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Scam and safety: IT experts weigh in on staying vigilant of scams

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A call from a number you don’t recognize, a text message asking you to click a strange link, an email asking you to update your payment information – all potential forms of scams that can put one in a bad position.

Phone or computer scams can happen to anyone, and with the holidays there are many folks who find themselves online more often. To help with the increase in this threat, Applied Connective Technologies President Ed Knott broke down what these threats look like and how to avoid them.

Applied Connective Technologies is a managed technologies service provider. They offer managed IT services, phone systems, physical security, infrastructure, and audio/video solutions for small and medium businesses, some government entities and school districts throughout Nebraska.

“We’re kind of on the frontlines as it relates to the cyber security threats and protecting in points and computers and users from those types of things,” Knott said.

From the technology side, Knott said email has been the biggest “threat factor” as far as risks go – both personal and business emails. A lot of activity such as ransomware, money fraud and other similar type threats originate through emails.

Phishing is something that is discussed and is seen often but what is being seen more is spear phishing or targeted phishing, he said. Phishing has the same email message going out to multiple users with only some users taking the negative action wanted by the “bad guys.” Targeted phishing is targeting an individual or business/organizations. Knott explained that the bad guys will learn about that business/organization, who it does business with, how they do business and look for opportunities to do bad using that learned information.

These opportunities would be things like money transfers, bill payments and other actions like that, he said.

Applied Connective Technologies has worked with local businesses where the email of a vendor they’ve used has potentially been compromised. If a bad guy gets into the vendor’s information, they can change account information, payment information, register a similar domain, etc., and that could lead to trouble for that business.

“If someone you are doing business with, if they are compromised, you really have to look out for red flags,” Knott said. “Typically you know. You’ve been in communication with this vendor, you know what that communication looks like and sounds like and the questions they ask. So if anything is outside of the norm – like Julie doesn’t usually say that or type that or sign off her emails that way – those are indicators that something suspicious is going on there.”

What they always recommend at Applied Connective is anytime you have a change regarding payment or account numbers and other actions required that come in through in your email, to call that business or vendor to confirm that change is legit. Knott said when they see fraud happen in this type of situation, it could have easily been avoided if the user picks up the phone and calls to confirm. Not relying solely on email and picking up the phone to confirm goes a long way, he added.

Actions to take to avoid falling victim to fraud includes being active with accounts such as calling if you see a change come through your email, as explained above. You should also make sure your anti-virus software is up to date and be careful what you click, download and run on your device. Practice safe browsing by only clicking on trusted sites and look at the domain closely.

“There’s a lot of bad things going on in the cyberworld and … Midwestern values of just trusting people and helping people a lot of times will be our biggest flaw when you get someone trying to take advantage on the phone," Knott said. "Make sure you question them and understand their intentions because we’re all just a little too quick to offer up valuable information or try to be of assistance when you think there is a problem.”

Phone call fraud has been around a long time but now there are more and more text messages used for fraud. The message looks like it’s coming from a trusted vendor or an acquaintance but if you look at it closely it is not, Knott said.

“The phone side of things is a real concern,” Knott said. “We’ve seen a couple of things: it’s really easy for anybody to acquire a phone number for pretty much any location. I can be foreign based but get a Columbus phone number. I can have the caller ID – I can come up with whatever description I want and then I can start calling local users posing as a local business.”

The other situation they see frequently is a call from what appears to be a known business such as Apple or Microsoft telling the user that they need to update payment information, that their account has been compromised and they need to change their password, etc. Knott said typically those businesses will send an email not call.

One option you have in a situation where it sounds legit and you are unsure what to do is you can state you prefer to hang up and call back on the published, known number from that business, he said. This helps you to confirm that you are talking to the correct person and the request is legit.

Another problem that has been seen on the phone side is fake phone numbers for businesses. If you Google a phone number for HP printers, for example, the first few numbers that come up are not legit numbers. Knott explained the person on the other line, after a few moments of conversation will request remote access to your computer and soon after that they have installed some software that you need to pay for. Or Ransomware can be used to encrypt your files and you need to pay or take some action to get access to your files again.

Sometimes this is legit, he added, but there are a lot of bogus or fraudulent ones and the users end up in a bad situation. Again he emphasized to look at the URL closely to you are going to the correct vendor website. Always vet who you are speaking on the phone with as well.

Although Applied Connective does not handle individual computer work, you can find educational information online for free and there are local businesses such as Connecting Point in Columbus, that can help with computer repair and support. They will, however, take calls and make recommendations at 866-358-0109. The Applied Connective Columbus office is located at 4471 41st Ave. Suite 201. If you suspect fraud, you can also contact authorities.

Monica Garcia is the managing editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at hannah.schrodt@lee.net.

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