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Security & privacy

Election 2020 security: Hackers are using fake websites and email accounts to fool you

It seems like there’s always a new warning about yet another online scam. Not only have Americans dealt with typical scams the last several months, but we’ve also had to contend with COVID-related scams, too.

The thing about online scams is they’re not only annoying; they’re expensive. As of mid-September, consumer complaints to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) related to coronavirus exceeded 200,000 — and reported losses topped over $140 million. Those numbers are only likely to increase as COVID rages on. Tap or click for tips on protecting yourself from these con artists.

Last Friday, yet another scam-related PSA was issued by the FBI and CISA. This time, scammers are using some clever tricks to steal data and spread false information about the upcoming election.

How to safely navigate 2020 election season

If you’ve been looking up news or information about the 2020 presidential election, you need to keep a close eye on the sites you’re visiting. According to the FBI, scammers are using spoofed domains and fake email addresses to target voters who are searching for this type of info.

Unfortunately, it can be tough to spot spoofed domains scammers are using. These savvy criminals use slightly altered names of legitimate websites to trick people into clicking on the site, which makes it hard to discern a legitimate site from a spoof.

For example, scammers may use a misspelled word, like “electon” instead of “election” — or even .com instead of .gov — to trick you into thinking you’re clicking on a legitimate site. These slight changes are easy to miss, especially if you aren’t looking for them.

RELATED: Phone scammers are working overtime to trick voters

In many cases, the purpose of these spoofed sites is to give out false information. Even worse, some scammers use them to steal usernames, passwords, and email addresses or to collect personally identifiable information. Others use them to spread malware, leading to compromised information or financial losses.

But spoofed sites aren’t the only issue the FBI is warning about. According to the PSA, cybercriminals are also using seemingly legitimate email accounts to entice people into clicking on malicious files or links. This is done under the guise that these files contain important election-related information.

The closer we get to the election, the more likely these issues are to continue. In fact, we’ve already been warned by the FBI about other 2020 election disinformation campaigns over the last few weeks.

You need to take steps to avoid these traps, including:

  • Verify the spelling of web addresses, websites and email addresses that look trustworthy. They could be close imitations of legitimate election websites, so you need to do your homework.
  • Seek out information from trustworthy sources. You should also verify who produced the content and consider their intent. If you need help discerning legitimate sites from fakes, the Election Assistance Commission (https://www.eac.gov) offers a ton of verified information and resources.
  • Keep your device up to date. Your computer is less likely to be compromised if your operating systems and applications are up to date.
  • Do not click on links or attachments in emails from unknown individuals. Do not reply to unsolicited e-mail senders.
  • Never provide personal information of any sort via email. Emails asking for personal information may appear to be legitimate, but don’t fall for it.

What to do if you’ve been compromised

Think you’ve been compromised by one of these spoof sites or emails? Don’t panic. Just take the following steps to get things back on track:

If you take the necessary precautions and stay informed on scams to watch for you’ll make it through election season with ease. We’ll keep you updated on any new schemes making the rounds through the election and beyond.

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