Be Wary of Fake Apps in the Cybersphere

“User Beware” is a good catchphrase to keep in mind when it comes to apps for your smartphone or tablet. That’s because there are bogus apps out there waiting to snare unsuspecting

These apps will often appear as software programs that mimic legitimate ones, such as apps for popular retailers. But if you download them, you could be setting yourself up for theft of personal or financial information. Or you could end up paying for apps that just don’t work. Worse yet, you might end up downloading malicious software that could keep you locked out of your device until you pay a ransom.

Unscrupulous software developers have found ways to infiltrate app stores with their phony apps, often snaring people with enticing ads. But many of these ads or app descriptions will have misspellings or poorly designed knock-off logos of retailers – signs that they’re not legitimate. That’s because they likely were designed in a rush, or the designers were from overseas (which is typically the case) and English isn’t their first language.

That’s not to say that there aren’t phony apps that closely mirror those they’re imitating. If you’re not sure if an app is legitimate, go to the retailer’s websites in question and see if they have a direct link to the app there. You can also do a search using the retailer’s name and “fake app” in the search box to see if the company has reported that its brand has been hijacked.

Some other ways to uncover bogus apps include:

Checking to see who published the app and when it was published. Phony developers will use similar names as those they’re spoofing for their apps. And scam apps often have recent publish dates, while legitimate ones will have an “updated on” date.

Fake apps have few, if any, reviews. And if they do have some, they’ll likely be generic and short.

Look at how often the app has been downloaded. Legitimate apps will have hundreds, if not thousands, of downloads under their belts. Fake ones won’t rival those numbers.

If an app offers unbelievable shopping discounts, be wary of it. That’s because it’s probably just another ploy to get you to download it.

Look for reviews of an app before downloading it. You should be able to find reviews in the app stores and on the internet. If the app has no reviews, it was likely created recently, and could be a fake. Real apps for big retailers often have thousands of reviews.

Does your device use the Android operating system? If so, go to your settings and then to security and check that you’re set up to prohibit third-party app downloads from untrusted sites.

Generally speaking, it’s probably best to keep your guard up before downloading any app.

Keep Thieves from Getting Their Hands on Your Passwords

When’s the last time you changed the password for your online banking account? Or for the website where you pay your credit card bill? If you can’t remember, now’s a good time to switch it up. And don’t create a new password that’s easy to figure out, or use the same password you’re already using for other accounts. That’s just looking for trouble.prevent-thieves-from-getting-your-passwords

Cyber security experts offer a number of tips to help ward off online thieves. And rightfully so, since millions of people fall victim to cyber-crimes every year.

Have a password that’s easy to remember? Chances are it’s going to be easy for a thief to figure out, too. Sure, it’s hard to forget “123abc”, but using such a short and simple password is an open invitation to cyber theft.

Mix it up. Experts recommend using a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols to create a password. And throw in a made-up word or two, like “beahighve” or ‘”jabberwockysnark”.

Don’t get personal. You know how you post all those photos of your pet on Facebook and mention her by name, then use that name as a password? That’s easy pickings for a thief. So stay away from such things as names, birthdays and addresses.

Make it long. The longer the password, the harder it is to crack. That is, if you follow the previous suggestions for creating a password.

Don’t share. This may sound rude, but passwords aren’t meant to be shared with friends, partners, family members, or neighbors. They’re intended to protect you and your information. So keep them to yourself.

Alter them frequently. It’s recommended that passwords be changed every month or so.

Get some help. If you’re having a tough time keeping track of all your passwords, there are software programs that can manage them for you. Some are free; others you have to pay for. These programs store your login credentials for all the websites you use, and help you access those sites automatically. They encrypt your password database with a master password, which is then the only password you have to remember.

Stay out of the public eye. That free Wi-Fi at the coffee shop down the street may be enticing to use, but it’s not going to protect you from cyber crooks. They love public Wi-Fi because it gives them easy access to people’s passwords and online accounts.

Don’t get lazy. Isn’t it great how some websites will “remember” your login and password information for you so you don’t have to type it in every time you visit those sites? Convenient, yes, but this “remembering” feature is yet another avenue cyber thieves can use to uncover your login credentials.

Remember that when it comes to passwords, the first line of defense is you. So don’t open yourself up to thievery by failing to follow these basic password safeguards.

11 Things Every Smartphone User Should Know

Your mobile device provides convenient access to your email, bank and social media accounts. Unfortunately, it can potentially provide the same convenient access for criminals. Here are some tips you can follow to keep your information – and your money – safe.

  1. Use the pass-code lock on your smartphone and other devices. This will make it more difficult for thieves to access your information if your device is lost or stolen.
  2. Log out completely when you finish a mobile banking session.
  3. Protect your phone from viruses and malicious software, or malware, just like you do for your computer by installing mobile security software.
  4. Use caution when downloading apps. Apps can contain malicious software, worms, and viruses. Beware of apps that ask for unnecessary “permissions.”
  5. Download the updates for your phone and mobile apps.
  6. Avoid storing sensitive information like passwords or a social security number on your mobile device.
  7. Tell your financial institution immediately if you change your phone number or lose your mobile device.
  8. Be aware of shoulder surfers. The most basic form of information theft is observation. Be aware of your surroundings especially when you’re punching in sensitive information.
  9. Wipe your mobile device before you donate, sell or trade it using specialized software or using the manufacturer’s recommended technique. Some software allows you to wipe your device remotely if it is lost or stolen.
  10. Beware of mobile phishing. Avoid opening links and attachments in emails and texts, especially from senders you don’t know. And be wary of ads (not from your security provider) claiming that your device is infected.
  11. Watch out for public Wi-Fi. Public connections aren’t very secure, so don’t perform banking transactions on a public network. If you need to access your account, try disabling the Wi-Fi and switching to your mobile network.

For more information and tips on cyber-security, check out Bank5 Connect’s Security Center.

How to Avoid a Card Cracking Scam

Card-cracking is a national problem, with incidents reported in several states including Georgia, Ohio, Washington, and most notably, Illinois. In Chicago alone, a group of 29 are facing charges for stealing about $6.5 million through this scheme. Many of the “victims” do not understand they are facilitating a crime in which they could receive up to 30 years in prison for their participation.

In card-cracking scams, young adults (primarily students, newly-enlisted military, or single parents) are recruited to facilitate fraud against the bank. The perpetrators typically target people via social media and convince them to share their checking account information  in exchange for some type of a kickback – usually in the form of a counterfeit check remotely deposited into their account of which, the person is allowed to keep a portion of the funds. However, the fraudster often removes all of the funds before the bank determines that the check is counterfeit.  Fraudsters may also convince the person to provide them with their debit card, along with their PIN. The person is instructed to report the card as lost or stolen, thereby receiving protection via Reg E, while the fraudster withdraws the funds.

Avoid falling for a card-cracking scam with these simple steps:

  • Do not respond to online solicitations for “easy money.”Card cracking advertisements will suggest that this is a quick, safe way to earn extra cash. Keep in mind that easy money is rarely legal money.
  • Never share your account and PIN number.Keep this information private at all times. By sharing it with others, you expose yourself to potential fraud.
  • Do not file false fraud claims with your bank. By filing a false claim, you are a co-conspirator to fraud. Banks’ detection techniques for card cracking are constantly improving and suspicious claims will be investigated.
  • Report suspicious posts linked with scams.If you notice postings that appear to be linked with a possible scam, report them to the social media site. There is usually a drop down menu near the post to allow for easy reporting.

In addition to being charged as an accomplice to a crime, they are also at risk of having their own money stolen from their accounts and having unauthorized purchases made with their debit cards. Because they consented to provide scammers access to their bank accounts, it is difficult for them to prove that any withdrawals or purchases made were unauthorized. If it sounds too good to be true, than it often isn’t true.

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Beware of Online & Phone Tax Scams

Tax returns and stress seem to go hand in hand, and adding to that stress are crooks looking to cash in on unsuspecting taxpayers. As people gear up to get their returns completed, the last thing they need is to fall prey to these fraudsters. During this time of year, it’s very common for criminals to utilize online and telephone phishing scams in order to obtain your personal information. Both of these activities rank among the top tax scams compiled each year by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

One of the recent online tax scams making the rounds has come in the form of an email that appears to be from the IRS, asking taxpayers to immediately update their IRS e-filing information. Other iterations of this scam include emails where the criminals pose as a bank, credit card company, tax software provider, or government agency. These emails typically include a link to a bogus website that appears legitimate, but contains phony log-in pages that are used to capture the victim’s personal information such as passwords, account numbers, Social Security numbers, etc.

You should be aware that the IRS generally does not initiate contact with taxpayers via email (or other modes of electronic communication like text messaging or social media) to obtain personal or financial information, or demand payment.

If you receive an unsolicited email that appears to be from either the IRS or an organization closely linked to the IRS, such as the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), you should refrain from following links in the email or responding to it with any of your personal information. The IRS encourages taxpayers to report these types of suspicious emails by sending them to

The IRS also warns about a spike in the number of phone tax scams in which victims are threatened with things such as police arrest, deportation, court action, and revocation of their driver’s license if they don’t pay the caller immediately. Typically, the imposters make unsolicited calls claiming to be IRS officials. They tell the victims that they must immediately pay a bogus tax bill or face retaliatory action, and they con them into sending cash, usually through a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. In the event that the taxpayer doesn’t answer the phone, the criminals will typically leave urgent-sounding callback requests.

And don’t let your caller-ID serve as barometer for whether the call is legitimate. According to the IRS, scammers will often alter caller ID numbers to make it look like the IRS is actually calling. It’s also common for the callers to use IRS titles and fake badge numbers to sound legitimate, and they may also use your name, address and other personal information to make the discussion more believable.

According to a recent announcement from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), roughly 896,000 of these tax scam calls have been reported since October 2013 and more than 5,000 victims have collectively paid more than $26.5 million as a result of them.

It’s important to keep in mind that when you have a tax problem, the IRS will first contact you by mail through the U.S. Post Office, rather than by phone. Furthermore, the IRS will not do the following:

  • Ask for your credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
  • Threaten to have you arrested for not paying.
  • Demand immediate payment from you. The IRS will never call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
  • Require that you use a specific payment method to pay your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card or a wire transfer.
  • Demand that you pay taxes without giving you an opportunity to question or appeal the amount they claim you owe.

If you do get a phone call demanding payment from someone claiming to be from the IRS, be sure to follow these recommendations:

  • If you have no reason to think that you owe taxes, do not give out any information to the caller and hang up immediately.
  • Report the call to TIGTA by dialing 800-366-4484, or by filling out their “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” form at
  • Report the call to the Federal Trade Commission using the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on (add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes).

As you keep these types of online and phone tax scams on your radar this tax season, you should also keep in mind that direct deposit is a simple, fast, and secure way to receive your tax refund. Both the IRS and U.S. Treasury encourage taxpayers to use this method instead of having paper refund checks mailed to them, as direct deposit helps eliminate the possibility of a lost, stolen, or undeliverable refund check.