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5 Keys To Computer Safety

Securing your computer is one of the most effective ways to reduce your chances of being hacked or scammed online. Here are some of the best practices for securing your computer, accounts, and online interactions:

Use different passwords for different accounts: A hacker or scammer can do a lot more damage if they have access to a  password that also gives them the keys to all of your online accounts. While it can be confusing to keep creating new passwords for new accounts, it is one of the most effective actions you can take to stay safe online. To keep on top of your different passwords, a printed or handwritten list can be a good system; your passwords are relatively secure even when they are printed, as hackers or scammers are more likely to attack your accounts from afar than from within your own house. If you want a more advanced solution than keeping a list, password managers are the gold standard. 1Password7 and LastPass are two password managers that come highly recommended. And if your account is hacked,be sure to change your passwords for the account and for any other accounts that share the same password.

Authenticate: Authenticating means proving that you are who you say you are when you interact online. The most common form of authentication is two-factor authentication (2FA), which sends a confirmation to your approved email or cell phone before letting you log on to a website. If checking your email or phone before logging into a new account is within your technical abilities, authentication is an important precaution you can take to stay safe.

Think before you click: Everything your parents told you about what not to do with strangers also applies online. If a stranger sends you a link and you’re confused about its purpose, don’t click it. If a person you know sends you a link that is out of context or seems unlike something they would say to you, don’t click it (you can also reach out to them directly and ask if they sent you anything recently). If people ask you to send them money but you’ve never met them in person and you don’t know them through a business relationship, don’t send the money. Identity is much easier to fake online than off, so staying aware of the context of the message or link is crucial.

Only buy on secure websites: Most websites begin with http://, though increasingly some begin with https://. The “s” in https stands for “secure,” and that’s because https uses more secure technology to send your information. If you’re planning to enter your payment details into a website, confirm that it is an https:// site before providing your information. If the site is not secure but you still want to send money, give the business or person a call and see what other options you have.

Log out of public computers: Using computers in a library, computer lab, or community center is very common. These public computers are great resources, but since many people use them, it’s important to be extra secure. Make sure to always log out of your accounts after using a public computer and, if possible, wipe your browser history.

Report abuse immediately: If your account has been hacked or you realize you have been scammed, it’s very important to report what happened. While there are lots of best practices for reporting, make sure to reach out to any company involved in the scam, including  platform where your account was compromised, your credit card company and/or bank (if you lost money in the hack or scam), as well as relevant government agencies like the FBI and FTC. And remember, if the hack or scam occurred on an account whose password is shared with other accounts, change the password!

Additional Resources:

Reporting 101

Why Report

  • Reporting within 72 hours increases chances that banks are able to reverse a money transfer.
  • A police report serves as proof that a crime has occurred, and can help file appeals with insurance, creditors, and the IRS.
    • Some homeowners insurance covers identity theft; some renter’s insurance covers property theft.
    • Banks can put extra monitoring on your account in the wake of an incident.
  • Your report can help other people (like your neighbors) avoid getting ripped off.
    • The FBI and other agencies look at patterns in reported data when prioritizing investigations. 
      • Information provided in reports is used to help catch criminals.
      • Information from reports sheds light on patterns criminals are using in their attacks. This can help the FBI and law enforcement catch criminals more quickly in the future.
    • The AARP, some police departments, and other organizations send out scam newsletters, social media posts, and other communications detailing reported scams to raise awareness and help people protect themselves.
  • Your report can make you eligible for services. Some police departments offer services to scam victims, including home visits, safety training, identity theft intervention, etc. 
  • A report can help you recover your losses if the criminal is caught. This is most likely if the arrest is made in the U.S. and a federal or state/county criminal conviction is obtained.
  • Reports help ensure that more  government resources and attention are allocated toward fighting scams and hacks in the future.

Making Your Report Helpful

When writing your report, it’s important to think like a detective and relay financial information and tactical details about the perpetrator.

If possible be ready to share:

  • Dates and times of activity
  • Perpetrator’s financial information (bank names, account numbers)
  • Perpetrator’s IP addresses
  • Perpetrator’s email and account names (even if fake)

Managing Expectations Around Reporting

For most victims, there is little probability of getting money back (especially if an incident is reported more than three days after money has been wired), and it can be difficult to get any restitution and accountability criminally. The sad reality is that many transnational fraud scams are operated out of foreign countries, andU.S. law enforcement cannot conduct investigations or make arrests in foreign countries without special law enforcement partnerships in place.or countries where law enforcement partnerships and extradition agreements do exist, the process can take years.

In addition to reporting the fraud to law enforcement, it is important to set expectations with the victim about what might happen after the report. Tracking down the perpetrator can take months or years, and may never happen at all. But regardless of outcome, your family member’s report will help law enforcement and the international intelligence community assess the scale of elder abuse, and potentially detect patterns in criminal behavior that can help cut down on abuse in the future.

Checklist for After Reporting

  • Collect and save all paperwork that directly relates to the victim’s losses. This paper trail will be helpful if an investigation is opened down the road. If an arrest is made, your family member may be asked to provide verification to get recouped for their losses.
  • Protect electronic devices.
  • Research how the losses might be deducted from taxes.
  • Contact creditors (if applicable).
  • Notify financial planner or estate attorney (if applicable). These professionals can take steps to protect remaining assets.
  • Help your family member find counseling or support.
  • Explore other ways your family member can spend their days and nights. Keeping busy makes people less inclined to become involved with the scammers.  
  • Educate your family member about how to identify scams, and how to prevent/mitigate future exposure.

Common Barriers in Reporting

Occasionally, those trying to report crimes on behalf of a victim may find local and federal law enforcement agencies are unwilling to file a police report. They may say a report cannot be filed unless the victim is present in person, that they do not take reports on international scammers due to jurisdictional issues, or that crimes such as romance scams are “civil matters.” 

We would like to acknowledge the Los Angeles Scam Working Group and Bet Tzedek, whose research informed this article.