Tis the season to be jolly and wary. I was reminded of this in several ways this week. First, a group of quilt designers sent up a red flag to others about receiving emails about postage due on packages they have never sent…. Then, PayPal sent a wonderful guide on how to recognize and report these scams. Many banks are sending alerts to both shops and consumers to be leery of suspicious emails, texts and phone calls during this busy shopping season.

I wanted to pass some of these along for your safety. In my former life, the companies I worked for and with provided extensive training to keep their servers safe. That has helped me keep my computer and phone safe as well. I am not a computer or security expert, so this is not professional advice. It is simply tricks I use based upon guidance I have received from experts.

In this article, I will provide links to sites that give more information. The first lesson is about making sure links are safe BEFORE clicking on them. Most computers and phones allow you to hover over a link without clicking it. When you hover over the link, the address for the link shows up. That address should first look like where you think you are going. In other words, if you think you are going to a quilting site, the site name should be clearly identified like www.doyoueq.com.  That is the website for Electric Quilt’s blog – Do You EQ. They look the same.  If the address looked like www.czkyf12.ru.  you should be leery. The address looks NOTHING like where you want to go. This is a BOGUS website. Some authors will provide the web address in the text (www.doyoueq.com). The safest way to reach this site is to retype the address in your browser. Then,you know exactly where you are going – fewer risks with unpleasant surprises. Generally secure sites will state they are secure, have an HTTPS prefix rather then HTTP prefix, or have a lock icon next to the address.

The second tip is how to recognize scam emails. First, there is generally a generic greeting like “dear customer.” If this email were from an account you own or a subscription you use, it should identify you by name. Second, the email address may look weird. It may be misspelled, have mixed fonts, or have a strange structure like “Service@PayPal.com”. The logos on the email may be odd or out of date. The email may have misspellings or very poor grammar. They will be sneaky and add what look like valid reference numbers. Don’t be fooled.

Scam emails get you to open them because they convey a sense of urgency. You may see phrases like “your account is suspended, ” “you have won,” “you have overpaid,” “your account has been closed,” etc. Once you open the email, it will direct you to click a link for more information or open an attachment to get more details. This is where the bugs lie. Just think of it as picking up a rock and finding a brown recluse spider or scorpion under it. It is the equivalent!

If you aren’t sure if the email is legitimate, use your browser or app to go directly to the source. Do not use the email or text links. Log into your account and check the information there. If you still are not sure, use the website/app to find their customer service number and call the institution directly. They will ask you a series of questions, which you have already set up to verify the identity. Don’t be fooled into giving full information like your social security or account number. Usually, they only ask for the last four digits.

I have gone through this exercise a few times myself. There are some very convincing scams claiming to be Apple, Amazon, or PayPal. I checked my accounts and they looked fine. Then, I called customer service to verify. In each case, I was told I was safe, reassured that they don’t send emails for this sort of thing. They send messages through the postal service or app. Many times, they ask to have the email forwarded to them so their inhouse security experts can work to track the scamming culprits. Once, I even got a call from the IRS that I wasn’t sure was real. So, I called my local IRS office and asked to speak with a representative about the situation. You cannot be too careful with your personal identity or financial information.

For more information, contact your financial institutions and shopping sites for additional insight into keeping your accounts safe. Happy quilting!