Remember the days you had to be at work to work; go to the post office to pay a bill, visit a travel agent to book a trip; go to the bank to do transactions; and drive to a store to buy clothes? Well, the Internet has made our lives much easier as we can do all these things and more without lifting a finger.
Our lives are more efficient albeit it more hectic (ironically) and we get more done in less time. However, since Internet networks first appeared, they opened the floodgates of freedom — for us, but also for cybercriminals. Today our private lives, homes, and offices are vulnerable to a host of attack methods designed by criminals whose ultimate target is to access our money.
What’s an Online Scam?
An online scam consists of various ‘attack methods’ from cyberthieves that use the internet to attack unsuspecting victims. Internet scams come in various forms and can consist of everything from malicious software in programs and apps (even Windows operating systems), to nifty phishing scams (online scams) — the most common trap, to malware attacks when you shop online, check your email, or access social media.
They’ll almost always try and trick you into handing out financial information or some form of private data and many successful internet scams have similar endings: Victims either lose their own money or fail to receive funds the fraudster promised.
Main Types of Online Scams
To avoid falling victim to cybercriminals it is essential to be aware of the most popular schemes out there.
- Phishing Email Scams
Phishing email scams enable cyber criminals to use well crafted spam emails as their ’bait’ to attract online victims, then they wait for them to ‘bite’ in order to receive their ‘reward. Thousands of phishing emails are sent daily and sometimes, despite all efforts in trying to educate people – a well crafted email can trick even the brightest minds. They often appear to come from trusted sources such as a bank or financial institution, family member or friend.
Their hope is, that you won’t notice it’s not an official link or email and that you’ll hand over the login credentials to your bank account, social network, work account, cloud storage, or other personal data valuable to them — and allow your real bank account to be breached or sold on the darknet to other parties. Remember, it’s not difficult for these pros to crack a password if that’s all they have to work with!
So, if you wanted to protect yourself, don’t click on any email links, even if it seems as if they come from a trustworthy source. Instead, manually type the address into the address bar or use a bookmark.
- Money Laundering Scams a.k.a The Nigerian Scam
This is probably one of the oldest scams in the book. It is known as “Nigerian 419”, and named after the section of Nigeria’s Criminal Code which banned the practice.
It comes in the form of an email that aims to pull at the heartstrings with an emotional message from a businessman, wealthy family member (typically female), or other asking for help to retrieve a truckload of money from a bank in exchange for a gobsmacking financial reward.
These cyber criminals are persistent and trap you into paying more and more for extra services (like transfer costs etc.), they’ll even go as far as sending you paperwork and documents that make you believe it’s all for real. Yet, in the end, you’re left broke without any of the promised rewards.
- Bank Loan or Credit Card Scam
These types of scams often look ‘too good to be true,’ and yes, you’ve guessed it, they are. These bank offers promise you large “pre-approved” amounts of cash in exchange for paying the “mandatory” processing fees.
However, if such a great pre-approved loan is offered to you wouldn’t you stop to ask yourself; how could a bank offer you so much without even knowing your financial situation?
With this in mind, it may seem unlikely for many people to get trapped by this scam, however, there’s still a big number of people who lose money by paying the “mandatory” processing fees required by the scammers.
To better safeguard your data and prevent thieves from getting access to your bank details, consider:
- Watching your accounts closely and not clicking on links in emails;
- Taking advantage of free consumer protection services;
- Signing up for free credit monitoring.
- Fake Antivirus Software
We’ve all seen at least once, those dire messages stating you’ve been infected by a virus and to protect our computer we need to instantly download antivirus X. The pop-up itself is well created and looks like one from a legitimate security product.
If you’re one of the lucky ones, it could just be a hoax that will lead to annoying pop-ups as you browse the web, and a good antivirus will deal with that. Or, you could end up as one of the unlucky ones with malware on your system, for example, a Trojan or keylogger, which can be dangerous (CryptoLocker, for example, can block and encrypt your OS and hold your decryption key ransom in return for money)
To avoid this situation, we recommend enhancing your online protection with WOT which will also complement your traditional antivirus program.
Additionally, make sure you do not click on pop-up windows that annoyingly warn you’ve been infected with a virus. Remember to always apply the existing updates for your software products, and install only legitimate software programs from verified websites
- Online dating Scams
The internet plays a huge role in our social lives. With apps like Facebook and Instagram that most of us access daily, it’s inevitable that in this day and age, we also use apps to look for love.
Online dating apps such as Tinder and Bumble are very popular and are also a great way to meet people. However, not all of these scenarios will bring you your ‘happily ever after’ and you need to be very careful because you never know who you can meet or who’s hiding behind the keyboard.
Online dating scams usually take place on the networks themselves or via email to the potential target and have affected thousands of people all over the world.
Cybercriminals have abused this scamming method for years and have improved their approach just by testing the potential victims’ reactions. Make sure you’re up to date and learn how to protect yourself from falling into a situation where this could happen. Know who you’re speaking to before ever going to meet anyone offline and check the relevant warning signs to prevent yourself from being an easy target.
- Bitcoin Scams
Bitcoin is all the talk of late and many people want to invest in Bitcoin technology. However, we recommend that if you want to invest in Bitcoin technology, it’s imperative that you are aware of the online scams that surround it.
Digital wallets can be open to hacking and scammers take advantage of this new technology to steal sensitive data. Bitcoin transactions should be safe, but there are a few common scams to watch out for in this arena:
- Fake Bitcoin exchanges
- Ponzi schemes
- Everyday scam attempts
Make sure you read up on all of them before investing any of your money into Bitcoin technology in order to understand where your money is going and that you’re not being taken for a ride.
- Other Scams
There are a whole host of other online scams to be aware of when surfing the web and checking your emails. These include;
- The Hitman Scam – extortion via threatening emails from online “hitmen” who have intimate details about you from your blog/social network.
- Greeting Card Scams – a “friend” sends an e-greeting card with a link leading to malicious software
- Hijacked Profile Scams – Facebook account is hacked and contacts accessed.
- Economic Scams – promises that you’ll make money fast online through non-existent/work-at-home jobs, get rich quick schemes, etc..
Detection & Protection
Scams typically speak to the emotions and lure you into giving away financial and personal information because of what you feel towards the person writing to you. To detect them a few golden rules are:
- “When in doubt, don’t;” “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is,” and “If you’re not sure who it’s from, don’t click on it!” Yes, there are many phishing techniques spreading financial and data-stealing malware, but you can be prepared.
- Install a good antivirus program. Some of the best software is free, such as Microsoft’s free Window’s antivirus software, and can outperform the most well-known brands.
- Greeting cards, for example, may seem innocent, but can infect your system with dangerous malware, such Zeus — the most infamous and perilous financial malware. Install a specialized security program to prevent this from happening.
- Avoid the Fake Antivirus Software Scam by installing a specialized security product against financial malware besides your customary antivirus program.
- For the Hitman Scam, think twice about the personal info you dish out on social networks — you never know who is watching.
- For Facebook, protect your personal online account as you would your banking or email account. Besides having a secure password, set a double authentication method to add a supplementary layer of security.
Online scams are all around us and while they continue to rise, they use more sophisticated means than ever before to deceive users. Some scams seem funny, yet others are so convincing someone always falls for them. It’s best to stay up-to-date on the latest scams and to take all precautions to prevent them. Of course, there is no better way to stay safe from a threat than to avoid the initial infection phase.
Yes, all a tad paranoid, but better than being duped!