How to Spot and Avoid Online Scams?

How to Spot and Avoid Online Scams?

July 27, 2018 8 min read

The rise of the digital era has yielded endless advantages for businesses and consumers alike. We now have come to rely on the Internet to do a wide variety of things, from simply listening to music to making real-time international payments. However, with opportunities come risks, and fraud is one of the greatest threats online right now. With the number of internet scams almost doubling every year, the average user should learn at least the basics of online safety to browse the web risk-free. For that reason, cybersecurity awareness has become more important than ever.

As the internet becomes a more established part of our everyday lives, it’s possible for anyone to be targeted by a scam. Online scams are turning more sophisticated, making it more difficult to decipher genuine threats from helpful information. If an email sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Therefore, it is critical to understand how to avoid online scams. Let’s learn more about them.

What are online scams?

Basically, an internet scam is the same as a real-life scam: a form of fraud to take advantage of someone, in this case perpetrated by cybercriminals. The objectives behind said scams may vary, but usually involve financial gain with the theft of credit card data or other personal information. They may also target login and password data; kidnap files and ask for ransom, and commit identity theft.

Perpetrators will try to engage with victims through email (either personal or work-issued), social media accounts, dating apps and any other available online methods. In other words: if you use a device connected to the internet, you could fall victim to these schemes.

To help you stay safe online, we’ve put together some frequent online scams and some key tips to spotting them.

1. Lottery, competition and inheritance schemes

These internet scams usually come in the form of emails, stating that you have won monetary prizes in competitions you did not enter and messages from people overseas claiming that you have inherited money. They are, in fact, attempts to obtain your personal details.

In most (if not all) of these schemes, you will be prompted to pay a fee in order to have access to the supposed benefits. Once you do this, you never hear from the sender or company again.

2. Travel scams

Many online scams include travel offers and perks, with offers of trips to high-profile destinations with all expenses covered. Scammers know we aren’t always willing customers when it comes to booking expensive flight tickets and hotels, so they prey on our wishful thinking.

While airlines and hotels do have discounted rates from time to time, be mindful of deals offered through third-party websites. Question every aspect of the website and double-check with friends or review sites before giving your information. The same protocol applies to all types of online offers.

3. Phishing emails

One of the most common types of scams is phishing emails. These encourage you to click on a link or attachment and download malicious software, which attacks your device and hacks access to your files. These links will look like URLs from legitimate sources, such as newspapers, companies or banks. Once you click the link, it prompts the installation of said malware. In most (if not all) of these schemes, apart from obtaining personal and financial data, the objective is to prevent the victim from accessing their own files. This way, they can demand a ransom payment to reestablish your access.

4. Banking, loan, and online account scams

These also fall under the “phishing” category, but they’re worth a special mention. Take extra caution when reading an email from a bank. Many scammers send emails or texts that appear to be sent from your bank, highlighting a problem with your account. Often, they will request a verification of your details to resolve the problem. Never submit your personal details to this email. Instead, call your bank directly to clarify the issue.

Fake loans are also popular at the international level as scammers can take advantage of the fact that the other person is overseas. They can ask for sensitive data, such as debit card information, and claim it’s part of due diligence in their home country.

When it comes to loans, it’s best to stick to legitimate banks or entities you’re familiar with, one with local offices that can assist you in case of any hiccups.

5. Charity scams

Scams that take advantage of good-natured individuals often make a special appearance around the holiday season but could be active at any time of the year. Scammers will pretend to work for a charitable cause and may even exploit news of a current crisis.

6. Online shopping and purchase scams

As more of us get used to shopping online, scams in this area are becoming more prevalent. These include faulty products and attempting to sell a product to gain bank details.

Fancy cars and apartments being sold at staggeringly low prices are among the most common purchase scams. To steer clear from these rip-offs, check URLs carefully for any misspellings and make sure you’re purchasing goods or services through a reliable website, especially one either you or your friends have already used.

If the website is new for you, it helps to search for reviews in case anybody has reported a scam. Also, keep an eye out for suspicious behavior. For example, a seller should never require you to make a payment outside the selling platform. If you’re the seller, neither the platform nor the buyer is entitled to a “guarantee deposit” prior to shipment.

7. Online Job Scams

These schemes can happen in any job listing website out there, but they function in much the same way. You’ll see a job opening that perfectly matches your skills and experience. However, you’ll be asked to provide personal information (such as bank account information or credit card data) or to pay for training materials before being in consideration for the role in question. The verdict? Not legitimate.

8. Online Dating Scams / Love Scams

One thing is getting ripped off, and another thing is getting ripped off by someone you’ve grown to love. Unfortunately, scammers have no scruples and will engage in so-called “love scams,” either through online dating platforms or simply through regular social media.

Their process involves sending friend requests to possible victims through social media or contacting them via dating apps, interacting with them until they’ve gained their trust, and then making demands. These could be either an urgent money transfer for any specific reason, such as help processing an unexpected inheritance or covering medical bills.

To avoid these types of scams, start by never accepting friend requests from strangers. Take everything with a grain of salt as even video calls can be faked by speaking over muted, stolen footage. It also helps to perform reverse image searches to trace the origin of any media you receive. You’ll often find the images they’re sending of themselves actually came from a minor actor’s online portfolio or the like.

Staying safe online

The list above only skims the surface of some of the most commonly reported types of scam. Here are some key precautions you can take whenever you’re online to reduce your chances of falling prey to an internet scam.

  • Passwords are personal and shouldn’t be shared with people you don’t trust, let alone strangers. Sometimes we do this unintentionally by not logging out of sessions we’ve initiated in public computers. Passwords should also be updated regularly and shouldn’t be used multiple times.
  • Computers, tablets and smartphones house our information. Leaving our devices unprotected is equivalent to leaving the door to our house unlocked. Antiviruses and operating systems must be kept up-to-date to make it harder for hackers to access your device. At the same time, we should be heedful of the links we open and never input our data into unencrypted websites.
  • Emails are the most common scam vehicle. One way to check whether the message is from a reputable source is by checking the email address. You can also hover a hyperlink to reveal the URL, but never clicking on it before making sure it’s safe. Extra characters and misspellings could both point to a suspicious link or address. If you’re still not sure, treat it as you would any other scam email.
  • Never agree to send money to anyone you have only met online.
  • Never deposit checks that you receive in the mail from an unknown person or business.
  • Never make a financial decision based on a phone call you receive from a person posing as a relative of someone in jail.
  • Never share login credentials with anyone online, no matter what they promise to do for you in return.
  • Always be wary of red flags in job offers and requests for interviews: Suspicious emails being sent by an individual instead of a company representative, requests for personal information associated with supposed job offers and interviews, requests of payment before being considered for a role, suspicious online forms that include personal information, etc. Always do some research on the company in question before moving forward with job interviews.
  • And, most important, never reply to scam messages, click on suspicious links (including “unsubscribe” ones), call phone numbers, or share any relevant or personal details with unknown message senders.

At Ria Money Transfer, we are aware of the threat that online scams pose to our customers. That’s why we invest in the latest technologies and have a robust compliance system in place, together with a global team of experts, limiting your exposure to money transfer scams.

Ready to send money? Transfer money safely, easily and almost instantly with the Ria Money Transfer app – download it for iOS or Android today to get started.

About the author

Alaine Anderson

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