Thursday, November 15, 2018

4 Reasons you need to be Hyper-Vigilant Clicking Ads

During the last few months of the year the variety and number of ads and emails increases exponentially. Consumer spending is traditionally higher during this time which helps retailers clear out product and bolster company profits. As consumers spend more during this time of year, they are also looking for purchases that make the best use of their money. 

Unfortunately, with more purchases being made, hackers proportionally increase the number of scam emails and infected ads. The end result is that end users are at a consistently higher risk of running across one. In addition to an increase in infected ads and emails, this time of year is fraught with events, commitments and more limited time. If we allow ourselves to be rushed, we are more likely to make less informed decisions. This can end up costing us time to remedy, money to fix and a great deal of frustration.

4 Reasons you Need to be Hyper-Vigilant Clicking Ads

Listed below are four things to consider before opening emails or clicking ads during the holiday season.

1. Consider the source

Did you subscribe to the company, product, newsletter, or purchase from this company in the past? When you purchase from a company and give them your email account, it is often added to a mailing list for future communications including offers. If I were to order from the same company 4 - 6 times a year, I would expect email communications from them as I have proven to be a consistent customer. 

On the other hand, when I get emails from companies I have never heard of, and am sure I did not sign up for, I often delete them. Keep in mind that just because I have not heard of the company does not automatically make those emails a scam, it simply means I am going to be more cautious of them. Also, it is possible the company is not the originating sender, but that someone else spoofed their email hoping I would open it.

For example, when receiving emails from a bank stating you need to update your password, but you do not actually bank with them, you immediately know it is a bogus email. In all likelihood, the email did not originate with the named bank, but rather with some nefarious party hoping someone will click their link and give away their credentials. This is merely a numbers game. In this example, nearly everyone banks and by using a common bank name they can be certain to hit a percentage of actual customers. 

In summary, always consider the source and whether or not it makes sense for someone from that company to email you.

2. Consider the offer

Does the offer sound too good to be true? While retailers do occasionally offer greatly discounted pricing, sometimes even up to 70% off, this is only common with clothing retailers who consistently need to make room for new product, and companies selling perishable items that must be sold or destroyed. A recent scam using the reputation of Costco presented an offer promising $75 coupons to celebrate their 50th anniversary. 

First, it is not their 50th anniversary which can easily be found with a quick internet search. Second, a $75 coupon for a 50th anniversary is illogical but the scammers figured who wouldn't want a $75 coupon. Costco is such a big brand that even if only 1% of their exposed customers clicked the ad and responded to all the survey questions, hackers could gather a vast amount of information.

In summary, ask yourself it the offer makes sense before clicking.  

3. Is it worth the risk

Stop to question if the offer is something you need. Even if the offer is buy 1 get 6 free, which is a ridiculous offer but makes a point, if it is for a product you do not need, why risk the security of your device and data by clicking the ad? Any ad that goes unclicked and emails that go unopened help maintain the security of the device. 

If you find yourself questioning the ad, do a quick Internet search to see if there are reports of it being a scam. You can also protect yourself by making sure you have actively running anti-malware software but keep in mind this is not a free ticket to clicking any and every link you come across! Lastly, use a tablet or lesser needed device to click on ads just in case the device becomes infected. Using a less critical device can be a lifesaver if something bad does happen.

In summary, consider if the deal is something you actually need and if it is worth risking your device.

4. I think I clicked on something bad

If you think you may have been scammed, and malware may have made it onto your device, run an anti-malware scan to remove any potential risks. If you do not actively have any anti-malware software, consider downloading a free version like Malwarebytes. The free version will run a scan against the device, determine and remove threats. 

It is always better to have actively running malware protection, but in the absence of one, the free versions can be extremely helpful. Many times they are the difference between a usable and absolutely useless device. It is important to note that no one software will catch every threat every time, therefore, a second software can sometimes be helpful.

In summary, if you think you have clicked on something you should not have, or if your device suddenly behaves differently, it is best to be certain your device is clean. Run a local anti-malware scan and remove any located threats.

We are entering the holiday season, and as a result a larger number of sales, ads, emails and catalogs will swiftly be coming our way. Be cautious of digital ads and offers as they may not be what they seem. Ask if you are familiar with the company, if the deal seems reasonable, if you are in need of the item being offered and know what to do if you accidentally click on something you should not have. It is important to remember what you are putting at risk by clicking on ads and email links.

As always, knowing what to look out for, and what to do if you feel like you may be victim to a scam, is critical in keeping your devices and your data secure.

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