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 the bank to do transactions; and drive to a store to buy clothes? Well, the internet has made our lives easy 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, it 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?
Attack methods from traditional attack vectors that use malicious software and innate weaknesses in almost all programs and apps (even Windows operating systems), to nifty phishing scams (online scam) — the most common trap, to malware attacks when you shop online, check your email, or access social media.
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
With phishing scams except a message via email or a social network containing a link to legit-looking website from an official-looking source (bank, financial institute, etc.). However, the site is controlled by hackers hoping 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!
- Money Laundering Scams
Also known as the Nigerian scam, this is probably the oldest scam in the book. The main email message pulls the heartstrings with a story 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. You’re trapped into paying more and more for extra services (like transfer costs etc.), and in the end, you’re broke. Some people have even been kidnapped.
- Guaranteed Bank Loan/ Credit Card Scam
These are bank offers that promise you large “pre-approved” amounts of cash in exchange for paying the “mandatory” processing fees. Ever stopped to ask how a bank could offer you so much without even knowing your financial situation?
- Fake Antivirus Software
We’ve all seen those dire messages stating you’ve been infected by a virus and to protect our computer have to instantly download antivirus X. The pop-up looks like one from a normal security product (antiquated graphic design with yellow warning signs). It could be a hoax that will lead to annoying pop-ups as you browse, and a good antivirus will deal with that. Or, you can end up with a 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).
- Lottery Scam
Whoopee, an email pings and your name was picked out of a magician’s hat and you’ve won a fortune. Finally, you can go on your dream vacation — just cough up your private details and pay some small fees. Isn’t it great that you don’t even have to remember purchasing a lottery ticket or entering a draw?
- Travel Scams
Talking about dream vacations, here you’ll receive an email with an incredible offer for an exotic destination that soon expires. Don’t miss it or you’ll also miss those “very necessary well-hidden costs” after paying the initial offer. Other travel scams take your money and send you nowhere! Just go to a reputable travel agency.
- Other Scams
There are a host of top online scams to be aware of: the Hitman Scam (extortion via threatening emails from online “hitmen” who have intimate details about you from your blog/social network); the Romance Scam (long chats with a potential date followed by a request for financial help); 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); and 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 appeal to the emotions and lure you into giving away financial and personal information. 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 innocuous, but can infect your system with dangerous malware, such Zeus — the most infamous and perilous financial malware. Install a specialized security program.
- 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 whose 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 using ever more sophisticated means to deceive users and they are on the rise. 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!