The internet has gone from a luxury to a commodity and now to a necessity in just a few decades. The entire world is connected, and the information is only a few presses of buttons away. It’s an open door where anyone can have access to nearly anything, such as instant communication, online shopping, paying bills and many others. However, the downside of an open door is that it goes both ways. While we can access the internet with ease, so can hackers, which is why it has become increasingly important to learn how to recognize an online scam.
The versatility and accessibility of the world wide web do not come without risks. Cyber criminals learn new methods of attack every day, often a step ahead of security measures. This is especially the case for financial transactions, such as e-commerce, banking, or something as simple as paying your bills. The dangers of online payment vary from loss of money to a leak of personal information. Both can be potentially devastating, and the damage will require effort and funds to fix. That is why it’s important to recognize an online scam before you have already fallen victim to it.
How to spot an online Scam?
(1) Sudden, Surprising, And Secret
There are many ways in which a scammer will attempt to contact you. It can be by regular mail, phone call, text message, or, the most common one today, online through email. However, there are a few clear indications that you should pay attention to before falling into their trap. Not all cyber criminals are willing to invest time, as it can happen in online dating scams where they spent weeks or months to get to know you. Some scams are simpler on the surface, but just as potentially damaging.
They can contact you out of the blue and from an unknown source, often either prompting you to give them money or information. One of the most common ways is informing the victim that they have won a competition they never signed up for or a lottery prize even though they never bought a ticket. That makes them more susceptible to giving something, often money, in return to claim their reward or it prompts them to download a file to get their prize.
Another way to recognize an online scam is if it’s described as a secret that you shouldn’t share with anyone else. That can often be a new investment opportunity that guarantees success. There is no such thing, so it should trigger an alarm.
(2) Too Good to Be True
It’s an adage, but one that’s the most representative red flag of an online scam. Unfortunately, it needs to be repeated. Everyone can be enticed by the prospect of a huge payoff for a small investment. The Nigerian scam is the best example that has seen numerous variations. Someone contacts you requesting money to either travel home from another country, pay urgent fees or others with the promise of double the return. The goal is to fool you into giving as much money as possible or your personal information.
It sounds like an easy way to make money: give a little and get a lot more in return. However, that should be a clear sign that’s it’s a scam. Think about it. If a stranger approached you on the street with the same claims, you would naturally refuse. And yet, millions of people who could’ve recognized this as a scam in real life have fallen prey to it online.
(3) Creates Sense of Urgency
Another common trait is the sense of urgency they frequently create. Scammers will prompt you to make a quick decision, urging that you will “miss out if you don’t act now.” This is often the case with investments or “special offers.” It aims to place pressure, so you won’t have time to think about it, do research or discuss it with anyone else. It creates the illusion of losing something that you don’t even have.
(4) Elicits a Strong Emotional Response
The ugly truth of why people sometimes fall prey to online scams is because they have given into basic human traits. Scammers understand the power of greed, fear, and vanity, and they use them to lure victims into their trap. They play on those emotions. Cyber criminals will leverage anything to get you to hand over your money through common online scams. They will instill a powerful emotion to persuade you, such as greed for money or fear for your personal security or your belongings.
However, scammers can also con based on people’s altruism, such as requesting donations for organizations or help with recovery from natural disasters. If it evokes powerful feelings, it deserves more research instead of acting on impulse.
(5) Requests Your Bank Information
Your bank information should never be revealed to anyone, as it will open you to potentially devastating breaches. Scammers have been known to pose as authority figures, government officials, or even service providers who wish to resolve a financial transaction. Also, keep in mind that eCommerce is continuously growing, with statistics showing 40% of global internet users having bought merchandise online. There may be a lot of shady eCommerce websites and you have the right to request more information, and any legitimate contact will gladly provide you with credentials or proof. If they refuse or ignore your request, it’s a scam meant to gain access to your personal and banking information.
How to Avoid Online Scams?
Prevention is key. As long as there’s awareness that the internet is not a safe playground, the prospects get worse for cyber criminals around the world. There a few things we can do to avoid them.
- Secure your devices. Ranging from your phone to your cloud service and smart home gadgets, everything needs to be well secured to prevent an attack. That includes downloading potentially harmful files that will steal information from your devices.
- See if they have a legitimate phone number and physical address. If someone contacts you through email, representing a company, make sure to do some research and see if they have proper contact information.
- Google “[Their Name] Scam”. It is highly likely that you are not their first victim. A quick search might turn up with useful information and warnings.
- Look for copyright information. This is especially helpful to understand if the company is still active. For example, if their website says they have been active since 2001, make a quick Google search of “Copyright [Their Name] 2001-2016”. It will help you find out if they still exist.
- Trust your instinct. Sometimes, our gut can tell us more than a Google search. If something sounds too good to be true or a little shady, trust that impulse and steer away. You will feel worse if you don’t trust your instinct after. No one likes to think that they knew all along after they have already gotten tricked.
In order to recognize an online scam, you need to be aware and vigilant. While the internet is an incredible tool, it can also be used with less-than-good intentions. Millions of people are scammed every year by cyber criminals, and it’s crucial to know how to avoid it. Both your money and personal information are at stake, so think before you click.