BBB Tips: Online security especially important during pandemic

October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, a time for consumers and businesses to look at their online security measures. Promoted by the U.S. Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency, the month is designed to raise the awareness about the importance of cybersecurity.

During the coronavirus pandemic, consumers across the U.S. have reported being victimized by scammers through the Internet and other electronic means. According to Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker, online purchase and phishing reports have increased by 58 percent this year. The cybersecurity threat is constant as fraudsters use fake websites, phishing emails and text messages and social media to target their victims.

The pandemic has forced many people to change their routines, whether they're working from home or spending more time on their smartphones and tablets. It is vital to be careful where you click and have the latest virus protection on those devices. While there is no way to completely guard against online threats, there are plenty of ways to decrease your exposure.

BBB has issued in-depth investigative studies on tech support scams, fraudulent online pet sales, counterfeit online goods, online romance scams and business email compromise schemes.

How can you protect yourself from cybercrime?

Stay up to date. Your computer or smartphone should always have the most recent updates installed for spam filters, anti-virus and anti-spyware software and a secure firewall.

Think before you click. Scammers often seek to spread malware and viruses via email or text message. The scammers may send emails or texts from familiar contacts whose accounts have been hacked. Don't click on any suspicious links or attachments, even if it appears to have been sent by someone you know.

Take a look before you buy. If you go to an unfamiliar website to purchase something research the seller's reputation and record for customer satisfaction at Shoppers should always look in their web address bar for the "s" in https:// in the address bar and a lock symbol on the screen.

Don't be too social. When using social media, make sure to put all settings on private so only the people you want are able to access your profile. Only accept friend requests from people you know. Be leery of messages from family or friends offering you access to money or grants as the account being used likely has been compromised.

Guard your information. Take time to read the privacy policy of websites you visit, and understand what personal information is being collected and how it will be used. If you don't see a policy posted, be aware your information may be sold to others without your permission.

Michelle Gleba is the Mid-Missouri regional director for Better Business Bureau.