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SOUTH SHORE: Cyberscams rampant these days

Published on: July 3, 2018

Be informed

Learn how to avoid being ‘taken’ in a scam


As recently as last week, several Sun City Center residents reported being victimized over the internet, and thousands of their hard-earned dollars were lost for good.

Community Resource Deputy Jeff Merry, of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, wants to keep online predators from scamming residents out of their money. He’s presenting free talks on cybersecurity June 10 and 17 in Sun City Center. The public is invited.

Community Resource Deputy Jeff Merry, of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, wants to keep this from happening by informing residents how to protect themselves, their data and their computers from online predators.

“These criminals are purporting to be representatives of well-known companies who claim you have a problem and they can fix it,” Merry said. “The moment you click on the link they provide, they have access to your computer and anything in it — things like your bank records, financial software and tax records.”   

On July 10 and 17, he and cybersecurity expert Chris Kirkland, of Harvard Risk Management, will explain how various scams work and provide tips and details on how to avoid falling prey to them in three public presentations on cybersecurity.       

Residents of Sun City Center and surrounding communities are invited to any of them. All will take place in Sun City Center at the following times and places:

• 10 a.m., July 10, Caper Room, Sun City Center Community Association Atrium, 945 N. Course Lane

• 1 p.m. July 10, Ripple Room, Kings Point North Club, 1900 Clubhouse Drive

• 11 a.m., July 17, Freedom Auditorium, Freedom Plaza, 1010 American Eagle Blvd.

Anyone can be victimized but seniors are often the most vulnerable. They can become easily confused and manipulated.

“In my experience, many just aren’t tech savvy or up-to-date on the latest threats,” Kirkland said. “Some simply don’t have situational awareness, and they’re very trusting of others.”

The figures are staggering. People fall victim to scams every day.

“In 2017, there were $1.5 trillion in losses worldwide (including individuals and companies),” Kirkland said. “Those are huge numbers.

“Ninety percent (of those losses) start with a phone call or email phishing scam. I will be talking about what to look for.”

Merry said 81 percent of home computers lack basic security protection.

“On average, victims lose more than $5,000,” he said.

One of last week’s victims lost about $20,000 by responding to a pop-up on the computer and nearly lost 10 times that amount had Merry and a relative not stopped the transaction from proceeding.    

The following are some tips to follow for online safety provided by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security:

• Cybercriminals operate anonymously online. Never give information about yourself or provide access to your computer to anyone you don’t know.

• Personal information includes more than your name, address and phone number. Never provide strangers with your birth date, email address, social security number, account numbers and so on.

• Unless you’re on a reputable website, don’t enter contests, join clubs or give personal information of any kind.

• Don’t open attachments, click links or respond to emails from unknown senders. Don’t update or confirm personal information requested of you via email or online.   

• If it’s too good to be true, it is. Free gifts, vacation packages or prizes offered through emails are bogus, and the information you provide to redeem them can be used for criminal purposes like identity theft.

Other tips (provided by Home Instead Senior Care) include thinking before responding to emails claiming immediate action is required; adjusting your browser’s safety settings for optimum security; clearing your browser history frequently; making sure you have a strong firewall and security software; logging out of apps and websites to protect your privacy and security; and use strong passwords (a mix of letters, numbers and symbols).  

If you’ve been victimized via the Internet, over the phone or through email, call the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office at 813-247-8200, or Merry or Michelle Mortimer at 813-242-5515.