Protect Yourself from These 9 Common Online Scams

The internet is a remarkable place, serving as an information superhighway, the fastest communication channel in history, a massive entertainment system, and much more. However, the nearly unrestricted communication the internet makes possible also allows for plenty of con artists to seek more victims much more rapidly. Internet scams have existed as long as the internet and are only becoming more sophisticated as time goes on.

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Common Internet Scams

Between fake news, phishing messages, and harder-to-detect forms of online fraud, it’s all too easy to unwittingly become a victim of online scams. That’s why it’s absolutely crucial for both individuals and businesses to learn to recognize the signs of something being wrong. Here are several of the more common online scams you can expect to encounter in 2020:

  1. Phishing
  2. Dating scams
  3. Blackmail
  4. Offers of money
  5. Buying or selling cons
  6. Bitcoin
  7. Fake antiviruses
  8. Fake tech support
  9. Imitations of real websites

1) Phishing

Though the term is usually applied to emails, phishing-like messages can appear anywhere from phone calls to text messages to faxes. Exact wording and styles will vary, but the aim never changes. The sender tries to fool the recipient into revealing personal information such as their address, their bank account info, their social security number, and often more. Enough confidential information allows the scammer to steal their victim’s identity or drain their savings. These messages are considered very dangerous. If you receive a phishing email, use the built-in “Report Phishing” feature most email providers include and help stop the spread of spam emails.

2) Dating Scams

Emails or online ads promising to connect you to gorgeous foreign ladies cannot be trusted. As many men across the world have learned, it’s very easy to impersonate someone else and fake an entire relationship online, building up trust before beginning to ask for money. Once the money stops, the “lover” vanishes forever. This dating scam scenario happens in a variety of settings, ranging from unsolicited emails to website ads to even fake profiles in dating apps. While online dating isn’t inherently a flawed system, it can leave you very vulnerable if you aren’t careful. Never send money or personal information to someone you’ve never met in person.

3) Blackmail

Blackmail scams take a variety of forms, but one of the most common ones in recent memory is known as the “webcam scam”. The scammer sends an email, sometimes disguised as coming from the user’s own address, claiming they remotely hacked your webcam and recorded you doing questionable activities. They threaten to release the video to everyone you know unless you buy their silence. While this scam is easy to spot if your webcam is covered or your device doesn’t have one, the real-world threat of remote hacking is common enough that many users are fooled. Fortunately, you have nothing to fear from these emails. The hacker is just trying to frighten you into paying.

Having said that, it is still possible for hackers to access your webcam without your knowledge or consent. It never hurts to be overly cautious and cover your webcam when you aren’t using it.

4) Offers of Money

In a seeming reverse of scams demanding money, some scammers will offer to send you money or goods for no apparent reason. These can come through popups or emails and may include:

  • Congratulating you for winning a lottery or drawing (alternatively, “You’re our website’s 1000th visitor!!!”)
  • Unsolicited donation offers
  • Job offers that are too good to be true
  • Celebrity impersonations offering money or prizes (high-profile examples include Bill Gates and Markiplier)

These offers are never real and may actually result in you losing money if the scammers “accidentally” send too much and ask for the difference back. Once you’ve paid up, you’ll realize the money never entered your bank account and you were scammed. Online offers such as celebrity impersonations can also place viruses on your computer. Don’t be fooled!

5) Buying or Selling Cons

If you’ve ever tried buying or selling online, you know that people will try to lowball the price or demand more money for their goods. But Craigslist or Nextdoor scammers aren’t the only ones you might contend with. The internet is full of ads for fake health supplements and psychics clamoring for your payment. Others may bill you for goods you never requested or received, and if an unsolicited text message comes in, you may be charged exorbitant phone rates if you respond. Don’t be tricked into believing these lies. There are legitimate ways to buy or sell online, and clicking on sketchy-looking ads or emails is not one of them.

6) Bitcoin

A highly successful cryptocurrency, Bitcoin has made a name for itself in the online world. This highly confidential payment method allows people to invest their savings in secure online locations or make anonymous online purchases. While the company has certainly had its security issues in the past, Bitcoin is largely still trusted. That’s what makes Bitcoin-centric scams so dangerous. These messages can range from ponzi schemes to malware downloads to counterfeit Bitcoin exchanges and more. If you use Bitcoin or are considering it, avoid these messages and go directly through Bitcoin itself rather than a third-party messenger.

Pro Tip: Blackmail scams or ransomware will often demand payment in Bitcoin. Don’t pay their demands–delete blackmail messages and get professional help for ransomware immediately.

7) Fake Antiviruses

Sometimes a popup, ad, or message will claim that your device is infected with a virus and must be scanned immediately. Some popups of this nature will even lock your desktop to cripple your attempts at stopping the virus. The irony, of course, is that allowing the “scan” to commence will infect your computer and quite possibly install ransomware to boot. Emails with fake antiviruses are easy enough to delete, and ads can be ignored. Some particularly aggressive popups, however, require more action. If your desktop is locked, reboot your computer and run the Windows function “refresh your PC” to stop the virus from installing and undo any damage. The program may still be present, but it should be disabled and much easier to remove.

8) Fake Tech Support

The classic Windows Tech Support scam is a prime example of this one. This scam, however, more often takes place via phone calls rather than online. The caller claims that your computer has a virus or other problem and offers to remotely “fix” the issue. Often they will demand a fee or subscription to fix your computer. Other times, if the caller grants them access, the scammer will lock the computer and demand payment to release everything. This scam is widespread and old enough that most people will recognize it, but don’t be too confident you can always spot a scam. Keep the real Microsoft’s comments on the problem in mind: they will never call you unsolicited, and their tech support messages never include phone numbers. If you ever need to contact Microsoft tech support, get the number from their actual website.

9) Imitations of Real Websites

Advanced scammers are convincing in more than just their language. It’s increasingly common to see convincing copies of legitimate websites run by scammers posing as charities, online shops, loyalty programs, recruiters, or even news providers. You may not always be able to tell from the webpage alone that you’re being scammed, so always make sure to check the URL. Does it have the name you were expecting to see? More importantly, how did you get to that website: through an email link, a page on the legitimate website, an ad, etc? These clues and a few others will tell you if you’re actually where you want to be.

Don’t Be a Victim!

Internet scams are everywhere, even in places you would expect to be safe. Fortunately, they’re usually easy to avoid. Take the time to educate yourself and your employees on what constitutes a red flag of a scam and how to stay safe. Don’t let yourself become another victim of online con artists.

Join the conversation to learn more about internet fraud and how to protect yourself.