Every time someone’s email or phone gets hacked or a senior citizen falls victim to phishing or another scam, the perpetrators are not only treating their victims with extreme disdain and callousness, but they’re also violating two of the Ten Commandments: “Though shalt not steal” and “Thou shalt not bear false witness.”
But that’s not the only reason why I advocate stiff sentences for those who prey on the most vulnerable people in society; I want the book – and more – thrown at those despicable individuals because of all the post-scam time that’s spent trying to fix the damage they caused.
After my email account was hacked three years ago, and my wife’s email was hacked during the past holiday season, considerable time had to be spent on the phone with our internet provider’s tech support.
We also had to reassure dozens of contacts – friends, relatives and colleagues – that we were neither stuck in a foreign nation nor in such dire straits that we were reduced to asking for gift cards from Amazon, Wal-Mart and Target. (Anyone who receives such a message should exercise common sense and immediately identify it as being bogus, because no one you know who’s in trouble would ask you to send gift cards. Never click on it and immediately delete it.)
The only positive about being hacked is that I’ve learned a few things about dealing with hacks, and trying to prevent them, tips that I’m sharing with you:
If you’re hacked, check your settings to make sure that the hacker didn’t add a bogus email address under the “email forwarding” option, which automatically sends your incoming emails to the hacker. Erase that and make other changes to your settings that the hacker might have made. Your provider’s tech-support person can walk you through them.
Change your passwords.
Check to see whether your credit cards or bank account were compromised.
Try to avoid using an address book, and if you do, only include minimal information. Hackers will often steal your address book and target everyone on them; by not using one, you make it tougher on them.
Move incoming emails marked “payment confirmation wanted,” “payment due,” “renewal due” and other such suspicious subject lines to your spam folder, and then promptly delete them. Hackers and scammers often imitate company logos on bogus emails to entice you to give out your account information.
Don’t respond to emails slugged “package tracking information” because those emails are often sent from bogus accounts. Most delivery services will text you either before or right after they’ve delivered your package.
Never give out your account information to anyone via email or over the phone. Credit card companies and banks are never going to ask you for information that they already have.
Even if an incoming unidentified call on your cellphone indicates “number verified,” don’t answer it; chances are it’s either a telemarketer, charity solicitor or scammer. In general, avoid answering calls that aren’t from your regular contacts.
For those of you who still have landlines, add caller ID and call-blocking features. With the latter, only numbers that you specifically plug in will get through unless the callers identify themselves. Legitimate callers, such as a relative or doctor’s office, will identify themselves; others will usually hang up.
You’ve heard this advice from other sources, but it bears repeating: Government agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service, Medicare and the Social Security Administration, will never email, text or call you about your account. All of them send letters to correspond with you – and they’ll never call or email to threaten you or ask for money or gift cards.
Hackers and scammers unfortunately aren’t going away, but you can reduce their damage by never responding to suspicious emails.
In addition, if you find yourself on the phone with a scammer, hang up immediately and report the call to your local police department. Many departments are proactive and might be able to track down the perpetrators, or, at the very least, warn others before the scammer hurts someone else.
LARRY KESSLER (email@example.com) is a freelance writer based in North Attleboro. He blogs at https://larrytheklineup.blogspot.com.