Common internet scams and how to protect yourself

Sander van Hezik Mar 28, 2022 12:51:00 PM

Online scams have been around for as long as the internet is here. They’ve changed, mutated, and adapted over the years. Make sure you don't fall for one

Online scams have been around for as long as the internet has existed. They’ve changed, mutated, and adapted over the years as our technology and software has changed, but they’re all after one of two things: Your personal information or your money. Or, sometimes, both. You may have heard of some of these scams, but others might be totally new so be sure to read all 10 of these common online scams.

Phishing scams

Phishing scams are becoming increasingly popular, mainly because they can be difficult to detect. In phishing scams, the victim receives an email that looks like it’s from their bank or a legitimate ecommerce site. Once they click on the enclosed link, they’re directed to a page that looks real but is actually a replica of the site they’re trying to visit. They’ll be asked to enter their login or banking info, which is then sent directly to the thieves.

Cheap apartment scams

Anyone who’s used a site like craigslist to find an apartment has stumbled over one of these: An apartment that is too good to be true. It’s outrageously cheap, in a great location, and exactly what you’re looking for. The only issue is that the landlord lives overseas/is traveling — and maybe he’s even a clergyman — and can’t show you the apartment right now but if you send him a deposit, he can guarantee you can have the place.

See what he did there? While the addresses and descriptions of these apartments are often real, the price and landlord are not. Don’t ever send money to a “landlord” before laying eyes on the apartment first.

Nigerian 419 scams

The Nigerian 419 scam might be the oldest one in the internet book. In fact, these scams started back when people were still communicating mainly by mail and fax. In a Nigerian 419 scam — sometimes called a “Nigerian prince” scam — the victim receives an email from someone claiming to need help transferring a large sum of money out of a war zone. Or maybe they inherited cash, but they can’t get to it because of the restrictions on banking in their country. They’ll then ask for the person’s banking information so that they can “transfer the funds” — but the only funds transfer will be from the victim’s bank account to theirs.

Another move is to charge the victim fees or taxes that are “needed” to release the money. Obviously, the money will never appear.

Greeting card scams

Greeting card scams appear to be a greeting card from someone you know. However, clicking on the link will lead to a website that will download malware or Trojans onto your computer. Good rule of thumb: Don’t click on greeting card links.

Reshipping and payment processing scams

These scammers pose as foreign companies who need a person on the ground in your area to handle payment processing and reshipping needs. What they’re really doing, however, is laundering money — some of which may have been stolen via one of these other common scams. If you agree to participate, you can legally be considered to be part of their operation.

Suspicious photo scam

As with many email and social media scams, the suspicious photo scam relies on fear to get victims. A person receives an email or a message that appears to be a friend with something like “OMG is this a naked picture of you???” and a link. Worried about what might be on the internet, the victim clicks the link — and is directed to a login page that looks like a legitimate social media or email login page. However — surprise! — it’s not, and when the victim enters their login info, that information goes directly to hackers.

Survey scam

Surveys sent via email seem innocuous enough, but if you haven’t specifically signed up to receive a survey then chances are it’s a scam. Clicking on the link could lead to spyware being downloaded on your computer, from which hackers can collect everything from your banking information to your social security number. With that information, you might have full-on identity theft on your hands.

Hacked social media profile scam

In a hacked social media profile scam, victims receive a message via social media from someone they know. However, chances are they’re also someone they haven’t heard from in a long time. Hackers use personal information available on the hacked profile and the victim’s profile to establish a personal relationship, and then send links about a “business opportunity” or ask for help because they’re traveling and lost their credit card. In these situations, always be sure to confirm over the phone or some other method that the person is actually the one trying to reach you. (And, if they’re not, to let them know their profile has been hacked.)

Sick baby scam

Unfortunately, thieves are willing to take advantage of people’s desire to help a sick child. While there certainly are legitimate funds set up to help sick babies and children, don’t automatically assume that one you see is real. If you know the family in question, ask before donating. And if you don’t know them, find a friend who does before entering your credit card information.

Also, no social media site offers payments for the number of shares, so if a post is claiming that Facebook will donate five cents for every share, it’s definitely bogus.

Lottery winning scams       

A very common email scam is one claiming that you’ve won a foreign lottery. While the email might look official, take a minute to think about why you would have won a lottery in a foreign country that you might not have even visited. As with most things, if it seems too good to be true? It probably is.

Scareware scams

Scareware is when a user is informed that some software they’ve purchased is infected and that they need to order a “full version” in order to clean out the infection. However, when the victim downloads the new software, not only do the hackers then have access to their banking information but the victim’s site is likely infected with spyware that can lead to further theft.

How to protect yourself from common online scams:

Because new scams are popping all the time, it’s hard to have one definitive list of what’s out there. However, there are some best practices you can follow to protect yourself.

  1. Don’t click on links unless they’re sent by someone you know. If you’re at all suspicious, confirm over the phone.
  2. Check the URL of sites you visit to make sure it’s accurate and use the “https” protocol.
  3. Confirm that donation sites and requests are legitimate before handing over your credit card information.
  4. Don’t ever give anyone but confirmed sites your credit card information or login info.
  5. Don’t believe anyone who offers you “free” money or prizes, no matter how tempting the offer.
  6. Hover over links before you click them to make sure they’re legitimate.
  7. If it seems suspicious, assume it’s sketchy. This goes for (seemingly) legitimate sites asking you to log in again for no clear reason, unnecessary requests for your credit card, or even random requests for your phone number.
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