5 Common Online Scams and How To Avoid Them
It’s a tale almost as old as the internet. A faraway prince emails that he needs help transferring funds to a location outside of the country. He’s willing to pay you a hefty commission in exchange for your help and money.
Veteran internet users know better than to pay attention to such an obvious scam. Yet, they’re still out there and getting more subtle and sophisticated. Getting hacked is a real threat if you don’t know the different types of online scams.
What are the most common online scams?
While email scams are usually one of the most common methods of contact, social media has begun to take over. This government report says reported losses from social media scams between 2021 and 2023 were $2.7 billion. One in four people said the fraudulent interaction began on social media platforms.
Keep your eye out for these common scams:
Investment fraud has the highest dollar loss out of all the social media–based scams. Scammers create a fake profile of a successful investor and then promote their “investments.” They make promises of a huge return—but investors lose their money in the scam.
How do you know if it’s an investment scam?
- Being told that your investment will have a high return with no or low risks. All investments involve some risk.
- You’re pressured to make a quick decision on an investment. Legitimate investment professionals will give you adequate time to research an investment.
- Do this: Reputable investment professionals register with a regulatory organization. One example is the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). You can use the free BrokerCheck tool to verify credentials.
Online dating scams
Scammers use dating profiles to manipulate their victims into a relationship. If you have a public profile, online scammers will research it to learn what you like and dislike. Then they use that information to become your ideal partner. Once you’ve fallen for it, the lover/scammer will ask for financial favors.
How do you know if it’s an online dating scam?
- If you accept a friend request from a stranger that rapidly turns into a romance and talks of marriage.
- They can never meet in person.
- Do this: Try a reverse image search of profile pictures. If the information doesn’t match, then assume it’s a scam.
Spoofing is a technique of manipulating a return email address that looks similar to a trusted organization you know. Oftentimes, it’s off by only one letter or character. When you get an email from a spoofed email address, you might respond because you think it’s legitimate. Spoofing is part of a phishing scam.
There are many ways a scammer can use spoofing to mimic a trusted source. Some common examples include:
- A business you’ve purchased from before or where you have an account
- A charity you might be interested in supporting
- Computer or tech repair you might need
- “Official” government agencies asking for fraudulent fees
- A too-good-to-be-true work-from-home opportunity
How do you know if it’s a spoofing scam?
- The email address looks wrong.
- The email asks you for your password or two-factor authentication code or other personal information.
- Do this: Check your address book and confirm every character of the email address. Call the company’s confirmed phone number and verify their request.
Online shopping scams
Online shopping scams are the most reported kind of social media fraud. Many of these scams can begin on a platform like Facebook or Instagram, with an ad leading to a fake shopping site.
How do you know if it’s an online shopping scam?
- If the payment method is with a money order, preloaded money card or wire transfer, then it might be a scam. Another potential sign of a scam is if they won’t accept PayPal or a credit card transaction.
- If the product is at an unbelievably low price.
- Do this: Check for customer reviews, and also verify the company’s terms and conditions or contact details. If there is little or no information, it’s a red flag.
Hacked social media accounts
Scammers hack a social media account to connect with the person’s contacts. They send fake messages and ask contacts for help or money.
How do you know if a social media account is hacked?
- The request is urgent.
- The person asks you to keep it a secret from other people.
- They ask for money via non-trackable or instant wire transfer, cryptocurrency or gift cards.
- Do this: Check with your contact to make sure they’re okay and know about the hack.
What can I do to protect my data and avoid scams?
First, get smart about how online criminals are committing fraud. Staying safe online is easier when you know the red flags of a scam.
For more protection, you can add these cyber security must-haves to your devices. You can also ask your internet service provider if they have protection services like multi-device security, VPN privacy and password management. And always keep your eyes open!
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