Internet scams are lurking behind every corner of the World Wide Web. From our personal and business email accounts, to our social media profiles and our online shopping sprees, we are prone to cyber theft at any given time when browsing online. While most internet scams might come in the form of annoying pop-ups that you close instinctually, some are so well-hidden that even experienced users might not be able to point them out. In these situations, how do we know the difference? Are there any clear signs that set internet scams apart from honest transactions? And, most importantly, how do we prevent online disasters from taking place?
Even though some internet scams are concealed with almost surgical precision by skilled hackers, we can prevent a great deal just by paying careful attention to what we click. Our extensive guide will walk you through the basics and specifics of internet scams, from the most popular ones in the ‘game’, to expert tips on how to steer clear of them. You will see if you are part of an internet scammer’s main target and, if you are, how you can protect your business or personal assets. Unlock this abundance of information about internet scams and find out how you can stay safe online at all times below.
The Most Effective Internet Scams
First things first – let’s talk about the most popular, effective and dangerous internet scams that we all are subject to. Although it might seem like common sense to not give the Nigerian prince the amount requested for transferring ridiculous sums, not everyone is familiar with even the most basic of internet scams. A few widespread cons that you should always keep in mind are:
- Phishing email scams
- Money laundering schemes
- Bank loan / credit card scams
However, there are a few more disastrous internet scams you should always remember. Even though they might not be as frequent as the aforementioned ones, they are no less dangerous:
- Overpayment: job offerings, sales postings, etc.
- Extortion or bribery: ransomware.
- Complete identity
We’ll get into detail about the top internet scams below.
Phishing Email Scams
Phishing, or the act of sending fraudulent emails to obtain personal data, happens on a daily basis all around the world. Even if you might not be an obvious target, such as a wealthy businessman or an individual who does hefty online shopping, scammers will attempt to lure you in at one time or another.
These types of emails range from winning a lottery you never signed up for to inheriting a large amount from a long-lost relative or even being asked to help refugees from a war-torn country or area affected by a natural disaster. To say that phishing internet scams are common would be an understatement; there are high chances that you will find an attempt in your spam folder right now if you haven’t recently cleared it out.
Another few very clear examples of phishing are:
- Shaky business ‘opportunities’
- Suspicious rental offers
- Dream holiday deals
- Miraculous health cures
- False government agency messages
- Charity donation requests
If you use one of the top email providers (like Gmail or Yahoo), most of these messages will be filtered and reach your spam folder. However, home hackers go the extra mile to make sure they hit your inbox. The majority come from obscure email addresses, individuals you have never connected with before and titles and body text content that create a sense of urgency.
How Do They Do It?
In a nutshell, phishing works by leading an unprepared internet user into openly providing personal or sensitive information to hackers. The information can be extracted by internet scammers either by a user willingly offering it when completing a form or replying to an email. In other cases, clicking a link can lead to malware being automatically downloaded to the user’s device, such as a Trojan Horse. In an unfortunate amount of situations, the user might not even be aware that their information has been stolen by a scammer.
So, how do internet scammers phish?
First of all, they obtain your email address from a source. Some use the same tactics that spammers do, while others pinpoint specific individuals or businesses.
Secondly, the phisher sets up the website, bank account or another source for collecting the victim’s information. Most put in a lot of thought and care into the setup for credibility in the eyes of the user.
Thirdly, they send the email with a carefully crafted message. Phishers usually disguise themselves as a reputable source (like your bank) or an extremely wealthy individual that asks for your collaboration. We’ll expand more on how to point out phishing scenarios below.
Lastly, the phishers collect your personal information and use it for malicious purposes. These can range from minor online purchases to driving a business to bankruptcy.
Don’t Become a Victim
If you haven’t realized this by now, phishing is far more than meets the eye. A moment of ignorance can lead to extreme money loss or, even worse, complete identity theft. There are plenty of ways you can prevent phishing, as long as you pay attention to the following aspects:
- Do not respond to strange emails. This goes without saying, but if an African billionaire has chosen you, out of all people, to inherit their funds, it will always be a scam. Do not answer the email at all and block the address you received it from.
- Know how to spot phishing. Internet scammers are clever and most of them have surpassed the ‘Nigerian prince’ stage. Many will have credibility on their side by posing as your local bank or a similar official source. If you ever receive a suspicious email soliciting any personal data, call your bank or the apparent source and speak to one of their representatives personally.
- Do not click the links. The majority of phishing cases will involve a link to an external website. If you click it, you risk being infected by malicious software that can extract your bank details and other sensitive personal information. Never click any link in a spam-like email.
- Research other prevention methods. Take a bit of time to read articles about online fraud prevention. The insight you get might help you dodge a cyber attack.
Money Laundering Schemes
Although you might have no intention whatsoever of digitally laundering money, you might get caught up in internet scams that make you a culprit. Online gaming and gambling are some of the most common ways that ill-prepared internet users end up in money laundering frauds without their knowledge. In addition to these, you might find yourself in a money muling scheme through one of the email templates we described above. If you are ever asked to transfer an amount of money by somebody unknown (even if the request comes from a suffering widow from a foreign country), do not comply or answer the message in any way.
Money Laundering via Online Gaming
Online gaming is one of the most frequent scenarios for laundering money online. The gaming community is prone to such attacks because users tend to invest a considerable amount of money on game options. Those who fall under the category of ‘hardcore gamers’ will spend thousands on building characters, boosting skills and so on. As for money laundering through online games, this is achieved though creating multiple accounts to transfer money from one to the other.
Massive multi-player online role playing games are among the top targets for online money laundering. World of Warcraft or Second Life works with credits that can be exchanged for real money, making it an open opportunity for internet scams. Criminals can easily carry out these transactions with no detection. Risks of Online Gambling
Online gambling is no less dangerous than gaming when it comes to money laundering. There are several reasons while online gambling is used as a tool for illegal purposes:
- In a great number of jurisdictions, winnings obtained from gambling are not subject to taxes.
- There is no cash involved, only digital amounts.
- There are countless transactions in online gambling that are difficult to track.
Although we recommend avoiding online gambling altogether, we recommend that those who do play use only licensed platforms. If you see any suspicious or potentially malicious activity on your account or as a user on the website, contact the developers as soon as you can.
Bank Loan or Credit Card Scams
As we previously described, a great deal of internet scams involves entities posing as banks or other financial institutions. With credibility on their side, the scammers can successfully obtain your bank information and have complete access to your finances. Whether they be instant approvals for loans or credit card schemes, these threats are everywhere and should be treated with tremendous caution. Only work with financial institutions that you trust, initially face-to-face, if possible. It’s most likely that a random email approving you for credit will end up in your bank account information being compromised. Below you can find out about the two biggest scams of this kind, but you can always learn more about preventing online fraud through additional resources.
You should never be asked to pay advance fees when applying for a loan. To help you understand a potential loan scam, picture this. You open your inbox one day and see an email that you are approved for a loan you would greatly need at the moment. You don’t do much research on the source and voluntarily provide all the necessary papers and bank information to confirm your approval. You are asked to pay a processing fee or other advance payments in order to be cleared. After you pay these fees, you not only lose the money, but your bank information is already in the wrong hands. To avoid this horrendous scenario, do not respond to any obscure emails promising loans.
Money Transfer Scams
We briefly spoke about the dangers of money laundering and how you could be asked to take part in a transfer. Usually, these requests appear in the form of a helpless individual (like the vulnerable widow we spoke about) wanting to get money out of the country. Even though you might be promised an impressive cut for your efforts, you should never comply. Not only would you be engaging in a potentially illegal activity if it were true, but you could also end up without access to your credit cards or even your identity as a result.
Who are Internet Scammers Targeting?
The answer is simple: anybody and everybody. Regardless if you’re 13 and you have just created your first email address or you are a grandmother that uses the internet to keep in touch with your children, you are very much prone to internet scams. Business owners, both large and small, are just as much a target for internet scammers as any other individual. To put it shortly, anyone with an email address, a website or a social media account can have their information compromised if not attentive.
But what sets you apart from other internet users? You can access resources and sharpen your skills to prevent any of these disasters from taking place.
Risks for Small Business Owners
There are a few well-known internet scams that target small business owners. While they range from false complaints to overpayments, entrepreneurs should always keep their eyes wide open for any suspicious emails that could turn into internet scams.
- False billing. Small business owners could be contacted by false directories to update their company information. After that, they will be billed for ads they have never placed or other similar services. By the end of the ordeal, the business owner ends up paying to avoid legal action.
- False complaints. An email is sent with an apparent complaint and a link to an external website. The business owner clicks the link and malicious software is automatically downloaded on their computer.
- Overpayment. A customer apparently writes a check for a larger amount than the product they have ordered. They ask that the difference is sent to them electronically after the business owner cashes the check.
Senior Citizens Targeted Online
Due to their lack of tech know-how, senior citizens are unfortunately one of the top targets for internet scammers. If you are among the elderly, make sure that you never provide login credentials, bank information or any personal details if asked to via emails. As for user IDs and passwords, you will only be asked to use them when signing into a certain platform or if you specifically request their retrieval or to reset them. If you receive any emails with individuals posing as your grandchildren asking for urgent money – or even worse, ransom threats – contact your local authorities.
Online Dating Site Users
To get things clear, you should never send money to somebody who is trying to build a romantic relationship with you online. Some of these internet scammers know exactly how to speak to people in order to gain their trust, so never transfer money or offer any information that can be compromised. In addition to this, you should try to develop relationships as locally as possible.
Protect Yourself Against Online Scams
In the end, it all narrows down to protection. No matter if you are worried about internet scams, telephone fraud or smishing (like phishing, but through text messaging), you can train to prevent them. You can start by reading several articles on this topic and expand your knowledge with the help of specialists in the field.
Available Specialised Help
Investigation & Fraud Courses
There are plenty of courses available for you to sharpen your investigative skills. From criminal investigation and procedures, statement writing skills, complex investigation management and investigative interviewing to financial investigation awareness, there are numerous ways in which you can become a specialist in the field and prevent internet scams for good.
Also, you can learn about fraud investigation techniques, fraud investigative interviewing and fraud awareness through telephone interviews.
Stay Safe from Telecoms Fraud
Telecoms fraud is just as dangerous as internet scams. You have access to resources to develop basic investigation skills and even engage in a course for foundation level telecommunications fraud. You can use the knowledge and information you gain to prevent others from becoming victims of telecom frauds as well.
Steps to Take Against Cybercrimes
Is Your Device Secure
You know by now that you should never answer dodgy emails, but how do you know that the devices you are using are fully secure? Even though this may seem like a basic step, make sure that you have quality antivirus software installed and running on your device. It is recommended that you invest in a high-quality antivirus and not rely just on trial versions. Be very careful with fake antivirus software, which might be advertised to you in the form of a pop-up on a website alerting you of being infected. Only purchase this type of software (and any programs, for that matter) from a source you genuinely trust.
Some other steps you should take to make sure that your device is secure are:
- Protect any personal information on social media. If possible, avoid providing any sensitive information at all, even if it is only to your list of friends.
- Don’t click any shortlinks that don’t come from a reliable source. If you aren’t sure about the origins and you want to check, you can use a tool like http://www.checkshorturl.com for verification.
- Don’t download any email attachments from obscure sources. Be careful who you receive files from and take extra care with the extension of these files (.exe, for example, can indicate malware instead of the photo you were promised).
- Keep your passwords as complicated and isolated as possible. Do not use the same password for more than one website and make sure you change them on a monthly basis.
We know it’s a lot to take in, but it will help you prevent numerous internet scams.
Spot & Report Suspicious Activity
Last but certainly not least, always keep an eye out for any kind of suspicious activity. You can never be too careful with these issues and it’s always better to be safe than sorry. In most cases, if you feel that something distrustful is going on, it most likely is. You should trust your instinct and steer clear of any wary emails, websites and links you might come across. Use the information we have shared with you in this guide to spot any troublesome activity, and even continue your studies with a certified course.
If you do come across any blatantly suspicious activity, report it immediately. All notable social media websites have a report option, so you shouldn’t hesitate to use it if this is the case. The same goes for email services. Even if you succeeded in avoiding phishing or other internet scams, some other users might not possess the knowledge you do and could end up being victims of internet scams.
As a final word, never share your password, bank information or other personal details with anybody, not even close friends or family members. You never know when this information can be compromised and you could end up in debt or with a stolen identity. Stay safe when browsing online and always question any link, message or attachment you receive.