Everyone loves a new toy. Buying a new electronic device should be an exciting moment. Who doesn’t love that visceral thrill of unpacking your new phone or laptop and switching it on for the first time? Checking out the new features for you to play with, the new noises it makes, and the different ways it lights up are all part of the experience and nothing should be allowed to spoil that.
But, just like in a contract negotiation, the scammers hover over everything. Our devices – and especially our smartphones – contain more work, personal and financial data than ever before. And while manufacturers keep working to make our phones, tablets, and PCs more and more secure, they are only ever one step ahead of the ever-adapting hackers.
Fortunately, there are a number of practical steps you can take today to help keep your devices safe and secure:
- Take a few moments to check the security settings on your devices to ensure everything’s as up-to-date as it could be. Most manufacturers provide guidance on how to secure your kit. They will usually release software updates regularly containing new features, fixes for bugs, and performance improvements. They will often also have security patches and new security features – specially designed to fix known bugs – both of which it’s important to install.
- If you’re selling your phone or computer, your photocopier, or a multifunction printer (MFD), it’s crucial that you delete all your personal data from it. All MFDs or copiers that can scan or fax, have a hard drive that will store a copy of what you scan or fax from day one going forward. So when you dispose of your copier it is important to wipe or exchange the hard drive or your personal information could be accessed by the next person who buys it – wherever they may around the world. There’s a great Government website here full of tips and advice on how to wipe all personal traces from a device you’re looking to sell.
- Consider an upgrade. Some older devices no longer benefit from software upgrades as the manufacturer – and let’s be honest here – wants you to buy their latest model. If an upgrade is out of the question (and who doesn’t still love their blue iPhone 5C?) there are tips you can use to help protect yourself.
Don’t be a phish out of water
Once you’ve made your device as secure as you possibly can, the war against hackers is far from over. Anyone with a junk email basket will recognise the messages notifying you of your $16million win on the Angolan national lottery (even though you don’t remember buying a ticket) or the widow from the American deep south who inexplicably wants to pay her dead husband’s $10million fortune straight into your bank account.
Fortunately, most of these are so poorly written that our inbox filters and security systems immediately spot them for what they are. But the cybercriminals only have to be lucky once – you have to be vigilant every single time you receive a message.
How to spot a scammer
I’ve talked before about the importance of due diligence, stopping and thinking about what’s happening in a deal or transaction can often reveal the truth about what’s really going on. Scammers play on this and try to not give you that time to think. If any message makes you even remotely suspicious, stop and consider the language it uses. Scams often feature one or more of these tell-tale signs:
- Authority – does the message seem to be from someone official, like your bank or the Government? Criminals often pretend to be important people to trick you.
- Urgency – are you being threatened that you only have 24 hours to act? Think about it, how often do genuinely urgent situations present themselves via a text message from a stranger?
- Emotion – does the message make you panic, scared, hopeful, or curious? Criminals often use threatening language, claim to be helpful, or tease you into wanting to find out more.
- Current events – are you expecting to see a message like this? Criminals often exploit current news stories, big events, or specific times of year (like Christmas) to make their scams seem more relevant.
If you have any doubts about a message, contact the organisation directly. Never use the numbers or addresses in the message – contact them via their official website. And remember, your bank will never ask you to supply personal information via email.
Top tips to protect yourself
I know you’ve heard it before but it really is true – a strong, separate password can save you a load of trouble. If you’ve used the same password across different accounts, cybercriminals only need one lucky guess to plunder all your accounts. So, to protect your emails, always use a password you don’t use for any of your other accounts, either at home or at work.
Apply updates as soon as they drop. If you receive a prompt to update your device (or apps), don’t ignore it. Applying these updates is one of the most important (and quickest) things you can do to keep yourself safe online.
Turn on Two-Step Verification. This involves you entering a PIN or code to access a website or complete a transaction to prove that it’s really you. It only takes a couple of minutes to set up and, once done, adds a welcome security blanket.
And don’t forget to back it up. You can safeguard your most important data, such as your photos and key documents, by backing them up to an external hard drive or a cloud-based storage system.
So if you have just bought a new phone or tablet or if you are regularly using your device for banking or for financial transactions, be sure to take precautions. You can’t put a price on peace of mind.
With 53 years in the industry, we know every trick in the book. If you need help identifying possible scammers, schedule a call today.