Everything you need to know about online scams
The advent of Internet and the steep rise, in recent years, of social media and e-commerce gave birth to a brand new, unknown before, type of threat: online scams. As expected, the increasing use of online platforms meant, as well, the expansion of online scams which nowadays are as diverse as they are numerous.
Therefore, now it’s more important than ever to come up with strategies in order to protect your privacy online as to avoid online theft of personal data or other type of sensitive information, money or even property.
What are online scams?
As the name suggests, online scams are a type of fraudulent activity happening or involving the Internet. Their prevalence, as well as success are due to the reliance on Internet for most of our activities nowadays, from shopping to traveling and bill-paying.
What types of online scams are there?
Though there’s a high number of types of online scams, some of them are more common than others. The most prevalent include phishing, the “Nigerian prince” scam, online dating and travel scams.
The most common online scam nowadays is phishing. It usually takes the form of an email, apparently sent by your bank or a trusted website (be it social media or an e-commerce site, for instance), in which you are required to log in and check your personal data. Once you do so, though, all your personal information is sent to scammers who can afterwards use it for money and even identity theft.
Nigerian prince scam
The Nigerian prince scam, also known as the Nigerian 419 scam, is both one of the oldest and one of the most resilient types of online scams. Though currently is no longer associated (solely) to Nigerian senders, this Internet scam became popular when people all over the world started receiving emails from political, business, or even royal figures from the aforementioned country, soliciting money for various reasons.
Nowadays, as before, the Nigerian prince scam involves the same type of email in which you are informed that you are the beneficiary of a will, for example, or perhaps your assistance is required in a business matter. These Internet scams may involve as well donations soliciting. The scenarios may vary, but they all have a common denominator: each time you are required to deliver an amount of money.
Online dating scams
People from all corners of the world get to know each other online and sometimes form romantic bonds. This is the ideal situation of which online scammers take advantage with possibly disastrous consequences. Online dating scams rely on dating services or even social media and may take even several months during which cyber criminals slowly gain their victims’ trust. Finally, they end up soliciting, usually large, amounts of money for a plethora of reasons, such as family or job emergencies, sometimes going as far as claiming they have been kidnapped and their families need money to pay the ransom.
Online travel scams are most likely to take place in the weeks – or days – preceding the summer and winter holiday seasons. More often than not, you will get an email with a too-good-to-be-true holiday offer – e.g. a vacation to an exotic place at an incredibly low price – that you have to pay for as soon as possible before it expires. The sender is usually an unknown travel agency which should make you suspicious from the get-go.
Because the creativity of scammers literally knows no boundaries, the number of ways you can get scammed online if you don’t pay attention is too big to go into so many details about each one. But here is a list of other scams you should be aware of:
- Greeting card scams
- Guaranteed bank loan scams
- Lottery scams
- Hitman scams
- Romance scams
- The fake antivirus software
- Economic scams
- Fake news scams
- Stock market scams
- Smishing (SMS scams)
- Facebook impersonation scams
- Delivery scams
- Job offer scams
So keep your eyes open and be extra careful from now on if something that is happening to you resembles the name of any of the scams above.
How to identify online scams?
As varied as they may be, online scams can be identified by several recurring traits. Even when you are not required to make a payment, the following should put you on guard immediately:
- The offer is too good to be true. You’re announced that you are the winner of some valuable prize or of a large sum of money, but you don’t remember ever participating in the competition. If the announcement sounds too good to be true, it most likely is.
- You are pressured to act quickly. The amazing offer expires in an hour – and you have to decide on spot if you take it or not. Scammers use this tactic to deny you the necessary time to look up more information about the said offer and to begin to question its legitimacy. No serious offer, whatever its type, requires you to decide immediately.
- The sender is unknown and/or uses strange language. Emails, text messages and even phone calls (especially from abroad) coming from unknown people should make you wonder about the validity of their content. The language used is also a factor in identifying scams – if it’s too technical (jargon) or is riddled with grammar, spelling, etc. mistakes, it might indicate that something not-quite-legal is going on.
- They require very specific personal data. Avoid sending your social security number, for instance, to people you don’t know or to websites that either have requested personal data (which you have already delivered) before or that you see for the first time.
- Beware of unsolicited pop-ups. They’re everywhere. But if a pop-up solicits personal data from you or suddenly shows up after you’ve registered for a free trial on a website, for example, it might just mean that you’re dealing with an online scammer or even malware going after your personal information.
How to protect yourself against online scams?
Your best ally in the war against online scams is knowledge. Verify every too-good-to-be-true offer you receive, especially via email, but also make sure you make online payments solely on trustworthy websites and/or towards reliable institutions, authorities and people. What is more, do not hesitate to talk to other people before making a final decision on an offer – a simple discussion with a friend might bring light into a murky online matter.
Last but not least, because, despite your good intentions, sometimes cyber frauds are just too cunning, a good antimalware program installed on your gadgets (PC, laptop, tablet, mobile phone) may be more useful than you think, protecting you from a variety of fraud attempts.