According to the FBI, victims of online scams in the United States lost $672,080,232 in 2014, and registered almost 270,000 complaints. No one wants to become a victim (or a statistic), but with ever-evolving methods, hackers try to stay one step ahead of the masses. Here’s a list of the top six online scams and how to avoid getting duped.
1) Job Offer Scams
You receive an unsolicited email offering a job, typically not in your area of expertise, often for a mystery shopper or similar position. When you accept, you’re paid by check or money order, for an amount greater than your “employer” offered. You’re then asked to send back the difference, only to discover the original check or money order was fake, and you’re out of the money you sent to your fake employer.
With the rise of career networking sites like LinkedIn, unsolicited job offers are becoming more and more common, which means that anyone hungry for work has to become savvy at sifting through the legitimate offers from the scams. If you decide to accept work, never cash suspicious checks without ensuring they’re authentic. To be sure, ask your bank to place a “hold” on the funds until the check or money order is verified. Any time you’re asked to send back the “difference,” this should be a sign that you are involved with a scam.
2) Lottery Scams
You receive an email claiming you’ve won a little-known lottery, usually in another country and always with a huge payout. You may also be asked to pay a small sum to “release” your winnings. You’re asked to send personal details as verification, and suddenly you’re the victim of identity fraud and the money you sent is gone.
Lottery scams have a few telltale signs:
- The email is from a person, not a company.
- You’re not the only recipient.
- You’ve never heard of the lottery.
If you receive an email like this, do a quick Google search to see if it’s legit. (It never is.) We all want to find an easy windfall, but if you didn’t buy a ticket, the odds are you haven’t won the lottery. Never send your personal information via email to anyone you don’t know, and never trust anyone trying to give you money for nothing.
3) Beneficiary Scams
You get an email from someone who is looking to move some money around quickly. These emails sometimes come from people claiming to be royalty—you’ve probably heard of the Nigerian prince scam—but more often they’re from a “businessman” who says he has millions to move out of the country and wants your help in exchange for a cut of the profits. The sender includes just enough details to make the offer seem legitimate. But the money is always delayed, and then you’re on the hook for a host of small payments to facilitate the transfer of funds. Falling for this scam is easy if you’re down on your luck, however, you should look for a few signals that this is not what it seems. Poor grammar and spelling in the original email, and a reply address that doesn’t match the sender’s proves that, especially on the Internet, anything that sounds too good to be true, always is.
4) Online Dating Scams
You meet someone through a dating website or chat room, you start to get to know each other, and it can feel very real. However, you can never be sure who’s on the other side of your screen. If you find yourself in an online relationship with someone who begins to ask for money or to see intimate photos, or asks you to redirect items they send you, then the person you’ve met is a scammer. “Catfishers,” as they are sometimes called, often use the identity of a real person to seem authentic and to provide real details, but they are sending fake photos and contact information to cover their tracks. Online dating scams have a few key components:
- Demonstration of strong emotions in a very short period of time.
- A quick move from dating sites into private channels.
- Requests for money based on personal hardship—for example, for a sick relative or a failed business.
Avoiding these scams means carefully scrutinizing any online relationship that develops too fast. Never give money to someone unless you also have a relationship with them offline. And if you do make a date with this person outside of cyberspace, be sure to let people in your life know where you’ll be just to be on the safe side.
5) Charity Fraud Scams
After a large-scale natural disasters or other high-profile public tragedies, you want to help any way you can, and scammers know to capitalize on this. They set up fake donation sites and accounts, and then craft an emotional pitch email to solicit funds that never reach the victims. These scams are successful because they play on sympathy, but always make sure you do your research. Fact-check any donation sites and make sure they’re actually affiliated with the issues they claim to represent. Do not donate on any sites that look suspicious. Any real charity will have a robust website with its mission statement and tax-exempt documentation.
6) Repair Scams
In a scam that starts in the real world and quickly moves into the online one, you receive a phone call from someone who claims to work for “Microsoft” or another large software company claiming they can fix PC issues like slow Internet speeds and loading times. It sounds helpful, and so when the email arrives to your inbox, you download a remote access program, which allows scammers to take control of your computer and install malware. Not all consumers are equally tech-savvy, so many don’t know how their PC works and are easily intimidated by scammers. Once they install malware, they have access to your files, data and personal information.
Never accept any unsolicited repair advice, and do not purchase any repair services unless you are absolutely sure who you are speaking with. Do not allow anyone remote access to your computer. If someone calls, ask for identifying information. The odds are that if you ask enough questions, the scammer will realize you can’t be duped.
Now that you know what to expect from cyber scammers, make sure to keep an eye out for these worms to avoid getting phished. As scammers become cleverer, constant vigilance is needed to keep your computer and your information safe.