Online Safety

Be aware of these scams when you're online.

Online Security and Safety

The internet makes many everyday tasks faster and more convenient, like shopping and banking, but it's important to be safe and responsible online. Scammers use the internet to try to trick you into sending them money or your personal information.

Report Cyber Crime

If you believe you have been a victim of an internet-related crime, report it to these government authorities:

  • The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) refers internet-related criminal complaints to federal, state, local, or international law enforcement. Keep in mind, you will need to contact your credit card company directly to notify them if you are disputing unauthorized charges on your card or if you suspect that your credit card number has been compromised.  

  • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) shares consumer complaints covering a wide range of categories, including online scams, with local, state, federal, and foreign law enforcement partners. It cannot resolve individual complaints but can give you information on the next steps to take.

  • EConsumer.gov accepts complaints about online and related transactions with foreign companies.

  • The Department of Justice (DOJ) helps you report computer, internet-related, or intellectual property crime to the proper agency based on the scope of the crime.

How to Protect Yourself

Here are some ways to keep your computer and personal information safe when going online:

Do

  • Learn how to spot common scams and fraud - Find out the warning signs of internet fraud, phishing, and other online scams.

  • Update your computer software - Download the latest versions of your operating system, web browsers, and apps.

  • Talk to your kids about being safe and responsible online - If you are a parent, help protect your kids online by teaching them about the risks.

Don’t

  • Don’t share your passwords or sensitive information with anyone you don’t trust - Think about why someone needs it and if you can really trust the request. Laptop security is also important when using a portable computer in public to help prevent all your valuable information stored on it from falling into the hands of an identity thief.

  • Don’t use the same passwords for multiple accounts - Try to make your passwords unpredictable and avoid using names, dates, or common words.

  • Don’t give out personal information over unencrypted websites - When shopping or banking online, only use websites that use encryption to protect your information as it goes from your computer to their server.

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Internet Fraud

Scam artists defraud millions of people each year by using internet services or software with internet access to trick victims into sending money or giving out personal information. That’s why it’s important to take steps to protect yourself from and report internet fraud.

Types of Internet Fraud

Common examples of internet fraud include:

  • Data breaches - When sensitive data (personal or financial information) is leaked from a secure location to an untrusted environment at a corporate or personal level

  • Malware - This involves dangerous software that is designed to disable computers and computer systems.

  • Phishing or spoofing - When a scammer uses fake email, text messages, or copycat websites to try to steal your identity or personal information, such as credit card numbers, bank account numbers, debit card PINs, and account passwords

  • Internet auction fraud - This involves the misrepresentation of a product advertised for sale on an internet auction site, or non-delivery of merchandise.   

  • Credit card fraud - When scammers fraudulently obtain money or property through the unauthorized use of a credit or debit card or card number

Report Internet Fraud

If you believe you've been a victim of internet fraud or cyber crime, report it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) or by using the FBI’s online tips form.

Your complaint will be forwarded to federal, state, local, or international law enforcement. You will need to contact your credit card company directly to notify them if you are disputing unauthorized charges from scammers on your card or if you suspect your credit card number has been compromised.  

How to Protect Yourself

Take these actions before browsing or shopping for products and services on the internet:

Do

  • Learn how to spot internet fraud - Find out the warning signs of common fraud schemes, including phishing or spoofing, data breaches, and malware.

  • Know your buyer or seller - If you don't know who you're buying from or selling to online, do some research.

  • Update your antivirus software and antispyware programs - Most types of antivirus software can be set up to make automatic updates. If your operating system does not offer free spyware protection (programs to prevent software from collecting information about you without your consent), you can find inexpensive software to download from the internet or at your local computer store. But be careful of ads on the internet offering downloadable spyware. You should only install programs from a trusted source.

Don’t

  • Don’t give out your personal information to anyone you don’t trust - Never provide it in response to an email, a pop-up, or a website you've linked to from an email or web page.

  • Don’t keep your computer on all the time - Leaving your computer running all the time will make it more prone to spyware and other attacks from hackers and identity thieves.

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Phishing and Vishing

Scammers use a variety of methods to try to steal your personal and financial information. They often try to make you feel comfortable with giving up your sensitive information by spoofing trusted logos of legitimate companies in an email or by pretending to be a family member or friend on the phone.  

Phishing

Phishing is when a scammer uses fake email, text messages, or copycat websites to try to steal your identity or personal information, such as credit card numbers, bank account numbers, debit card PINs, and account passwords. The scammer may state that your account has been compromised or that one of your accounts was charged incorrectly.

A scammer will instruct you to click on a link in the email or reply with your bank account number to confirm your identity or verify your account. They will sometimes threaten to disable your account if you don't reply, but don't believe it. Legitimate companies never ask for your password or account number by email.

Report Phishing Scams

Forward phishing email messages to spam@uce.gov or file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Include the full email header of the scam message in your report. Find out how to do this by searching online for the name of your email service and the words “full email header.”

How to Protect Yourself

Here are some ways to protect yourself from phishing scams:

Do

  • Reach out if you’re unsure - If you believe that a company needs personal information from you, call the number from their legitimate website or your address book. Do not call the number or use the links in the email. Tell the customer service representative about the request and ask if your account has been compromised.

  • Turn on two-factor authentication - If your account supports it, you can set it up to require your password and an additional piece of information (code sent to your phone or a random number generated by an app) when you log in. This protects your account even when your password has been stolen.

Don’t

  • Don't click on any links or attachments in the email.  Any links, attachments, or phone numbers that you click on may contain a virus that can harm your computer. Even if links in the email say the name of the company, don't trust them. They may redirect to a fake website.

Vishing and Smishing

Similar to phishing, vishing (voice and phishing) and smishing (SMS texting and phishing) scammers also seek to steal your personal information. However, these scams target your mobile or landline phone instead of your computer. You may be directed to call a phone number to verify an account or to reactivate a debit or credit card.

Report Vishing and Smishing Scams

If you have received one of these requests, report it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). Your complaint will be forwarded to federal, state, local, or international law enforcement. You will need to contact your credit card company directly to notify them if you are disputing unauthorized charges on your card from scammers, or if you suspect your credit card number has been compromised.

Victims of these scams could also become victims of identity (ID) theft. Visit IdentityTheft.gov to learn how to minimize your risk.

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Last Updated: September 21, 2017

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