Today I had the pleasure of co-hosting a coffee chat with my financial advisor and some of her clients. We spoke in general about the ways misinformation can lead to serious offline consequences. And for this audience in particular, we discussed online frauds and scams that target our pocketbooks.
Just yesterday, the Federal Trade Commission released an annual report on consumer fraud. In 2020, consumers reported a total of $304 million in losses due to scams. Internet romance scams are on the rise, with thieves capitalizing on our COVID- induced isolation and desire for human connection.
So how can we be better equipped to avoid monetary losses (and other consequences of misinformation) online? How can we help those with gaps in their media and information literacy skills do the same? Before we begin clicking links, reacting to stories, or giving out personal information, we really need to consult with our hearts, our heads, and our helpers.
Consult with your HEART: Misinformation, including scams, are designed to target our emotions. Fear, curiosity, sadness, and anger are all powerful emotions that can override our ability to think clearly. Scammers are hoping your emotional state will cloud your logical one so that you will begin to engage in their content immediately. If what you read is making you 'feel some kind of way,' it is best to take a step back and do a bit more investigation before acting.
Consult with your HEAD: Conduct an investigation into the information you see by walking away from the source and opening a search engine instead.
Sensational headline that is making you upset? Google the headline. Are 2-3 reputable news outlets saying the same thing?
See a hopeful meme about cures for COVID? Google it. Can COVID be avoided by drinking hot water every morning? Odds are, the first few results you see will tell you otherwise.
Suspect a scam in your inbox? Conduct a few keyword searches like "Netflix email scams" to see if others have reported similar requests for information.
The best thing you can do is leave the piece of information in question and conduct some general research on it instead.
Consult with your HELPERS: Remember that we have community members that are much more knowledgeable than we are in their areas of expertise.
Instead of turning to social media to talk about your COVID vaccine fears, call your doctor.
Rather than make decisions about your investments based on blogs and YouTube videos, schedule a meeting with your financial advisor.
If you suspect a scam, but still are not sure if you are being duped, call your local police department and inquire about it.
Don't forget - your public librarians are also a very important part of your community and would LOVE to help you locate valid, relevant, trustworthy information so that you can make decisions from a place of knowledge, not from a place of misinformation.
The information landscape can be overwhelming, but checking in with your emotions, taking some time to conduct research, and turning to people you trust are three simple ways to begin safeguarding yourself from misinformation.