Home > Identity Theft > The 5 Deadly Clicks: The Links You Should Never Touch

Comments 0 Comments

Here’s a scary scenario. You’re innocently surfing the Web, maybe on an unfamiliar site, not paying close attention. Suddenly your computer screen fills with illegal pornographic images of minors. You try to navigate away, but a warning screen branded by the National Security Administration’s Internet Surveillance Program pops up with the message: “Your computer has been locked due to suspicion of illegal content downloading and distribution.”

You are then offered a sort of Hobson’s choice: Pay a fine immediately, or face prosecution for downloading child pornography.

The folks behind that scam were actually based in Russia, SC Magazine reported, not NSA headquarters. The number of people entrapped by this type of scam has been increasing exponentially. According to a recent report from McAfee, an Internet security company, they catalogued fewer than 25,000 samples of ransomware per quarter in the first half of 2011. In the second quarter of 2013 alone, the number of new samples multiplied to more than 320,000, (which was double the number in the first quarter of this year).

“During the past two quarters we have catalogued more ransomware than in all previous periods combined,” MacAfee found. “This trend is also reflected by warnings from law enforcement and federal agencies around the globe.”

If you think the most common cyber scam still involves deposed Nigerian royalty eliciting your help to extract fortunes from African banks, your time machine has stalled. Cyber ninjas have become far more creative, sophisticated and inscrutable. With that in mind, here are five links you should never, ever click.

1. Mobile Apps That Are Unfamiliar to You

It’s easy to think of spam and phishing as email-based scams. But with the rise of mobile devices, scammers have added mobile apps to their repertoire. Malware attacks on Android phones grew by 35% to nearly 18,000 new samples in the second quarter of 2013, according to McAfee.

It appears the onslaught will only grow worse. While the number of attempted mobile device hacks increased by just over a third, the total number of new malware applications discovered by McAfee researchers in the second quarter was double the number found in the first. This trend suggests that cyber scam artists are honing their craft.

Mobile malware takes many forms. It could purport to come from your bank. It could trick you into paying for a fake dating app. Some scammers even “weaponize” legitimate apps, turning real programs into spying machines that siphon your location, contact and other data away from legal enterprises and funnel it into the black market.

How to Avoid It: Control the impulse! Don’t just click on any app no matter how cool it seems at first blush. And just because you see it in the app store doesn’t mean it’s safe. Do the research to make sure it’s the real deal before you download.

2. Remote Access

In the latest and most popular iteration of this scam, con men pose as employees of Microsoft. They send emails, instant messages or texts with warnings that your computer has contracted a virus, and provide a link that you can click so a “Microsoft employee” can fix the problem. The thieves claim to work for different divisions of Microsoft such as Windows Helpdesk and the Microsoft Research and Development Team.

Once the scammers gain access, they “can install malicious software, steal personal information, take control of the computer remotely or direct consumers to fraudulent websites where they are asked to enter their credit card information,” according to the Better Business Bureau.

How to Avoid It: Never trust an unsolicited contact. Only provide personal information or agree to a remote access session when you initiate communication.  If, for some reason, you are contacted by anyone representing an institution with which you have a relationship, always confirm the authenticity and contact information of the organization before you respond and then only to the appropriate department.

3. Porn

While you mindlessly surf the Internet, you may accidentally click on sketchy ads or spam. Or perhaps you get an email with a tantalizing picture or link, which ultimately sends you to a site rife with illegal pornographic images. Such despicable lures are just one part of the larger epidemic of ransomware.

How to Avoid It: Pay attention! Absentminded clicking can land you in a world of pain. Also, deal with businesses that are security minded. These businesses have their websites tested at least annually for vulnerabilities, then fix the security gaps before you get trapped in them.  Intentionally clicking on illegal sites, however, will (and should) entitle you to a one-way ticket to a federal sleep-away camp for a not inconsequential period of time.

4. Authority Scams

Email, texts or phone calls alerting us to issues with our checking accounts, tax returns and credit cards tend to elicit knee-jerk instant responses (and are designed to do so). A natural tendency is to immediately provide whatever personal information is required to identify ourselves and make the problem go away.

This is not lost on scammers, which is what makes “authority scams” so appealing to those on the dark side. From May 2012 through April 2013, 102,100 Internet users globally received phishing attacks every day, twice the number of recipients the previous two years, according to a report by Kapersky Lab, an Internet security company. Of those attempts, 20% involved scammers impersonating banks. Of all fake and deceptive websites, 50% of those discovered by Kapersky attempted to impersonate banks, credit card companies and other financial services such as PayPal.

How to Avoid It: Before clicking any links, entering any username or password information or flinging any kind of precious personal information into the ether, stop, take a breath and think. No reputable financial institution, or government entity, would ever ask you to provide such data via email; nor would they cold-call potential victims of fraud and request sensitive personal data. If you receive an email alerting you to fraud and requesting that you verify by email your account username and password, it is – by definition – a scam.

5. Drug Spam

For nearly as long as there’s been email, there’s been spam. Creative criminals have used lures of all stripes to entice people into clicking on links in their emails. Email has become the “carrier” for malware. The email subject may be about a job, travel, shopping discounts, sex, news, or, the most popular, drugs. McAfee’s research team has found that about 20 percent of all spam emails sent to recipients in the U.S. referenced drugs in the subject line. It’s no wonder with the cost of healthcare in the U.S. that this is a particularly effective subject line.  Delivery service notification, in which fraudsters claiming to be from UPS or FedEx say they could not deliver a package, came in a distant second.

How to Avoid It: Don’t take the bait. Why would you buy drugs from anyone who contacts you blindly over the Internet? Your health, your bank account, or both will suffer. And, if you’re expecting a package, contact the shipper directly.

These scams will continue as long as people will fall for them. It’s all about fear, carelessness, curiosity or distraction — any of which can lead to financial issues, health implications or being labeled a criminal — even a sexual predator. The convenience and access of the Internet creates vulnerabilities, opportunities and also requires personal responsibility. Before you click, weigh each against the other and do the smart thing.

Image: iStock

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

Certain credit cards and other financial products mentioned in this and other articles on Credit.com News & Advice may also be offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com will be compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for any of these cards or products. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Our Owners

Credit.com is owned by Progrexion Holdings Inc. which is the owner and administrator of a number of business related to credit and credit repair, including CreditRepair.com, and eFolks. In addition, Progrexion also provides services to Lexington Law Firm as a third party provider. Despite being owned by Progrexion, it is not the role of the Credit.com editorial team to advocate the use of the company’s other services. In articles, reporters may mention credit repair as an option, for example, but we’ll also be sure to note the various alternatives to that service. Furthermore, you may see ads for credit repair services on Credit.com, but the editorial team isn’t responsible for the creation or implementation of those ads, anymore than reporters for the New York Times or Washington Post are responsible for the ads on their sites.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team