Online scams are rising in popularity and costing individuals a lot of money. Reported romance scams, for example, are among the most costly. In 2019, they cost victims over 201 billion USD and the numbers continue to rise. Sometimes we treat our online life with less caution, perhaps because we do so many online transactions while in the safety of our homes. It is important to understand that every click we make has a consequence and we can get into as much trouble online as we can walking down the street. Being aware of the possible scams is a great step at keeping yourself safe from online criminals.
Scammers have always existed among humans even before the internet existed. Now there are many ways to contact people from all over the world while appearing anonymous. This makes it easier than ever before to scam people and it can happen to anyone. In the US, one in ten adults will fall victim to scams or frauds every year. These can be as small as donating a few dollars to a false cause, having your email address stolen and sold to advertisers, or it can cost you your life savings or social security number.
The best way to avoid internet scams is to know how to recognize them. There are even websites such as Scam Detector that offer resources as well as an email subscription service that will keep you updated on all the latest techniques. You can read about some of the more popular ones below.
John Smith Needs Surgery, Click to Donate $1 – Sick Baby Scam
Scammers don’t play fair and they will often try to use our emotions against us. One really common scam involves posts that a baby is sick and asking for donations to help. If not donations, sometimes the scammers ask for shares which can be a phishing attempt to get personal information. To get people to share and donate, the scammers will often say that the social media website it is posted on will match donations or donate based on the number of shares. While in rare cases a donation match may be true, Facebook and other social media websites will never make donations based on shares.
Another big issue with these sick baby scams is that they often get photos of real people. So they exploit actually sick children who may need help or have already passed away and steal the money for themselves. There are legitimate sick baby campaigns out there, so it’s important to learn how to distinguish real from fake. Just because a close friend or family member shared it, or it has lots of likes/donations, doesn’t guarantee that it is real. Try searching the name and campaign on Google along with the word ‘scam.’
If you confirm that it is, in fact, fake, you can report it on the social media platform or website that you find it on. Make sure to tell your friends and family who shared it as well. Depending on the platform, you can also leave comments on the original post. Consider sharing the link proving that it is a scam to keep others from donating and sharing. Personally, I never donate to individual campaigns like this but choose to donate to reliable organizations instead to make sure my money gets to those who need it most.
“OMG! Is This You NAKED?” – Suspicious Photo Scam
Unfortunately, there is a simple and common way for scammers to hijack an account and obtain your login information. Basically, once someone gets this malware on their account, they will send out messages to all their friends on Facebook, for example, that has a link and says “OMG! Is this a photo of you?” There are alterations to this message and the scams start once you click the link and get asked to log in to your account. Since there are glitches that force people to sign in again, many will think that this is legit. The moment you log in, however, the scammers have your account info and will use it to send the same message to your friends. They can also do whatever they want with your account. Beware of Cyber Extortion or Sextortion, a form of cyberbullying where someone threatens to share intimate images of you online unless you do what is requested.
Now that many of us have payment information saved on our social media, these can be dangerous and costly scams. So we need to be more careful when it comes to logging into any account if anything seems off. If you are on a computer, for example, you can check the URL bar for the little lock icon. The lock icon is evidence of a secure connection – you can even click on it to make sure. If the lock is open, it isn’t secure. This isn’t always a warning sign, but most legitimate websites will be secure. If a website that is typically secure suddenly has an open lock icon, do not log in. If you see a suspicious link with a similar message, simply ask the person who sent it about it and let them know that they may have been hacked.
If you do fall victim to these scams, it is a good idea to report it immediately to Facebook. Then, make a post on your story and timeline asking contacts not to click on anything you send them. If you can, message everyone individually as well. If you get any of the same links sent back to you, then you know that your friend has also been hacked and you can let them know by sending them a message. They will not always be aware that this happened to them until someone lets them know, which can cause more people to be hacked.
Congratulations! You Have Won $1,000,000 – Lottery Scam
You hear about people winning crazy amounts of money in the lottery all the time. It is possible, although rare. The key to winning the lottery, however, is playing. If you did not buy a ticket, you cannot win. So that pop-up or email claiming you won is 100% fake. Even if you do buy lottery tickets, they will not email you if you win. Especially not in a foreign currency! So detecting and avoiding foreign lottery scams is pretty easy. Close the pop-up and delete/block the email about the fake win. Even though you can assume that any lottery email is fake, there are a few ways to triple check that your winnings aren’t real. These tips are great for any unusual emails that you may receive.
First, check the sender email. If it is an individual with an email address like firstname.lastname@example.org, it is unlikely that they would be emailing you about anything official. Any company that will email you will use an official address with the company name in it. The next step is to check the “to” field to see if your name is there. If not, the email was likely sent to thousands of people. Next, you can also do a Google search to see if the lottery or company really exists or if it is a well-documented scam. Finally, these are likely scams if they are requesting personal information such as full name, date of birth, street address, and telephone number.
If you encounter a scam like this, you can simply delete the email and block the sender from contacting you again. However, if they have your email address, it is likely that other spammers and scammers do too. Many countries have local authorities to announce scammers to. In the USA you can do it on this government website. It is a quick process and might help someone avoid becoming a victim so it’s worth it.
The store is Closing, 90% Off Everything – Shopping Scam
Buying things online used to be considered unsafe but has quickly become the norm. However, scammers are now taking advantage of so many people who blindly trust websites and social media. There are companies out there that will create fake sites, pages and bogus reviews just to trick people into buying a product that they will never send you. Some go as far as copying existing companies and tricking people into thinking that they are shopping from a trusted source. These can be harder to spot although there is an easy solution: buy directly from the trusted website that you have successfully used before.
It only takes a few steps to check if a website is real. Never rely on comments on a post since those can be paid or created by fake profiles. Some people even claim that companies post these reviews on their behalf without their permission. However, do check the comments for anyone complaining about the company not being legitimate. Also check their page to see if anyone gave them bad reviews or commented negatively on their other posts. Finally, try Googling the company to see what people say about it. Because if a company steals from people, it will be heard on the internet.
If you discover a website doing this or fall victim to one, make sure to report them. You can do this on Facebook and on other social media accounts. If they use PayPal to accept payments, make sure to tell them as well. Finally, you can also report something like this to your local government. If you’re in the USA, use this website. Every country has its own local resource, so make sure to let them know to help protect others.
“I Can’t Video Chat, My Love, If Only I Had an iPhone” – Romance Scam
Loneliness is a big problem despite how connected everyone is online. Many people are looking for new people to chat with as friends or even something more. As the saying goes, there are plenty of fish in the sea! However, there are also catfish. There is an entire MTV show about a man who was in a relationship with a woman who wasn’t who she said she was. He now helps others figure out who the person they are talking to is real or not. This is one of the worst scams of all because it can leave you heartbroken and betrayed.
There is no sure way to know that anyone you meet is being honest with you. However, there are several things to look out for when it comes to an online relationship. First, see if the person you are talking to is willing to video chat. Even with today’s technology, it is hard to hide your face in a video call. Knowing what a person looks like isn’t enough to prove they’re honest, but it’s a good first step. Although, it is normal for people to be shy about video chat. Another good thing to do is check out their social media and see if they have other friends as well as family online. If they have three friends and one photo, it’s a sketchy situation. Finally, you can search their photos in Google to see if they have been posted anywhere else. This can reveal other profiles and if they have different names, they are likely lying to someone, although not necessarily you.
If you have a close friend or significant other online, arrange to meet as soon as possible. Even then, lies can be told but it becomes harder. Never send people money online or give them any passwords or personal information that could hurt you. It is common for these scammers to ask for money in order to do something like buy a new phone or a train/plane ticket to meet you. If someone wanted to video chat or meet with you, they would make arrangements without demanding money.
All that being said, we often don’t think about these things when we are in love. There is also not much that can be done if you have been scammed by these people. You can try to report them and notify local authorities. In the USA, you can check out this website for more information and resources on thess types of scams.
Photos: Shutterstock / Photomontage: Martina Advaney
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