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The internet connects billions of people from around the globe. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, the ability to communicate with people through social media and other electronic means was a big positive.

However, some take advantage of others online in an effort to scam people out of money.

David Croft, chair of the cybersecurity, blockchain and cryptocurrency practice groups at Meyers Roman Friedberg & Lewis in Woodmere, and Dan Powell, managing attorney with Minc Law in Orange, said there are many ways hackers and scammers take advantage of unsuspecting victims.

Croft said during COVID-19, there were hackers coming out of the woodwork to use the pandemic to their advantage. When everybody went remote, there weren’t very many protections in place to handle that much bandwidth or that much remote work. And therefore, a lot of people were getting hacked very easily.

Another situation he cited was when scammers got information from business owners that were hoping to get a Paycheck Protection Program loan. Business owners were quick, Croft said, to send their information to people during their time of need.

“Any kind of major event is going to make it that much more attractive for the scammers and hackers to take advantage of individuals,” Croft said. “Whether it’s Christmas, Thanksgiving or any other holiday, scammers are going to find a way in or find a niche. And they’re going to use it to their advantage.”

Powell warned about impersonation accounts on social media sites such as Instagram or Facebook. These accounts will impersonate an account of someone you already know – such as your mother or grandfather – and copy their profile picture and biographical information. They will then add you as a friend and act as if they are a family member or friend you already know.

“(Hackers) tend to do this with older people’s Facebook accounts,” Powell said. “People that aren’t terribly active on Facebook or other social media. But the trick is that you accept the request, and then they can message you. They strike up a conversation with you, asking how you’re doing. Eventually, it gets to the point that, for one reason or another, they need money, or maybe there is some kind of good cause or there’s an opportunity to make money.

Powell said this tactic is much more effective than someone cold calling and using the “Nigerian prince” excuse.

“I could see this happening more frequently around the holidays because people are in the giving spirit, they are looking to connect with old family and friends,” Powell said.

Powell said users need to report suspected impersonation accounts to the social media site.

“They tend to get taken down without too much trouble,” Powell said. “You have to supply Facebook with the information and verify who you are. But, if somebody has created an account with your name, your profile picture and things like that, that violates the platform’s terms of service.”

Croft said there are ways to prevent hacks and scams before they occur. The biggest thing is to stop doing social media quizzes. That’s one way for a scammer to get all the information they need, as your answers might be passwords to your account, such as what your mother’s maiden name is and where you met your spouse, he said. He added that people should double check their privacy settings and utilize two-factor authentication.

“The age-old adage: if you see something, say something,” Croft said. “So, if you’re in a business and you click on a link you shouldn’t have clicked on, don’t try to hide it. Because from that moment on, if you clicked on a link that was downloading malware to your system, time is your friend and your enemy. You need to say something if something like that happens.”

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