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:
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 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.
Scam artists defraud millions of people each year by using internet services or software. These scams trick victims into sending money or giving out personal information. That’s why it’s important to protect yourself, or report internet fraud if you have been victimized.
Types of Internet Fraud
These are the most common examples of internet fraud.
- Data breaches - When sensitive data (personal or financial information) is leaked from a secure location. Afterward, it can be used in an untrusted environment at a corporate or personal level.
- Malware - Malware is dangerous software that is designed to disable computers and computer systems.
- Phishing or spoofing - When scammers use fake emails, text messages, or copycat websites to steal your identity or personal information. This data can include credit card numbers, bank account numbers, debit card PINs, and account passwords.
- Internet auction fraud - This involves the misrepresentation of a product or non-delivery of merchandise for sale on an internet auction site.
- Credit card fraud - This occurs when scammers fraudulently obtain money or property through the unauthorized use of a credit or debit card number.
Report Internet Fraud
If you believe you're a victim of internet fraud or cyber crime, report it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). Or, you can use the FBI’s online tips form.
Your complaint will be forwarded to federal, state, local, or international law enforcement. You will also need to contact your credit card company. Notify them if you are disputing unauthorized charges or if you suspect your credit card number has been compromised.
How to Protect Yourself From Internet Fraud
Take these actions before browsing or shopping for products and services online:
- Learn how to spot internet fraud by knowing the warning signs of common fraud schemes. These schemes include 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. Spyware protection programs prevent software from collecting information from you without your consent. If your operating system doesn’t offer free spyware protection, you can buy it at your local computer store or download it from the internet. But only download programs from a trusted source. Scammers may advertise downloadable spyware protection which could actually be spyware itself.
Don’t keep your computer running all the time. Leaving your computer on for extended periods of time will make it more prone to spyware and other attacks from hackers and identity thieves.
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 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 email@example.com 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:
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 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: August 15, 2019