Amongst the Twitter accounts I follow, there’s one that goes by the name of “Tweets Of Old” (http://twitter.com/tweetsofold/). It presents ancient newspaper headlines, largely for amusement’s sake.
Late last week, the brains behind Tweets Of Old unearthed this gem:
“BEWARE! A band of confidence operators, with a spurious baking powder scheme,are roaming the vicinity, to prey upon our housewives.”
Those interested in spurious baking powder schemes can read the whole sorry story here (http://tweetsofold.com/2010/09/beware-a-band-of-confidence-operators-with-a-spurious-baking-powder-schemeare-roaming-the-vicinity-to-prey-upon-our-housewives/), but I suspect the baking powder confidence tricksters are by now long gone.
The headline dates from 1885, but it shows something that still applies today and particularly applies to technology. Back then, the technology was pretty simple stuff — a stove and some baking powder — and now the technology is much more complicated. PCs. Smartphones. Email. Web browsers. There’s all sorts of potential security holes to worry about. Having good anti-virus/anti-spyware software is a highly sensible step, but it won’t do much if the weakest link in the chain is you — and all too often it is.
Every single day I get hundreds of email entries ostensibly from Paypal, or the iTunes Music Store, or the Commonwealth Bank, or any number of recently deposed African dictators with sad stories to tell and untold wealth to share. I ignore them all, because they’re just simple scams designed to deceive (and often panic) me into clicking a link, or give up some information (such as my account login details) with a fake copy of the actual merchant store login page. There are subtle hints that give the game away, such as poor spelling, or hovering over a link to see where it redirects, but realistically the best way to combat this kind of thing is stop, take a breath, and think.
Nobody in the entire world wants to give you their millions. Sorry, but it’s true. Likewise, if your financial institution (or favourite online store) sends you a message telling you your account’s about to be suspended — or approved for thousands of dollars worth of purchases — then you’ve got a right to be concerned. Certainly, that’s sensible, but it’s equally sensible to ignore any links in emails telling you this kind of thing. Fire up a fresh web browser, manually type in the URL and log in as you usually would. If the email was genuine in the first place, you can be sure there’ll be a message waiting for you there. If there’s no message, it’s a scam, pure and simple.
Pure and simple scams have been around for hundreds of years, but they only work if we invite them to work upon us. A little forethought, and doing your own research can save you from the perils of not only the loss of cash, but also identity theft, destruction of your credit history and any number of spin-off scams and problems.