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ANOTHER VIEW | ADAPTED FROM THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT AND DAILY PRESS

Editorial: Scammers hope to have a big 2023. Help stop them.

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Scams - OPINION USE

Be skeptical of big promises, don’t disclose personal information, and never agree to purchase gift cards or withdraw money at the behest of a random call or anonymous email.

As crimes such as identity theft, fraud and scams proliferate in frequency and grow annually in severity, there is no better time than now to address this threat and adopt some tried-and-true best practices to guard yourself against those with ill intent.

While figures from 2022 will be released later this year, the Federal Trade Commission’s numbers from 2021 confirm that more Americans than ever have either been the victims of scammers or targets of their nefarious efforts.

The FTC received more than 5.7 million reports in 2021, a staggering total which includes 2.8 million fraud complaints and 1.4 million identity theft reports. Nearly 1 million complaints were “imposter scams” that cost consumers more than $2.3 billion, and fraud accounted for $5.8 billion in financial losses in 2021.

While these crimes should be pursued vigorously by the justice system, that remedy only helps hold fraudsters and scammers accountable for their dastardly acts. Consumers’ goal, then, should be to protect against theft by securing their accounts, being savvy about spotting potential fraud attempts and remaining vigilant throughout the year.

The first, and easiest, way to guard against online theft is to use strong passwords — or, better yet, pass phrases — that can thwart easy hacking. Don’t use the same password for multiple sites and choose complex passwords, with a variety of numbers, letters and symbols, for better protection.

Stop using “123456″ or “password” to secure your accounts. Inexplicably, those are still the most common passwords (which may help explain why fraud is such a problem). And change your passwords regularly; the new year is a great time to conduct a full audit of your passwords.

Email scams and other types of “phishing” accounts are similarly successful because recipients click on email links without considering if they are a threat. It takes a little more time and discipline to read every email thoroughly, but it can prevent a host of headaches down the line. But the FTC report confirms that online scams don’t represent the totality of criminals’ fraud attempts. Email scams can be accompanied by phone calls, which tend to target older Americans. Callers claim the target has been selected as a contest winner or they spin a romantic yarn — anything that exploits emotions for an easy windfall.

It’s an old adage but it holds true: If it sounds too good to believe, it probably is. Be skeptical of big promises, don’t disclose personal information, and never agree to purchase gift cards or withdraw money at the behest of a random call or anonymous email.

If you are the victim of fraud or suspect someone is trying to swindle you, file a report with the FTC at reportfraud.ftc.gov to help protect others.

Scammers will continue to try to find vulnerable targets they can exploit for profit. This year, stand resolute against them by adopting these small changes that can make a big difference in your financial security.

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