Friendly reminder: Sunday is April Fools' Day. Expect to see a litany of truly fake news between now and then as brands try to cash in on free press. Just be extra-careful about your clicks.
Sure, watching joke ads for Amazon's Petlexa or Netflix Live is fun(ish) and harmless enough, but scammers are known to piggyback on the brand-fueled clickbait. It's is all fun and internet pranks until someone gets phished.
Here are five ways to avoid getting identity-thefted on April Fools' Day.
1. Know the signs of a scam
That way you can differentiate between innocuous clickbait and cybercrime. Signs of a phishing scam — when a fraudster uses fake emails, texts or spoofed websites to steal personal and payment date — include:
- Poor grammar and spelling
- Hyperlink discrepancies, identifiable by hovering over a link to see the source address
- Urgent or incessant pop-ups when you click over to a site
- Requests for money, credit or debit card accounts or personal data
- Attachments, especially in unsolicited emails from acquaintances or friends ("Check out this pic on Joe Biden pop-up bars!!!)
2. Don't click on links in unsolicited emails
Look, we'd love to see a pic of a Joe Biden pop-up bar — real or fake — as much as anyone, but if you weren't asking for one, question the sender before downloading or clicking. Or just hit delete, especially if you spot other signs of a scam in the email.
3. Tread just as carefully on social media
Social networks are an equally popular playground for scammers. See: the secret sister gift exchange making the rounds on Facebook the last few years. To avoid getting got, apply all the rules above when tweeting, posting, Instagramming or Snapchatting this week ... and beyond.
4. Wait for the inevitable Monday morning roundups
A good call in the era of everyday fake news, like the inevitable celebrity death hoax, or everyday news that could easily be fake (Lady Doritos: almost an actual thing.) April Fools' Day internet pranks have been going on for years and, for each one, various reputable websites have covered them. So if you want to see what brands were up to this year, just wait until your favorite go-to pop culture or new sites rounds up the gags on Monday.
5. Act fast if you fell for something
Phishing or spoofing scams are designed to do one of two things: Get sensitive personal information from you directly or download malware onto your device that'll do that later. If you think you did something that resulted in either, pre-empt the scammer from doing big damage. Steps to thwart identity theft include:
- Run a virus scan and remove any malware it finds on your computer
- Replace affected credit or debit cards
- Change passwords across all your accounts
- Consider a credit freeze or at least sign up for credit report alerts
- Report the crime to your local authorities, the FBI and the Federal Trade Commission
For a full guide to dealing with identity theft, go here.