If you have the internet, a telephone, a mobile device or even a mailing address — you can be a target of scams and other fraudulent attempts to steal your money or personal information.
Helping to protect members from these scams is one of DirectLink’s top priorities, as Marketing Director Brian Strunk explains.
“One of the things that makes DirectLink unique is that as a cooperative, we’re very invested in the community,” Strunk tells the Current. “We’re member-owned, and everything we do is really from that community focus. Our aim is always putting customers first and making sure they’re taken care of.”
Combatting scammers — and even simply staying on top of the latest trends and fraud attempts — takes a concerted effort.
“All of our employees go through regular cybersecurity training because there are so many creative ways to exploit weaknesses in networks,” Strunk explained. “It can be through social engineering, malware, spyware and so on. And these scams can come through email, phone calls, texts — sometimes even a person knocking on your door.”
As a longtime telecommunications provider, DirectLink is particularly sensitive to scammers using some of the very same technologies it provides access to in attempts to defraud its members.
“I think that’s one reason we do take it so seriously is that we are a service provider, and we know how impactful it can be to the people who are victimized,” he said. “As a service provider, we have to look out for folks.”
One of the most effective tools to combat bad actors is information.
“One thing we really focus on is making sure members are informed to protect themselves and make good decisions about what they want,” Strunk said. “Being aware, knowing what’s going on and asking the right questions, you can protect yourself from those things. But it does take a little work.”
DirectLink — along with the Federal Trade Commission and other agencies tasked with protecting consumers from fraud — stress that anyone can be the victim of a scam, regardless of age, race, gender, socioeconomic status, education or other factors.
“Some of these folks are really good at what they do,” Strunk said. “It can be tricky. They’ve gotten very sophisticated about how they get you from point A to point B. And anyone can be susceptible to this. It happens to everyone at some point, where you go, ‘Oh no, I should not have clicked on that.'”
Consumers should be aware of — and likely already have some experience with — some of the common tactics that email, SMS and robocall scammers will use, often attempting to create a sense of urgency such as claiming the victim’s service is about to be shut off or that they are being investigated by the IRS.
“We don’t operate that way,” Strunk said. “We don’t use scare tactics. We don’t threaten people.”
Many of these bad actors will claim to represent legitimate government agencies, businesses or organizations — including DirectLink.
“We actually had a telephone scam recently where they were identifying themselves as DirectLink employees and making false claims about the company and things the members needed to do to protect their service,” he said. “And it was completely false, completely inaccurate.”
Fortunately, many local residents have become savvy enough to be part of the solution in helping to suss out these scams — to the point that, on occasion, sometimes the first time DirectLink hears about a new scam is from a member.
“When that happened, I actually think it showed the company has done a good job educating people, because we had a lot of people calling and saying, ‘I didn’t fall for it. I knew right away that it wasn’t you guys,'” Strunk said.
Much like an amateur detective, being on the lookout for scams requires consumers to look for clues that a communication may not be legitimate — such as typos or incorrect URLs — and to exercise extreme caution before sharing or confirming personal information.
If anything seems suspicious, hang up and call DirectLink directly to ensure you’re talking with the right people. If the call is legitimate, the caller will understand.
“If it seems suspicious or too good to be true, it probably is,” Strunk said. “There are certain things that we’re just not going to do. We’re not going to call you out of the blue and ask for your financial information. We’re your service provider, so we pretty much have what we need already. We don’t need to come to our members and ask for confidential information.”
While DirectLink can’t chase down every scam out there, consumers can stay safe by staying informed, being careful and following a few basic tips.
“There are bad actors everywhere, but I still like to think there are a lot of good people in the world, and we help each other out,” Strunk said. “And as much as we can, DirectLink is going to be there to help our members out with these things.”
More information about scams and ways that DirectLink works to keep its members and their information secure is available on the cooperative’s website at directlink.coop/support/scams. If you have questions or need to report something to DirectLink, call 503-266-8111 or email HereForYou@DirectLink.coop.
To learn more about internet privacy and how to stay safe online, you may also visit directlink.coop/classes to watch a recording of two recent community classes: “5 Ways to Protect Your Personal Information Online” and the follow-up “5 More Ways to Protect Yourself Online.”
DirectLink hosts free virtual and in-person classes every couple of months to help educate members on technology, connected devices, scams, and other areas of interest. Upcoming class dates and topics can be found at directlink.coop/classes.
What You Can Do to Avoid a Scam
Block unwanted calls and text messages. Take steps to block unwanted calls and to filter unwanted text messages.
Don’t give your personal or financial information in response to a request that you didn’t expect. Legitimate organizations won’t call, email, or text to ask for your personal information, like your Social Security, bank account, or credit card numbers.
If you get an email or text message from a company you do business with and you think it’s real, it’s still best not to click on any links. Instead, contact them using a website you know is trustworthy. Or look up their phone number. Don’t call a number they gave you or the number from your caller ID.
Resist the pressure to act immediately. Legitimate businesses will give you time to make a decision. Anyone who pressures you to pay or give them your personal information is a scammer.
Know how scammers tell you to pay. Never pay someone who insists you pay with a gift card or by using a money transfer service. And never deposit a check and send money back to someone.
Stop and talk to someone you trust. Before you do anything else, tell someone — a friend, a family member, a neighbor — what happened. Talking about it could help you realize it’s a scam.
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