How to Identify and Avoid Online Scams
Online scams can do massive amounts of damage – they can drain bank accounts and ruin lives. Everyone hears about the victims of cybercrime and how it destroyed their finances, cost them their identity, or both, but you never really think that it could be you.
Unfortunately, it can. Every time you log on, you put yourself at risk. Luckily, as long as you are armed with the right information and make an effort to protect your computer, you can surf the web in peace.
Here’s how to identify and avoid online scams, stay ahead of the game, and keep your computer safe from the ravages of online scams.
How to Protect Yourself from Online Scams
Learning how to identify and avoid online scams is an essential part of using the internet responsibly. There are a significant number of ways that you can protect yourself online. Starting with the basics, let’s look at how recognizing scams can help you stay safe on the web.
1. How to Spot Spam
Spam is one of the most commonly deployed delivery methods for online scams, especially those containing harmful viruses. Alarming or eye-popping subject lines are used to attract attention in hopes that you will be naive enough to open them.
While these scams are not often the most sophisticated in design, they can still do a lot of damage to you and your computer. The key is not to open them. Spam can’t hurt you if it’s never opened in the first place, which is why being able to spot it is so important. It might sound like an easy task, but even though spam is not as sophisticated as other forms of cybercrime, some messages can be surprisingly convincing.
Spam can be more convincing and thus harder to detect, especially when they know your name and enough other details to pose as a relative, friend, or co-worker.
2. Online Trading, Money Wire Scams
Wire scams are one of the most common online schemes that you can encounter. You’ll often see wire scams come in emails that come from scammers posing as traders who need your help to facilitate a money transfer and insist on using a wire transfer instead of PayPal.
The very fact that they are pushing wire transfers instead of a PayPal transfer is a major red flag, especially if the request is from someone you don’t know. These money wire scams are highly effective and are looking to become the biggest threat to consumers in 2021.
3. Online Shopping Scams
One of the most frustrating online scams out there involves counterfeit products. These are designed around selling counterfeits. Cybercriminals will create a bogus retail website pretending to be a reputable merchant and offer products from popular brands for low prices. Once you place an order, you’ll either receive a counterfeit product or nothing at all. Sometimes it can even be the case of the criminals using your credit card information if you shared it with them.
4. Information Held for Ransom
Ransomware is one of the most damaging online scams. You can be using your home or work computer just as you usually would and then suddenly your screen is taken over. In ransomware attacks, the fraudsters will demand money, usually to be delivered via an alternative financial channel advantageous to the hacking community, such as Bitcoin.
The startling trend of ransomware scammers refusing to release the data after being paid is on the rise, making it even more important to protect yourself from these attacks.
5. Phishing Scams
A phishing scam is essentially built around the idea of crafting fake websites that mimic well-known sites such as PayPal. Avoiding phishing scams is most easily achieved by paying close attention to the URL and ensuring that the exact wording is correct and matches the website you are trying to view.
Sometimes what looks like a poorly crafted version of the page shows up when you go to a website. Try refreshing the page first. If it corrects itself, it’s okay, but if it stays the same after restoring it, there could be a phishing risk.
Finally, always look for the HTTPS protocol in the URL. Having the HTTPS protocol in the URL means that the website is secure. You should never manipulate money or log in on a website that features only HTTP, and not HTTPS.
6. Synthetic Identity Fraud
According to management consultancy firm McKinsey, synthetic identity fraud is sophisticated, relatively new, and is the fastest-growing financial crime in the U.S.
What happens is fraudsters create entirely fictional personas employing a combination of personal information stolen from real people along with some creative details to fill in any missing information.
For example, an organization can pass an identity verification with a correct address but a fake name. Once this is done, the scammer can open an account and carry out transactions. Although there is nothing bad against your name, if this happens, it could crop up on your credit history if your address is used.
Because this is not an easy kind of fraud for businesses to detect, it’s vital that you are vigilant when creating passwords and watching out for phishing attempts.
Tips for Staying Safe Online
Here are some tips to reduce the chances of falling victim to cybercriminals.
- When was the last time you checked your credit report? Remember, credit applications will show up on your credit file. If you check your credit report frequently, you could find a paper trail of strange activity left by fraudsters.
- Be smart about your passwords. This cannot be overstated. Don’t use the same password for every site and service you use. Don’t worry about forgetting them; modern web browsers can remember them for you.
- Always double-check the website address you are on when dealing with payments or transferring money. A fraudster will set up an almost identical website – but there will always be a difference. Be sure to double-check your URLs.
- Shopping on a new website or with a new brand? Pull up some reviews online and double-check the address through Google’s Safe Browsing tool to check for any dodgy businesses.
- If you don’t already, try and only use PayPal for online shopping. With PayPal, your account and payment details won’t be available to the vendor.
How to Protect Yourself from Online Scams with Updated Drivers
One of the easiest and most effective ways to protect yourself from online scams is by making sure your device drivers are updated at all times. Device drivers are unique software components that help your computer hardware work together correctly.
When device drivers go out of date, they become vulnerable to attack and present a point of weakness in your system for as long as they are left outdated. You should always keep essential components routinely updated. Maintaining updates helps prevent viruses from infecting your computer. Hackers are known to exploit the weaknesses of older editions of computer software.
While making sure your system components are always up to date is innovative thinking, manually doing it can be extremely tedious. Nevertheless, keeping them updated is extremely important to the health of your machine.