How to Avoid Online Scams

Michael Bennett
October 20, 2015 - 60 Views

Internet users are feeling safe nowadays because there is so much information out there to help them protect themselves from existing scams. However, they forget that scammers don’t sit still either and are, in fact, constantly working at developing new tactics. This is why consumers must remain vigilant at all times as well.

“Greetings to you, my dear friend.

I am sure this message will be a great surprise to you, since we have never spoken before. I am the son of a deposed official in the Nigerian government, and my name is…”

This will probably sound incredibly familiar to you. That is because these lines, or a form of them, are the opening lines of the 419 scam, one of the oldest and most far-reaching scams in the world. Basically, the scam works on a few simple ideas:

  • Someone in an official position has earned, inherited or found a lot of money.
  • They cannot access the money themselves and need someone in a foreign country to pay bribes and legal fees.

If you fall for it, you will probably be provided with pictures of very realistic-looking, but nonetheless fake, checks and proof of wire transfer. That is if you are lucky. Sometimes people have taken the scam very seriously and have ended up going to Nigeria, only to get killed there. This particular scam has existed for hundreds of years, long before the invention of the internet. They always work on the same premise, which is to ask someone to wire money over to them (in today’s world, through Western Union) so they can take off with it.

Most people are now able to see through the Nigerian scam, but that doesn’t mean scammers have given up. Rather, they are looking for more efficient and smarter ways to trick people out of their money. As victims become more knowledgeable, scammers adapt some more, keeping it as an endless cat and mouse game.

Security experts are worried that the level of scams happening today are far more serious than they ever wore. Scammers are becoming ruthless and are attacking not just vulnerable people, but even entire multinational companies. As such, everyone is always at risk. Recent information has revealed the four latest methods of how online scammers are taking your money. It is vital to remember, however, that they will probably already be looking for new ways to scam you.

Four Ways Scammers Take Your Money

The four methods are:

1. The Long Con

Recently, online scamming was all down to what was known as ‘spear-phishing’. It basically meant that scammers were trying to get direct access to the bank accounts of their victims. Cyber criminals continue to use these techniques to target big businesses and government officials.

A hacker manages to crack into your inbox and spends a considerable amount of time in there looking for information about you. Once they figure out who you are and what types of agencies you trust (such as your bank or mortgage company), they will start sending you emails saying that there is a problem with your account and that you need to log in to fix it. Most of us now know that there are some telltale signs of this, such as official emails starting with ‘Dear customer’, instead of your name. But these hackers have been in your account, so they know your name. This is making it even more difficult for you to spot a scam before it is too late. Once you click on the provided link and enter your details, you will basically have given hackers access to your bank account, and they will literally clean it out.

Interestingly, spear-phishing is also used with online dating scams. Again, someone may hack into your inbox and thereby learn a lot about you, who you are and what you look for in a person. They will then start a fake online dating profile and befriend you. Once they have hooked you, they will start asking you for money for things that will supposedly benefit both of you as a couple. It is difficult to escape these scams, because it feels as if a friend, or someone you truly know is asking you for money.

2. The Authority Dupe

Scammers love to get emotional and they are very much aware of human psychology. They use this knowledge to manipulate people into willingly giving up their information. This is also seen in the authority dupe.

Here, a scammer will pose as a resource from within the workplace, such as the payroll company. They will claim that there has been a security breach and ask their victims to change their password by clicking on a certain link or downloading a file. As soon as they have done so, victims, who truly believe that what they are doing is making their system more secure, will start to get duped out of their money.

Unfortunately, a single click is all it takes to become infected. And, because we spend so much of our time online, it is all too easy to accidentally click on something you shouldn’t click on. That is the reality of our world, and one that is very convenient for scammers.

The authority dupe also happens when a scammer gambles that a victim has very low technological knowledge. IT phone calls, for instance, whereby someone pretends to telephone from Apple or Microsoft and tells a victim that their machine is full of malware, are one of the common scams. They then ask the victim to run some tests that they claim will ‘prove’ their machine is infected (it actually doesn’t) and will then charge an immediate fee to have it fixed.

3. The Puppet

With the puppet scam, hackers pose as figures of authority, friends or family members. In fact, some will pretend to be you. By posing as someone you know,they immediately place themselves in a position of trust. They will be able to be very convincing thanks to information they gained from someone else, through key-logging, stealing your mail or any other method. Everybody knows not to open untrusted links, after all, but if the link comes from someone whom you believe is trustworthy, you are likely to click on it instantly, at which point you will start to give your details away.

The attacks are surprisingly unsophisticated, but they look real. As a result, even online security experts have sometimes fallen victim to it. This is often much to the joy of the hackers, who will, at times, go public with this information (naturally without revealing their own identity).

4. Bait and Switch

Bait and switch is a very old type of scam that has now been fully updated. It basically works by promising something very interesting but in actual fact providing a virus or malware. Bait and switch works incredibly well online, particularly because it is so easy to purchase email lists. If out of a list of 10,000 people, just ten do click on the link (which would be a very conservative estimate), the hackers will already have gotten their money back and more.

The most common bait and switch scam is an IRS email. Hackers pose as a company that tells its employees what the next year’s tax codes will be, listing them in a PDF. The PDF file, in actual fact, has a keylogger included in it, or a different piece of malicious software. This then enables the hacker to have access to all of the victims’ accounts.

The bait and switch tends to be a very large operation, where hundreds, if not thousands, of people are targeted at the same time. These people often include highly placed executives and more. It now also comes in variations that are interesting to an even wider range of people, for instance by offering a free item, such as a cruise or an iPad. In order to win it, they must first complete polls, offers or surveys. The more they do, the more they are asked to do, but they never actually get to the free iPad. By the time they realize this, they will usually already have entered their details in around 10 or 20 different websites.

The success of the scam in this form is attributed to the fact that the cost of living remains high and times remain difficult financially to many people. Many feel as if all they do is work, without having anything in return to show for it. As a result, they are easily attracted to something for free that isn’t as outrageous as a private jet, but definitely plausible.

How to Remain Safe

The world of online scams is evolving constantly. At the same time, however, it uses both old and new methods in order to make sure the money keeps coming in. The four scams above are just some of the cons that are out there, and all of these relate to email. There are quite literally thousands more, some very obvious and some very hard to see through. Unfortunately, people who want to make a quick buck at the expense of others will always continue to exist. So how to do you protect yourself?

  • Always use common sense. Something that looks too good to be true probably is and something that seems just slightly suspicious probably is.
  • Don’t open anything, click on anything or trust anything without looking it up on Google first. If it is a scam, it is likely that someone will have already picked up on it.
  • Always be skeptical, even if something appears to have come from a legitimate source. If you receive an email from your bank, even if it is addressed to you personally, give them a call to check its authenticity. And don’t use the telephone number provided in the email, but look it up yourself.
  • Be careful about how much you share on social media. It is all too easy to share something too widely and find yourself being targeted by very clever con artists.
  • Have an excellent anti-virus program in place to help protect you from most scams.
  • Never wire money to anybody using Western Union.

Additional Resources:

Michael Bennett

About Michael Bennett

Michael Bennett is Editor-in-Chief of Consumer Protect.com. Since 1999, he's worked across a multitude of areas of consumer protection including defective products, environmental issues, identity theft, predatory lending and more. If you find his articles helpful please share them with your readers.