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FBI, Apps Help Users Take Aim At Internet Scams

March 7, 2018

By Eric Seiverling

Ever get the urge to open that email you’ve just received that says you’ve been awarded a large sum of money from a secret lottery?

Do you get pangs of fear when you receive a notice from a financial institution stating you owe money and legal action will be taken against you unless you follow their instructions to settle your debt?

Resist the urge to open those emails, as it’s likely a cyber scam that uses malware, phishing, viruses, and spoofing to steal your information and your money.

“A cyber scam is anything that initiates from the computer,” said Greg Nelsen, a 17-year-veteran of the FBI and an assistant special agent overseeing cyber intelligence at the bureau’s Pittsburgh branch. “Most people receive three to four emails a day saying they owe money now and there’s a real sense of urgency. But those emails usually contain malware attachments and get access to your bank account information. They can go in and move your money around.”

Kelly Wesolosky, community outreach coordinator of the FBI's Pittsburgh branch, leads a discussion about cyber safety.

Kelly Wesolosky, community outreach coordinator of the FBI’s Pittsburgh branch, leads a discussion about cyber safety.

And with the combination of children having more access to the Internet for school use and more senior citizens using computers to stay in contact with family members, online thieves show no signs of slowing down.

According to the Insurance Information Institute’s 2017 Identity Fraud Survey, $16 billion was stolen from more than 15 million U.S. consumers in 2016. According to the institute, identity thieves have stolen over $107 billion since 2010.

“The elderly are just as likely to be a victim as are kids,” Nelsen said. “They have a lack of experience on the Internet, and the scams play on their emotional side. You need to have similar conversations with kids as you do with senior citizens. A big part of keeping kids safe is for parents to talk to their kids about online security. Knowing what your kids are clicking on is very important.”

To help parents keep their kids safe while online, the FBI has developed the Safe Online Surfing (SOS) Internet Challenge, a free educational school program for children grades three through eight that covers age-appropriate topics such as cyberbullying, passwords, malware, social media, and more.

The programs use graphics and content to help students surf their way through a variety of Internet safety challenges at each grade level, with characters guiding them through the games.

The latest versions of the challenges now can be used on tablets, and the program provides teachers with a curriculum that meets state and Internet safety mandates.

The SOS programs are open to the public, but to participate in the testing and challenges, teachers must register their classes with the FBI.

Each month from September through May, the classes with the top exam scores nationwide are awarded an FBI-SOS certificate of recognition.

For adults and senior citizens who want online protection without a learning curve, antivirus programs can be installed on computers and run in the background without any interference to the user.

Popular antivirus programs include McAfee Antivirus Plus, Norton Antivirus Basic, Webroot Secure Anywhere Antivirus, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus, and Kaspersky Antivirus, five programs recently named Editor’s Choice in PCMag’s Best Antivirus Protection of 2018.

Making things even easier, Comcast has included at no cost the Norton Security Suite in its XFINITY Internet package.

The Norton Security Suite offers keyboard encryption and a secure web browser to protect bank information, passwords, and personal files.

“Comcast is committed to helping its customers and their families stay safe online by providing the Norton Security Suite free for all of its Internet customers,” said Bob Grove, vice president of communications for Comcast’s Keystone Region. “This simple tool gives customers protections from a wide range of viruses, worms, and other malware that could harm their devices and regularly scans and removes bots and malware once detected.”

But what do you do if you become a victim of an online scam?

The FBI recommends using its website IC3, which accepts online Internet crime complaints as well tips on Internet crime prevention tips and advice on how to spot an Internet crime scheme. 

“It’s an important resource that helps us collect information,” Nelsen said. “Unfortunately, we get a high number of complaints per week. But, I don’t want want people to be afraid of the Internet. It’s a great place.”