scams to bewareThe month of October is all about tricks and treats, ghouls and goblins and the imaginary things that go bump in the night. Unfortunately, not all scary things are pretend — lurking in the shadows both online and offline are scammers, identity thieves and other criminals, and they just might be aiming their evil schemes at you. We’ve already talked about the risks surrounding the upcoming November election, but that’s not everything putting you at risk in the dark and dreary weeks to come. Here are three scams to beware of this month — and beyond — and how you can avoid falling victim to their traps.

Watch out for Hurricane Matthew charity schemes

Any time a natural disaster befalls people somewhere in the world, there’s a rush of goodwill and charity that follows as those who weren’t affected try to help those who were. Unfortunately, this creates the perfect opportunity for scammers to take advantage of this charity effort for their own gain. The recent devastation of several east coast states as well as countries like Haiti by Hurricane Matthew has already shown to be popular with scammers, as the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) issued a warning on Oct. 11, 2016, urging people to be on the lookout for phishing emails related to hurricane donations. Always be sure that you are donating to a legitimate charity, and keep your skepticism about you when faced with crowdfunding sites set up by hurricane victims, requesting donations. You should also be aware of the potential risks of donating to a fake charity shop, which we outlined in a blog post last November.

Good Samaritans aren’t the only ones at risk of becoming scam victims in the wake of Hurricane Matthew and other natural disasters. People hit by storm damage themselves often become the targets of scammers hoping to take advantage of their desperation. Storm victims should be aware of fraudulent contractors and insurance agents as well as rental scams on sites like Craigslist where they may be trying to find temporary housing. As a rule of thumb, anyone trying to use high-pressure tactics to force you into a decision, especially when it involves money or giving up your personal information, is probably not to be trusted.

Beware of anyone asking you to pay them in iTunes gift cards

While some scammers will try and trick their victims into giving them credit or debit card details or bank account information, others take a different approach to conning people out of their money. Western Union and Green Dot MoneyPak prepaid cards are two payment methods that fraudsters usually demand, but lately some scammers have been getting a little more creative and asking their victims to purchase iTunes gift cards, then give them the details from the backs of the cards. Apple itself has posted a warning about these scams, given their prevalence, along with some guidelines for how to protect yourself. One of the easiest ways to protect yourself from this type of scam is to make sure you never purchase gift cards of any kind to use as a form of payment — especially not if you’re being pressured to do so by a stranger who has contacted you over the phone, by email or over text message. The FTC noted in its warning that this scam has frequently been seen as a tax scam.

Since these types of scams are often perpetrated against the elderly, who might not have much knowledge or experience with gift cards, it’s important for family members to discuss the dangers of this scam and others with older members of their families.

Be careful what you click on Facebook

Social media presents plenty of opportunities for scams, especially on sites like Facebook where people are constantly sharing and sending links to outside sites. While it might be tempting to click on the links your friends and family post to their newsfeeds, you could be opening yourself up to viruses and malware, as well as having your account hijacked by malicious apps. Pay attention to the source on links that you see — if it’s a website you haven’t heard of before, consider doing a Google search for the news story or other information rather than directly clicking. You should also be wary of messages from people on and off your friends list, especially if they send you links. This could be an attempt to lure you to a malicious website. Finally, when it comes to connecting apps to your Facebook account, pay attention to the information it requests before giving permission. If you suspect that an app is trying to get more data than it needs, don’t connect. You can also use Facebook’s Privacy Checkup feature to strengthen your privacy settings.

Stranger danger is real when it comes to scam prevention

We teach our children not to talk to strangers or follow directions they give, so why don’t we apply the same rules to ourselves? Whether you’re receiving a phone call from an unknown person, your email inbox has been invaded with suspicious messages or you’re being tempted to click links to mystery websites, a little suspicion and caution can go a long way to protect you from attempted scams. Following the tips outlined for each of these scams, as well as trusting your gut when something seems wrong, are great ways to ensure you have a safe spooky season. If you do find yourself reeling from a scam, your best bet is to contact the FTC to report it as well as follow up with your local authorities. You can also invest in an identity theft protection service to help protect your personal information and monitor your credit, which can be helpful in spotting the kinds of data exploitation that can happen after scammers get their hands on your information.

Learn more about protecting your privacy and other scams to beware of by following our identity theft protection blog.