7 tips to safeguard yourself from online scams

How to stay ahead of hackers and online scams by taking proactive steps to safeguard your online presence.

How to stay ahead of online scammers

You’ve probably heard a lot of chatter about various types of online scams—from phishing emails to SMS messages to fake tech support phone calls or even get-rich-quick schemes on social media. You might have even received these types of calls or messages and wondered what to do. 

If your spidey senses are tingling, it’s probably worth pausing. These types of scams can be used to obtain credit card information, find your user login and password details or, in the worst case, steal your identity. Don’t let that happen to you. 

Here are some tips to help you stay one step ahead of online scammers: 

1. Stay a little mysterious  

What information do you share online—say, perhaps, on your social media profiles or in public news feeds? Scammers can target you using your personal details they find in these places. Stay a step ahead by setting your accounts to private—and only add friends and followers you know. 

2. Be private on public Wi-Fi 

It can be tempting to connect your phone or laptop to public Wi-Fi. But do you know who could be lurking on that network? Hackers can easily connect to your device on public connections and access your information, so be careful what you’re doing when connected. 

For example, it might be fine to connect when at the mall or library to look up directions or search something on a browser. But avoid sharing personal information, entering in passwords, doing banking or anything else that requires sensitive information when you’re not on a private network. If you use a work device, your office policy may also prohibit the use of public Wi-Fi. 

A secure Wi-Fi connection, like a good lock, can help you stay safe online. So save the important stuff for when you’re back home or at the office. 

3. Save responsibly  

How many places do you save your password or payment information? Apps, websites, smartphones and computers will store your login or credit card details to make life easier.  

Try to find a balance between convenience and security. While your streaming service might need your credit card information for monthly billing, maybe you don’t need to set up an account at every online store or store your card info for every checkout.  

4. Spot fake sites 

Do you trust every website you visit? It’s important to read the reviews about a company and only buy from those you trust. Also understand the terms and conditions of using their services before you click “accept.”  

However, even if a site looks legitimate at first glance, scammers will create fake websites to take payment for services or goods they never deliver. Watch out for signs of a fake site like a misspelled URL, an unsecure domain, lack of a privacy policy, improper spelling or grammar throughout the pages, or no contact information.  

5. Watch your statements 

When do you cozy up to read your latest credit card and bank statements? If this isn’t a ritual for you, make time for it. Statements show the activity in your accounts, so reviewing them is a good way to spot something suspicious and stop it.  

Don’t recognize a charge? Stay calm and investigate. Not every surprise expense is a scammer. Contact your card provider or financial institution for assistance.  

6. Check your credit report

Why not check your credit report and score yourself? It’s free and easy to do. In Canada, for example, Equifax and TransUnion can provide you with a copy of your credit report. According to Equifax, pulling your own credit report is considered a “soft" inquiry that does not affect your credit scores. They also note that “knowing what information is in your credit reports and checking them regularly may help you get in the habit of monitoring your financial accounts.” 

By checking your credit report regularly, you can spot if anything fishy is going on—such as a new credit card in your name. If someone attempts to steal your identity and money, signs will likely show up and you’ll be able to report it right away.  

7. Stay up-to-date 

Have you been putting off the latest software update on your laptop or mobile device? Updating your operating system, security software and web browsers can give you much better protection against malware, viruses and other online threats. Make sure you turn on auto updates so you don’t provide would-be scammers an easy opportunity to strike. 

The bottom line: Staying safe from online scams 

Even if you’re the savviest online user with a high degree of confidence, getting caught up in online scams can happen to the best of us. You’ve worked hard for your money and the last thing you want is to risk losing it.  

While these are just some ways to protect yourself online, it’s important to stay educated. The Government of Canada’s Competition Bureau is a good place to learn about the latest types of fraud and how to protect yourself. Taking a bit of time to do your due diligence could mean the difference between protecting yourself or being a victim of an online scam.