Learn how to protect yourself – and your cash – from the dirtiest tricks on the web.
The year is not even half over, but the FTC has already logged almost 500,000 fraud scams and over 300,000 cases of identity theft since January. According to the UN, an additional 782 million people have come online during the pandemic, raising the number of internet users globally from 4.1 billion to 4.9 billion. This increase brought a wealth of new and not-yet-savvy victims to the world of cybercrime, unfortunately at the same time that scams were growing more sophisticated and tricky.
The pandemic is not over, and there are still many Covid-19 scams preying on the innocent, but 2022 has seen a number of other underhanded schemes successfully swindling users out of their money. Here are the three most devious.
1. Imposter scams
The FTC ranks imposter scams as the most reported fraud threat so far this year, with 166,497 reports since January and a total of $616 million stolen. These scams involve bad actors pretending to be a business or government entity, typically informing the user of a possibly fraudulent purchase on their credit card. It’s a potent scam, as it causes a knee-jerk reaction in most users to click the provided link in order to protect their money. Ironically, clicking the link only lets the criminals into the users’ systems, threatening their identity and finances further.
How to protect yourself: When you receive one of these messages, take a deep breath and resist the urge to act out of panic. Close the email message and go to the official website of your account to see if the email’s claim is legitimate. Almost every time, you’ll find it was a scam.
2. Prizes, sweepstakes, and lotteries
These schemes inform the user they’ve just won a cash prize and that they can easily claim it…but only if they first send in a check to cover the cost of taxes, processing, delivery, and so on. Of course, anyone who falls for this ends up losing the money they paid, and they never receive their “winnings.” The FTC received 19,818 complaints about these scams this year, and users have lost a total of $52.2 million to them.
How to protect yourself: Users should remember that it is illegal for any sweepstakes or lottery to require any payment up front in order to claim your winnings. If anyone asks you to pay something in order to collect, you know it’s a scam.
3. Online romance scams
Scams that take advantage of lonely hearts are probably the most despicable of all. They usually prey on older users, and the scammers play a long game. They find victims on dating apps and strike up relationships as long-distance suitors. When they feel they’ve gained the victim’s trust, the money requests begin. They might say they need money to get out of the country they’re in, or they need funds to pay for a medical procedure, or they may simply need financial help which they promise to pay back. Some romance scams have robbed vulnerable, lovesick victims out of their entire life savings.
How to protect yourself: Keep your guard up and do not be too quick to trust someone you’ve never actually met. Take your time and ask lots of questions, keeping an eye out for inconsistent answers. Meet up in person in a public place or set up a video chat. Most importantly, do not send money to anyone you’ve only known online.
Tips to protect you against all scams
Never click on links or open attachments in emails from people you don’t know. Consider them malicious (because, most likely, they are).
Don't pick up the phone, especially when the number comes from “potential spam.” Let your voicemail handle it. The more you engage, the more calls you’ll get.
Shut down communication with anyone you don’t know who begins asking you for money.
Discuss scams with your friends and family. You’ll be helping them stay on alert, and they may have something to offer that opens your eyes as well.