Don't let online goblins play tricks on you


(A Message from the Better Business Bureau)


Chicago, IL – October is the season for ghosts, goblins and ghouls. Unfortunately, they’re not all as friendly as Casper nor are they neighborhood kids ringing your doorbell in search of treats. Instead, you need to be on the alert for those playing tricks on you while you’re doing business or shopping online. The Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and northern Illinois (BBB) urges consumers to inspect online solicitations with the same attention as candy collected from Halloween.

October is National Cybersecurity Month, and this is a good time to freshen up on cyber precautions, whether you’re new to the online community or have been working online for years. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, for example, suggests approaching computers and the Internet in the same way we urge children to approach the real world.

“While most consumers are concerned with buying candy to pass out to trick-or-treaters this month, cyber criminals may be spreading computer viruses, stealing identities and ruining the spirit of Halloween for all,” said Steve J. Bernas, president & CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and northern Illinois. “As always it is important to keep personal information private in case a scammer knocks on your door.”

The BBB offers the following “online treats” to consumers:

Don’t trust “candy from strangers”. Finding something on the Internet does not always make it true or good for you. Before accepting the statement or advertisement as fact, verify that the source is reliable and, if it’s a business, check it out first with the BBB at Since many scam artists “spoof” email addresses to appear they’re coming from a financial institution or an online payment service, be wary of any email requesting to verify account information. Also, never open attachments or respond to requests for personal or financial information from someone unknown.

Don’t be “tricked” into falling for an offer that is too good to be true. Many emails promise outlandish rewards or monetary gifts. They might state you’ve won a sweepstakes or that a rich businessman in a war-torn country left millions in a foreign bank with no heirs. Here’s the trick: You can’t win a sweepstakes you didn’t enter and there are not wealthy strangers desperate to send you their money. These emails are phishing for your personal account information. Beware of pop-ups advertising free downloadable software – they may be disguising spyware or malware.

Don’t advertise that you’re away from home. Some email accounts, especially within an organization, offer an auto responder that allows you to create a message if you’re going to be away for an extended period of time. While this is a helpful feature for letting contacts know you are unable to respond right away, the Department of Homeland Security advises that you do not provide details about your location and itinerary. Instead, use phrases such as “I will not have access to email between [date] and [date].” If possible, restrict recipients of this message to people within your organization or in your address book. If the away message replies to spam, it may increase the amount you already receive.

Don’t leave “treats” out in the open. Take steps to protect your personal and financial data by locking your computer when you step away; using firewalls, anti-virus software and strong passwords; installing appropriate software updates; and taking precautions when browsing or using email. Attackers and viruses are constantly scanning the Internet for available computers to target. To play it safe, whenever not online, disable your Wi-Fi connection, turn off your computer or modem, or even disconnect cables.

Don’t throw caution to the wind. Information on your computer is vulnerable – but if you make regular backups, all is not lost in the event of an equipment malfunction, an error or a cyber attack.

“Keep your documents in order. Check credit card statements for suspicious activity and make sure your computer has the most recent updates and spyware installed,” added Bernas.

For more information on being safe online, visit