Safeguard your family from Internet scams

Scam Proof Your Family

by Shaunna Privratsky

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Kids today are practically born with a mouse in hand. Kindergartners routinely use computers in the classroom and at home. That's why it is even more important to safeguard your family from scams.

Criminals are finding more and more sophisticated ways to rip you off. They will send you messages to capture your e-mail address, passwords and other personal information. Known as phishing, it has become a widespread problem leading to devastating identity theft.

Teach your older children to ignore or delete these messages and avoid pop-ups altogether. Sit with younger children when they are online. It is important to keep the family computer in a central location and to keep tabs on everyone's usage. Keep abreast of your children's contacts and periodically check the history files to see which websites have been visited.

Another scam involves spoofing or copying a legitimate website in order to obtain secret information. You may get an urgent message with a link to a site that looks identical to a familiar, trusted site. You login or type your password and may even be asked to "verify" your account numbers, Social Security number or other personal identifiers. Unfortunately, you have just handed over your information to a crook.

The only way to combat this is to go independently to the website and look for a gold padlock symbol in the lower right hand corner. Or look for an "S" in the URL that stands for secure. (For example:

Other areas to be extra vigilant are online chat rooms, free web pages and online dating services. Anyone can pretend to be someone else, often covering up a criminal past. Children, teens and even young adults can be fooled into dangerous meetings or giving out confidential information, putting the whole family at risk.

A particularly alarming scam involves cyber grooming. It is the process of gaining trust and building a false relationship in order to stalk or entice victims. Predators groom their victims by befriending them in chat rooms, then proceed to instant messaging e-mail, telephone and eventually to actual meetings.

Another scam to watch out for is cyber-spying. You may receive a free web cam, digital camera, or even free downloads like cool screen savers or emoticons. Hidden in the software is a spying program that can essentially run your computer and gain access to every program, file and picture on the hard drive. The best way to combat this is to ignore or turn down any "free" offers.

It is important to protect your computer with junk mail filters, security settings, and parental controls. These can be accessed through the e-mail tools and settings menu to ensure a safe trip down the information highway.

Also be cautious when using online auction sites, like the popular eBay site. E-fencing is when criminals sell stolen goods. There isn't much regulation, since the site is built on trust. Your best bet is to proceed with caution.

In the event your purse or wallet is stolen, contact the three credit bureaus immediately. They are:

Equifax, 1-800-685-1111,
Experian, 1-888-397-3242,
Transunion, 1-800-888-4213,

Report a fraud alert and freeze your credit. Next, file a police report to verify the incident and create a paper trail. You can send copies to the credit bureaus with a letter requesting a free copy of your credit report.

Put any disputes of fraudulent applications for credit in writing and include a copy of the police report. Don't forget to call the Department of Motor Vehicles, or the DMV, to thwart the thief from obtaining a duplicate license in your name.

Protect yourself by paying your bills online. Just look for a secure symbol and use caution when entering information. This saves time, postage and possibly late fees caused by misdirected mail.

Today's technical world can be a scary place, full of scams and schemes to take your hard-earned money. But if you use common sense and watch out for these tricks, together we can put criminals out of business. Follow these steps and you can scam-proof your family for life. Be safe!

Helpful Websites

To report child pornography or sexual exploitation:

For information about free credit monitoring:

For sound advice and emotional support:

Reviewed August 2017

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