“Buyer Beware!” is a more important warning than ever before if you’re buying phones, computers, tablets and other electronic devices online. We all like online bargains, but the looting that took place as peaceful demonstrations fell apart will put a lot of stolen goods on the market. It’s a fact of life – not a political or social statement. Here’s what you need to know.

First, mobile phones, tablets and computers have built-in tracking. If the merchant from whom the devices were stolen reports the identifying information to the manufacturer, a message can be displayed as soon as the device is connected to any kind of network. It will tell the user that the device is stolen and cannot be put into service.

Second, in all likelihood, if you bought tainted goods on the internet, you bought it from a less-than-reputable seller, which means you won’t get any support from the manufacturer or a cellular network carrier. We can’t say for sure, but a manufacturer or merchant who knows where a stolen device is could initiate action to get it back.

Third, if you used a credit card, your account information is now in the hands of people who can monetize it at some point.

In short, you’ll have no consumer protection, and you could have a lot of liabilities. That puts the onus squarely on you to make sure you visit only legitimate merchant websites and buy from legitimate sellers.

Everyone can expect to be bombarded with offers from sellers, legitimate or not. We’ve been bombarded for years. Some offers come through phishing expeditions, which can look legitimate but may have one slight change from a seller that might be familiar to you. You might see an ad on a website, and that can be a tough call. Huge businesses have been built – legitimately – by tracking your browsing history and then sending you ads. It’s easy for a “fencing” operation to set up a website that has every appearance of legitimacy.

Our advice is simple. Only click on links that you are 100 percent sure are legitimate websites. Only buy electronics from legitimate sources. They may be well-known retailers as well as vendors vetted and supported by services such as Amazon. You can be reasonably assured you are getting a legitimate product and that your credit card information will be properly protected. And if your product is defective or not what you expected, you should be able to exchange or return it within a clearly stated policy.

If you have any questions about a product you’re shopping for, don’t hesitate to ask us about its properties or things to look for in a seller. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us if you have any questions.

Double Check, Triple Check

In times of crisis, cybercriminals know how to take advantage of our generosity with online scams. They come in all shapes and forms. You need to double check and triple check every email you get requesting money or action, and you need to do the same for every link you have an impulse to click.

At this point, I think we’re all sophisticated and careful enough to take a close look at the emails we get. We know to hover over a name we know to see the email address from where the message was sent. You know, for example, that you likely won’t get an email from me generated from a service in Russia – and you know to call me to see if I really did send you an email from a Russian address. You’ve got to step up your vigilance. Don’t be afraid to question anything – and never open an email or click a link in an email if are not completely sure it’s legit. A cybercriminal can use the link you click or the file you download to get into your computer and hold your data for ransom or steal vital personal or corporate financial data.

This is important because you can expect a lot of emails from people and organizations purporting to be charities to help victims of the Covid-19 crisis and hardship from civil unrest. There are many good, legitimate organizations helping good causes, but there are bad ones, too. While a specific “charity” may not plant a virus or ransomware in your computer, they will get your credit card info (bet they didn’t offer a mailing address to send a check), which they can sell many times over on the dark web.

This goes beyond email. We’re too click happy when it comes to news and entertainment sites, clicking away at any headline or teaser that sparks our interest. In our time of crisis, news sites get our attention, especially if there’s something outrageous regardless of whether it supports our beliefs or not. Aside from whether it’s true and from a reliable news source, it could also be a way for a cybercriminal to hijack your computer. The same goes for pop-ups on less-than-reputable websites.

We’re getting a lot of calls to clean up infected computers, and one incident illustrates the problem. After we cleaned a client’s computer of a problem generated by clicking on a questionable site, the client immediately clicked another piece of clickbait and had an immediately re-infected computer. We all need to use good judgment when we click on something we find – or something sent by a friend.

You can further protect yourself by making you have up-to-date antivirus and malware software installed and running on your computer. We also recommend you regularly check for updates for all your application software and hardware firmware and make sure you install and run them. We can help you with fixing problems and preventing them. Turn off your computers or technology infrastructure if you find something behaving strangely or performing slowly and call us – 973-433-6676. Call us or email us if you need help with selecting, installing or updating antivirus or malware protection software and to set up an automated system to handle software and firmware updates.