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Online Safety

Be aware of these scams when you're online.

Online Security and Safety

Scammers may try to use the internet to steal your personal information or trick you into sending them money. Learn how to stay safe online.

Report Cyber Crime

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

  • The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) takes internet-related criminal complaints. After receiving a complaint, IC3 sends it to federal, state, local, or international law enforcement. In addition to filing an IC3 complaint, contact your credit card company. Let them know about unauthorized charges or if you think a scammer stole your credit card number.

  • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) shares consumer complaints and online scams with all levels of law enforcement. While the FTC can’t resolve individual complaints, it can tell you the next steps to take.

  • EConsumer.gov accepts complaints about online shopping and e-commerce transactions with foreign companies.

How to Protect Yourself Online

These tips can help you keep your computer and personal information safe when going online:

Do

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

  • Talk to your kids about being safe and responsible online. Find out how you can 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. It’s also important to learn how to keep your laptop safe from identity theft when you’re in public. 

  • 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. Only trust encrypted sites that begin with “https” (the “s” means they’re secure). They convert your information into a code that prevents exposure to potential scammers.

Internet Fraud

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 and to report internet fraud if you have been victimized.

Types of Internet Fraud

These are the most common examples of internet fraud.

  • Data breaches occur when sensitive data (personal or financial information) is leaked from a secure location. Afterwards, it can be used in an untrusted environment at a corporate or personal level.

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

  • Phishing or spoofing involves the usage of fake emails, text messages, or copycat websites to commit identity theft. Or, it can be used to steal personal information including credit card and bank account numbers, debit card PINs, and account passwords.

  • Internet auction fraud involves the misrepresentation of products from an internet auction site. Or, it can occur when merchandise isn't delivered to a buyer by a seller online as promised.   

  • Credit card fraud occurs when scammers fraudulently acquire credit or debit card numbers to obtain money or property.

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: 

Do

  • 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 anti-virus software and anti-spyware programs. Most types of anti-virus software can be set up to make automatic updates. Spyware protection is any program that protects your personal information online from malware. If your operating system does not offer free spyware protection, you can download it from the internet. Or, you can purchase it at your local computer store. But, be aware of ads on the internet offering downloadable spyware protection which could result in the theft of your information. 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 running all the time. Doing so will make it more prone to spyware and other attacks from hackers and identity thieves.

Phishing and Vishing

Scammers use a variety of methods to try to steal your personal and financial information. They use trusted logos of legitimate companies when sending email. Or, they pretend to be a family member or friend so they can trick you into giving them sensitive information.   

What is Phishing?

In phishing, scammers use fake email, text messages, or copycat websites to steal your identity or personal information. Their goal is to get credit card and bank account numbers, debit card PINs, and account passwords. The scammer may say your account has been compromised or charged incorrectly.

When they contact you, scammers will tell you to click on a link in their email. Or, they’ll ask you to give your bank account number to confirm your identity or verify your account. Sometimes, they may even threaten to disable your account if you don't reply. Don’t believe them. Legitimate companies never ask for your password or account number by email.

How to Protect Yourself from Phishing

Here are some ways to protect yourself from phishing scams:

Do

  • Contact the company if you’re unsure. Don’t call the number or use the links in the email. Instead, find their legitimate website or check a bill or account statement for contact information. Tell a customer service representative about the email and ask if your account has been compromised.

  • Turn on two-factor authentication. This involves accessing an account or website online using your password and another piece of information. This could be a code sent to your phone or a random number generated by an app. This protects your account even if your password has been stolen.

Don’t

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

Report Phishing Scams

Forward phishing email messages to spam@uce.gov or file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Be sure to include the full email header of the fraudulent message. Learn how by searching online for the name of your email service and the words “full email header.”

What are Vishing and Smishing?

Vishing (voice phishing) and smishing (SMS text phishing) are similar scams. Swindlers call or text, pretending to be with a company you know to steal your personal information. They may direct you to call a phone number to verify an account or to reactivate a debit or credit card.

Report Vishing and Smishing Scams

If you receive one of these requests, report it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). They’ll forward it to federal, state, local, or international law enforcement. Also, contact your credit card company. Tell them if you’re disputing unauthorized charges made by scammers on your card or if you suspect your card number was compromised.

You could also become a victim of identity (ID) theft. Visit IdentityTheft.gov to learn how to minimize your risk.

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Last Updated: September 17, 2020

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