Account compromised? If you respond to this call, it might be

With nothing else better to do, you might be one of the millions of people who have succumbed to the temptation of internet shopping in the past few months. Don’t worry—I’m not going to judge you. The way I see it, if you don’t ask me what useless things I’ve purchased on Etsy this year, I’m not going to ask you. Nothing empties my wallet faster than boredom.

And anyway, a lot of our increased online shopping this year is out of necessity and self-preservation—at least, that’s what I’ve been telling myself. This isn’t exactly the best time to be milling around in brick-and-mortar stores if you can avoid it.

Then, add Christmas on top, and most of us have been going a little swipe-crazy sitting at home on the computer.

But with increased usage of our cards online, payment processing services like Paypal, logging in and out of our email accounts, and setting up online accounts at retailers we may have only shopped at in person, we open ourselves up to online fraud. We are giving online thieves and scammers infinite opportunities to scam us out of information, steal our card numbers, and snatch our login credentials. The more we put out there, the more there is for someone to steal—that’s just kind of how the internet works, unfortunately.

So getting a fraud alert email, text, or call around this time would be a bummer, but would you question it if you spent the last month running up your credit cards online? Probably not.

Well…it turns out you probably should.

Today the Better Business Bureau published its newest fraud warning regarding bogus fraud alerts about “compromised” accounts, including Amazon, Paypal, and Netflix, to name just a few.

But this can happen with any one of your online accounts. You could receive a fraud alert from your bank, your email client—anywhere you log in, and especially those accounts that could contain sensitive or financial information.

But the compromised account alert is merely just a solicitation to you to get you to compromise your account.

BBB reports this scam is happening via email and phone call. Emails—which may be disguised as coming from legitimate senders and businesses—will send you to a phishing site, asking for your login information and even your Social Security number. In the phone version, the caller tells you that suspicious charges were seen on your account. The caller will either try to get the same information out of you the email version does or will ask you to download a mysterious “anti-malware” program to your device. Spoiler alert: that “anti-malware” program will be malware.

In a stranger version of this call, the caller may direct you to…buy a bunch of Google Play or gift cards in order to…buy back access to your account? I don’t entirely understand the gambit there, but as we’ve discussed before, any time someone asks you to buy pre-paid cards in order to pay for something, it’s a scam. It’s one of the biggest red flags there is.

Just a few months ago, consumers reported calls regarding their Apple accounts being compromised.

In each case, the scammer will either use trusted branded materials or a spoofed legitimate business address to contact you via email or tell you on the phone that they’re an employee of the business in question. It is possible the phone number will be spoofed to appear legitimate, as well.

Whether the scammer contacts you by email or phone, the key here is not to give any personal information up until you can verify what they’re telling you. For example, if someone calls from your bank telling you there are suspicious charges on your account, log into your online banking before you continue the conversation. If there is indeed some kind of freeze or flag on your account, it’ll be pretty obvious once you’ve logged in.

You can also ignore the email or hang up on the call, find the phone number for that business, and call them directly to check on your accounts. If you do this, just make sure you’re getting the phone number for that business from your own search—not from any website or email the caller might give you.

The most important thing to remember—especially with scam callers—is not to let fear or pressure cause you to do something you know isn’t safe. You don’t have to share your information with just anyone who asks for it, no matter what the situation might be. And the more a caller tries to apply pressure or use fear tactics to get that information out of you? The more likely it is they are fraudsters.

Besides. What are they going to do if you don’t? Beat you up over the phone? Don’t let anyone make you feel like you’re doing the wrong thing by being protective of your personal information. Frankly, any business would be happy to know their customers are protective of their information. It saves them a lot of hassle, you know?

So now that the Christmas shopping rush is over, it might be a good time to go through all of your accounts and statements just to make sure everything is in its right place. Keeping an eye on your finances in general is another good way to thwart anyone trying to tell you that you have thousands of dollars in suspicious charges or that your accounts are frozen. Being aware of your spending and the health of all your accounts will make it much harder for someone to lie to you about it.

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