Top 10 Online Scams You Should Know, And How To Avoid Them

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Stay safe online. Here are the common online scams to watch out for, and the proactive measures you can take to protect yourself.

Cybercrime is a very lucrative business. In fact, some studies say online scams are turning over more money than drug trafficking.

So, if you are tech savvy and have no moral objection to criminal activities, you know where to look for work.

What is even more interesting is that today, cybercriminals need not to be too high-tech.All tools they may need to carry out their business can easily be accessed at a small cost.

For instance, accessing malware is as simple as finding your way to various hacker forums, where they are readily available and relatively cheap.

Because of this ease of access, online threats have rapidly increased from being one-off attacks to global scale Advanced Persistent Threat campaigns.

If you’re like most people, going online is a natural part of what you do every day. We are not in any way suggesting you unplug from the internet; instead, we recommend that you stay safe online.

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Here are the common online scams to watch out for, and the proactive measures you can take to protect yourself.

The Freebie

We all love getting things for free, and because of this, freebie scams are all over the internet these days.

Perhaps you have come across websites that promise you money-spinning freebies such a free computer (which shall never happen) if you just spare a few minutes to answer some questions and share your contact details.

Giving up your web privacy opens you up for loads of unsolicited emails and cold calls.

If a freebie sounds too good to be true, it probably is a scam. No one gives out high-ticket items such as a computer without expecting gains in return.

The solution here is to use an anonymous email account to register or use tools such as BugMeNot to enable you to register anonymously.

Fake Credit Report Websites

If you live in the U.S., you are entitled to receive a free copy of your credit report once every year.

While is the only official government site you should use to access your free annual credit report, there are many imposter sites on the internet that claim to be authorized to give “free credit reports.”

In most cases, all they are trying to do is collect personal information—such as your date of birth or social security number—that can be used to get your identity.

Some websites may offer “free” credit monitoring at the beginning, but then end up charging a fee to your credit card once the trial period elapses.

To stay safe, consider checking your credit report at least once very year. Should you notice any unauthorized activity, place a fraud alert on your credit report.

Phishing Attacks

Just like fishermen do while about their business, phishers throw a bit of bait at their target users—such as sensational headlines and phony offers—in the hope of hooking them.

Online Security Cyber Attack Graphic Concept.
This phishing scam involved the use of fake messages from theU.S. Internal Revenue Service, informing the recipient that they had a tax refund waiting.

The attacker masquerades as a trusted entity and fools a victim into opening an email or text message.

To bring this to perspective, let’s briefly look at a recent tax scam where citizens lost millions of dollars.

This phishing scam involved use of fake messages from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, informing the recipient that they had a tax refund awaiting and all they needed to do was provide credit card details or download an email attachment for more information on how to receive the money.

Sadly, the unsuspecting victims got their data stolen or their devices infected with malware or both.

The use of strong antivirus programs and having some knowledge on how to identify fake emails from copycat websites will really help here.

Also, if you’re ever in doubt about any matter, it would be prudent to visit the official website, i.e. IRS, and contact the agency for clarification.

Job Scams

With the increasing use of job search sites coupled with a scarcity of jobs, scammers have devised new ways to fool innocent victims. Fraudsters contact an individual on the pretext of offering them a job opportunity with incredibly high salaries.

With most professionals always on the lookout for better opportunities, these emails seem to always work. As soon as you warm up to their email, the scammer (as a potential “employer”) will request for your bank account details so you can get paid.

As a result, not only do you stand at a risk of having your money stolen from your account but also run the risk of identity theft.

When it comes to spotting job scams, always “trust your gut.” If an opportunity promises a huge pay for very simple work or even an employer is willing to pay before you start working, it should ring a bell.

Nigerian Check Scam

This is a common email scam. Using a fake identity (usually royal-sounding names), the scammer buys into your heart by taking calculated moves to build a “healthy” relationship with you. Often, they would keep in touch for several days to bond with you and know you better.

And once they win your trust, they will bring forth lucrative requests such asking for your help in recovering large amounts of money allegedly in an overseas bank account. In exchange, they promise you a handsome share of the cash once the deal is done.

Since the deal is too good to say no, you are likely to respond with a willingness to help. And here is the catch: You are told to provide your financial information so that the money is wired to your bank account.

Failure Attacked Hacked Virus AbEnd Concept.
Using a fake identity (usually royal-sounding names), the scammer buys into your heart by taking calculated moves to build a “healthy” relationship.

And since a “transfer fee” is required, they request you to chip in on that one too.

The moment you pay, anticipating your jackpot, another email shortly follows to let you know there has been some type of emergency holdup, and it requests you to send more cash to help sort out the situation.

This trend continues until your bank account runs dry or until the victim discovers they’ve been conned.

Suspicious Photo Scam

This is one of the effective channels scammers use to collect login information to hijack social media accounts.

How it works is that a social media account is hacked (possibly of a close friend), and the fraudsters will post links on your page with sensitive messages such as, “What the heck! Here is a picture of you, naked!”

Naturally, you would panic and click on the link, only to discover you are being redirected back to the Facebook login page.

In most cases, you would assume it is a Facebook glitch and log in again, and as you do your Facebook (or Twitter) account login information is collected. Now that they have your login details, the cybercriminals proceed to use your account to scam your friends.

If you see such suspicious messages, simply ignore and delete them. Also, notify your friend that their account has been hacked.

Fake Checks

Check frauds remain a popular scam especially among online sellers, rental property managers, as well as “employees” of an online business.

Here a victim receives an authentic-looking check for payment for services rendered. The scammer then informs the victim that they mistakenly overpaid them and requests the victim to wire back using transfer services such as the Western Union or MoneyGram.

How a victim gets scammed here is that the check turns out to be fake, and it may take them a while to realize due to the bank’s processing time lag (usually up to 10 days) to appear on the available balance.

Unsuspecting victims end up sending cash to scammers, only to find out later that they’ve been tricked. To add an insult to the injury, they also have to pay a penalty fee to the bank for the bounced check.

Cashier’s checks are no longer as safe as they used to be a few years ago when recipients didn’t have to worry about a personal check bouncing. Today, you cannot assume that a cashier’s check is just as good as cash.

Avoid sending any merchandise or money until you confirm that the paying bank has actually sent the funds.

Fake Police Scam

Sometimes scammers masquerade as fraud investigators authorities from government offices such as the tax office or the police.

For instance, they may call to notify you that your money is at risk and ask for your details (as a confirmation) in order to transfer the funds into an account where it will be safe.

By posing as an authority, they gain trust, and unsuspecting citizens become an easy prey for the scammer. Just because someone made a phone call to you and claimed to be an authority trying to help you does not necessarily mean they truly are who they say they are.

The last thing a fraudster would want you to do is to stop and think, but that is exactly what we want you to do. Ask for person’s name and number, and advise that you will call back in a while to give yourself some time to assess the phone call.

At this point, relying on the contact information the potential scammer (caller) shares with you would be a bad idea.

Proceed to find out the organization’s correct phone number on your own. For instance, you may consider checking a phone book or their authentic website and call to seek clarification.

Business Investment Scam

The internet can be a great tool for investors, but it could also be easy for online crooks to steal your cash if you let your guard down. Investment scams come in many varieties.

The practice includes get-rich-quick schemes such as work-at-home jobs, gambling software, opportunities to buy “secret” shares, as well as other too-good-to-be-true schemes.

While there is no foolproof rule to help you figure out these scams, it is advisable to avoid investment opportunities that you have little knowledge about, especially if they have been presented to you by individuals you don’t know or trust.

When investing your money, consider consulting with a financial advisor about the best course of action.

Lottery Scam

Have you ever received an email notification or phone call that you have won a lot of money or a fantastic prize in a lottery you don’t remember entering?

Hacker with laptop.
Fraudsters may also increase the credibility of this scam by using company names and logos of legitimate lotteries.

Fraudsters may also increase the credibility of this scam by using company names and logos of legitimate lotteries.

To claim your prize, they ask you to pay a fee, which they often claim is for bank fees, government taxes, insurance costs or courier charges.

The scammers make a killing by repeatedly collecting such kind of fees from you as they delay your “prize.”

Next time you win a lottery you never entered in the first place, you should know that it’s definitely a scam. It will be a bad idea to send them any money or share any financial details because you will just set yourself up for fraud or identity theft.

Bonus Tip

Scammers are always thinking of new unsuspecting ways to fool you, so be cautious anytime you are online.

And if you find yourself caught up in a cyber scam, don’t be mortified—at some point, everybody does. Learn from your experience as well as other people’s experiences, and be more careful next time.

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