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Soft Skills


Guard Points of Entry #

Uncovered windows can be a major weak point. Crooks will look through windows to see control panels and other parts of alert systems, so cover them up or keep them out of view when looking through windows. They may also look through uncovered windows to see potential things to steal, like televisions or video game systems.

Opened windows are bad too, so don't leave them open for air when you're not there. Visitors saying they just need to use the bathroom may unlatch windows and make a return visit later. Double-check them after if you let them in.

Also, remember to just turn on the alarms. They're useless if turned off, and it happens more often than we'd like to think.

Crooks may also try doors, and do so by simply knocking and trying to open the door itself if no one answers. If someone winds up answering, they'll cover by asking directions or offering a home service like cleaning gutters. They may even carry props like clipboards or rakes to seem legitimate. Crooks taking this approach will never look like a stereotypical "crook." Some service offerings, like carpet cleaning, give them a chance to enter and scope out the house if they ask.

Avoid Common Hiding Places for Valuables #

People who get into your home will check the obvious hiding places for valuables. So avoid using these favorites:

If you use a safe, make sure it's bolted down. Otherwise, they'll just take the safe and open it later.

Be Aware of Noise #

Noise is a big factor with crooks. Anything that creates lots of noise and attracts attention, like dogs and loud neighbors, will make crooks see it as riskier.

That doesn't mean they'll avoid making any noise. They can usually get away with making one loud noise since most people are startled but won't take action from only one noise. So they can usually break a window to get in as long as they're quiet after.

Watch Your Back #

When using your debit or credit card, some people may snap photos while pretending to do other things on their phone. They can usually get enough info to still make purchases. So cover up your info whenever possible and watch for nearby phones when your card is out.

Another in-person card risk is getting you to leave your purse or wallet behind long enough to nab it. A common example is when a crook disguised as a salesman visits an office and asks a secretary to copy something. While they're off they swipe their purse and check drawers (top and bottom-right) for company checks. If you leave your PIN on a piece of paper near your wallet, they can use that too.

When walking down the street, walk with a purpose and without being distracted by your phone. Now and then do the three-point check - left, right, and over the shoulder. Criminals are more likely to target people who are distracted, especially if they're carrying backpacks or other things that seem valuable to take. Listening to music shows they won't hear someone closing in behind them.

Protect Mail and Trash #

Mail is a common and useful tool for crooks stealing identities and other sensitive info. They may see a red flag on a mailbox and simply take whatever's inside, pretending to pick up your mail or deliver flyers if they're caught.

A general rule of thumb is to never mail sensitive or important info. If someone mails it to you, shred the documents as soon as possible before throwing them away. If you get preapproved credit card applications or offers, unsubscribe from them as soon as possible.

Crooks aren't above dumpster diving since it's easy for people to toss sensitive info and forget about it. Many identities have been stolen this way. They can just say they're looking for lost keys, rings, or other items if people ask and avoid getting caught. Thieves may even drive through streets at 3 am on garbage day to steal garbage bags off the road.

Protect Info Online #

Showing key info about yourself online to anyone gives scammers ammunition to trick others into thinking they're you. Things like birthplace, birthday, names of family members, and other habits can be seen and used in social engineering calls. The less info like this you freely share online, the less ammunition you give them. Otherwise, they could call a family member, pose as you, and get them to share sensitive info they'll pretend "you" forgot.

It also gives hints to what your passwords are. Use a password manager and create different, randomly generated passwords. If you can't go that route, use long password phrases that are easier to remember. Never use info based on personal info others could find. Also use two-factor authentication whenever possible, ideally not ones relying on text message codes.

Avoid Sketchy Phone Calls #

Be highly skeptical of phone calls you didn't solicit that either ask you to take action or give highly personal information. Don't be afraid to hang up and confirm elsewhere this person or group is the real deal before doing anything else. The IRS will never call you demanding for money, they'll send a letter. Any call demanding money or money-related info right then and there is almost always a scam.

Scammers may say they're speaking on behalf of someone you know or are someone you know with a damaged voice. An example is a relative abroad in an accident who needs you to wire money to make bail. Ask questions only they would know the answers to that haven't been shared online to be safe. You should also look for subtle giveaways, like not knowing specifics of past conversations or nicknames. If they avoid these kinds of questions and simply keep insisting you send them money, it's likely a scam.

Check your Bank #

Check online accounts at least once a week to limit any damage that slips through - a lot of damage can be done in little time.

Don't use ATMs with something odd sticking out of it since it skims your card info. Easier to see if you frequent the same ATM, so try to use the same one when you can.

Aim for a card with a photo on it, since it's a lot harder to use a stolen card with a face photo people can compare to the person. Also, credit cards can be safer than debit cards, since hacked databases mean they give them a direct line to the bank account.

Avoid free trial offers that start real cheap. They often bury huge fines and cancellation fees in the terms you agree to and don't read. Read the fine print and make sure companies let you cancel when you want. If you can't cancel, cancel the card and negotiate a refund. Also, watch for services that make canceling a huge chore with lots of friction and less control.

Public WiFi hot spots may only look official but may be run by crooks to mine your computer for personal info as you connect. If you pay for access they'll steal your payment info too. Don't automatically connect to unknown networks, and use small prepaid cards if you have to pay for internet access. If you must do shopping or sensitive work on one, be certain its official by checking for an https connection.

Careful of sudden virus alerts on ads or unknown software. It may be throwing bogus "you're infected" alerts to make you download fake antivirus programs with the real malicious software. Or you'll just pay a bogus fee to fix the nonexistent problem. Avoid virus alerts via popup and make sure your actual antivirus software is legitimate.

Ignore sudden text messages or calls telling you there's an issue with your card or you've won something - either way, they'll ask for your card info. Real banks will never ask for account info over unsecured lines, and you should always call them directly first. Also, search for the companies in question if there were other scam reports.

Be Healthily Skeptical #

It's better to pull back and confirm something first before giving it money. It takes a short amount of time to confirm a charity is legit before giving it money. People running real organizations or charities will usually understand and not mind, and scammers will usually pressure you so you avoid checking.

Remember: being too trusting means enabling current and future scammers. Don't be so distrustful you avoid everyone altogether but remember to find a balance. Knowing the signs makes it easier to tell apart who to trust and who to not trust, so you're less likely to get the two mixed up.