even get your money back.

4. Regularly and thoroughly examine bank and credit card statements for purchases you didn’t make.

This is probably the most obvious one, but it needs to be said. Check your bank and card statements every time you get them.

5. Exercise due diligence when shopping online.

This one’s embarrassing, but it’s happened to the best of us – we buy something from a perfectly legitimate-looking website or social media merchant only for the goods to never arrive. Some measures that can be taken to prevent yourself from getting duped:

When buying from a website

  • Look for red flags, such as lack of contact information or physical address, ambiguous shipping times (shops that only display ‘dispatch’ times instead of the door-to-door delivery period) or suspiciously familiar product photos (even if you feel you haven’t seen it before, use reverse image search to see if it turns up at another source).
  • As much as possible, buy from stores that have return policies.
  • When buying from online marketplaces where return policies aren’t common practice, like AliExpress, make it a point to only buy from merchants that have high ratings or number of products sold. Read through customer reviews of the merchant – often you’ll find pictures of received goods uploaded by customers.
  • Research the product (and the seller if possible) before buying and compare prices of similar products from other sellers. If the selling price is too good to be true, it probably is.

When buying on social media:

  • Only buy from stores that are ‘socially validated’, either through testimonials from friends or people on social media.
  • Scroll through the merchant’s IG stories or comments in posts and see if there are real people confirming the receipt of goods, or even better, thanking them for a purchase.
  • Try to avoid merchants requiring upfront ‘pre-booking’ payments, unless it is a known and trusted seller. (However, if you’ve placed a large order, often merchants will require a deposit.)