Most consumers are aware of scams on the internet but not enough people realize how many phony offers and fraudulent ploys exist or how to protect themselves. Today’s cybercriminals have grown more savvy, adding text messaging to their stockpile of email and internet scams and making it difficult for the average consumer to keep up. Anyone with a mobile device or internet connection should keep reading to learn more about internet scams, including what they entail, the warning signs and how to avoid becoming a victim.
An Overview of Internet Scams
Each internet scam comes with its own warning signs, but there are basic ploys that play out in most fraudulent attacks. Consumers who are aware of the red flags have a head start on keeping themselves safe. Here are five ways people can avoid being scammed online, no matter the ruse:
- Stay up to date on current/new scams
- Block unknown callers and unsolicited text messages
- Avoid clicking on unknown links or opening suspicious attachments
- Talk the correspondence over with a trusted friend, relative or business associate
- Verify requests for information from the company or institution
How can scamming be prevented?
Consumers who guard their personal information, educate themselves on common internet scams and diligently look for warning signs in email and text messages can prevent being scammed; contacting the business or government agency is another step to prevent a fake message from being mistaken as a legitimate request.
What are the red flags of a scammer?
Thankfully, scammers often let red flags slip, so educated consumers can watch for unsolicited offers, an unnatural sense of urgency for action, coaching on what to say to a bank or adviser, a specific, uncompromising payment request and offers that are too good to be true.
What information does a scammer need?
Scammers need only a few pieces of information to assume someone’s identity or hack into an account and the right combination of these 10 personal identifying items can be payday for a thief:
- Social Security number
- Date and place of birth
- Financial account numbers
- Banking PINs
- Credit/debit card expiration dates and security codes
- Physical and email address
- Driver’s license or passport number
- Phone number
- Full name
- Affiliations, memberships or employer
The Role of Text Messages in Internet Scams
Texting is now a common access point for internet scammers. Businesses use text messaging for marketing purposes, event sign-ups and for resetting passwords. Even though many people have deployed two-factor authentication to help secure online accounts, scammers have shifted gears to retrieve these access codes through savvy text message ploys. Whether it is for a banking account, email verification or a job application, consumers must be diligent about replying to messages or clicking on links in text messages.
What happens if someone texts a scammer back?
When people reply to a text message sent by a scammer, it lets the culprit know the phone number is active and legitimate; the contact information can then be sold to spammers that could be companies looking to attract business or fraudulent entities wanting to access personal accounts.
Can a scammer hack a phone through text?
If someone clicks on a malware-infected link on a mobile phone, scammers can use spyware to take over the device, getting unencumbered access to apps, messaging, search history and contacts. Malware can also pose privacy threats because it can give scammers access to a phone’s camera and microphone, making it easy for them to spy on people and deploy blackmail scams.
Can a scammer steal personal information through text?
Yes, a scammer posing as a financial institution or payment service can prompt individuals to give up personal information via text if the recipient believes the ruse of an account problem or clicks on a fraudulent link to reset a password.
Common Internet Scams in 2023
Hackers are continually refining their tactics to gain access to personal information. As more tasks are completed online, scammers have more opportunities to deploy harmful digital cons. The most common internet scams, detailed below, are advance-fee, online banking, hijacked profiles, job scams and quiz scams.
1. Advance-Fee Scams
The advance-fee scam is the most common way to get scammed because these cybercriminals often mass-market emails to thousands of people using convincing and seemingly genuine reasons for requesting payment, like covering taxes or fees from a lottery win or inheritance. The fraudulent offers rely on victims who are willing to pay up-front fees in exchange for a reward, whether it is money, products, prizes, services or another exclusive deal. The common thread in these scams is that the victims are never rewarded and never receive another message once the money is sent. Advanced-fee internet scams examples include:
- Beneficiary Fund Scam: The scammer claims to need help getting money from a foreign bank
- Lottery Scams: Victims are told they have won a prize in a foreign lottery and need to pay taxes to claim it
- Investment Scams: A request for financial help investing in or starting a lucrative company
- Romance Scams: An online “love interest” (often met on a dating site or in an online chat room) seeks funds to help a sick relative or to pay for transport to a rendezvous
How To Avoid Advance-Fee Scams
First and foremost, people should always think twice about offers that seem too good to be true. No one should agree to send payments to a third party before doing extensive research, especially if they have not done business with this entity in the past. Sometimes a request to speak directly to the email sender by phone can be enough to scare a fraudster away, halting the scam.
2. Internet Banking Scams
The goal of bank scams is to gain access to consumers’ bank accounts or digital payment services (PayPal, Venmo, etc.), and sadly, scammers can gain entry into these accounts more easily than most realize. These schemes often lure targets with official-looking emails or text messages. The scammers hope recipients panic and act without a second thought. A scammer cannot directly access a bank account using only a phone number, but they can target the device with phishing texts and calls, tricking consumers into providing information on fictitious sign-on screens. When account holders log in, the scammers capture access details. New internet scams cropping up are related to student loan forgiveness. Borrowers who do not double-check the website information could fall prey to scammers’ phony application sites that attempt to steal Social Security information and other personal data.
How To Avoid Online Banking Scams
To avoid becoming a victim of an internet banking scam, account holders should watch for red flags in email or text messages. Fraudulent senders often have messages with misspellings or poor grammar, urgent or threatening language and generic salutations; the body of the message will also contain links to sites outside of the claimed business or suspect attachments. Wary consumers should contact the financial institution or payment service immediately to confirm any login or information request. Rather than using a link in the suspicious message, account holders should type the company’s URL directly into the browser themselves to find the customer service number. Most banks and payment apps have security tips on their websites and will include common scams so account holders can educate themselves about which ploys to avoid.
3. Hijacked Profile Scams
Many social media users have seen signs of this internet scam. A profile hijacker gains access to a social account or creates a mirrored profile to add friends, create a post or send direct messages on a victim’s behalf. The perpetrator’s goal is to get friends on the platform to send money, purchase a fake product or provide financial details before the real account holder notices the signs of a hacked Facebook account.
How To Avoid Hijacked Profile Scams
Social media users should be extremely wary of any messages or posts from friends that seem out of character, especially if they involve requests for money. Before any further interaction through the social network, users should confirm whether their actual friend posted or sent the message by contacting them via email or phone. If the friend was not behind the communication, this indicates fraud and he or she may report the compromised account directly on the platform.
4. Job Scams
Internet scammers use many ploys to lure job seekers into sending them money or providing them with detailed personal information. Because these scammers post jobs on the same online platforms as honest employers, it can be difficult for candidates to discern harmful “opportunities” from legitimate employment. Anyone applying for a new position should be aware of job-seeker internet scams, using these examples for reference:
- Application Scams: Fake employers ask for a Social Security number and direct deposit information before the hiring process is complete.
- Work-From-Home Scams: New employees must pay for startup kits, fake training and false certifications.
- Fake-Check Scams: Scammers ask employees to deposit a fake paycheck upon hire and request the money be withdrawn for another use; the check bounces and the fraudster keeps the real money.
- Mystery Shopper Scams: Fake companies ask employees to pay for access to directories or let shoppers pay to guarantee job opportunities.
- Job Placement Service Scams: Fake staffing and temp agencies or headhunters use outdated job postings to lure candidates into paying service fees to land the job.
How To Avoid Job Scams on the Internet
Job seekers should be especially suspicious of employment offers for jobs to which they have not applied and of companies promising an inflated salary that seems too good to be true. Some scammers post jobs with the intention of stealing information from the application for phishing or other fraudulent activity. Before proceeding with any online application process, candidates should take these steps to avoid becoming a victim of a job scam:
- Research the business thoroughly on other job-seeker sites and its own website plus look for legit corporate social accounts on LinkedIn or other networking sites.
- Perform an internet search of the business’s name plus the words “scam,” or “complaint.”
- Review complaints on the Better Business Bureau and confirm it is a legitimate company.
- Verify the contact information matches an employee at the business.
5. Quiz Scams
To the social media scroller, the quiz might seem innocent, but these are often scams used to collect personal information for answering security questions and guessing passwords. People can be duped into providing personal information before they realize it. Answering the name of someone’s hometown, type of first car or pet’s name provides information for security questions that banks and credit card accounts frequently use.
How To Avoid Quiz Scams
The easiest way social media users can avoid this type of fraud is by avoiding social media quizzes altogether, especially if it is unknown who is behind the questionnaire. Being more vigilant about privacy on social networks can also help prevent scammers from getting enough personal information to assume one’s identity. Users can adjust their privacy settings and remove personal details such as birth date, phone number and address from their profiles.
Reporting Internet Scams
Millions of Americans are targeted by internet scams every year, but many do not know how to report internet scams or are too embarrassed to do so. Reporting a scam can give any victim access to resources to protect themselves, and the information reported can help to bring criminals to justice. When someone discovers they are a victim of an internet crime, they should:
- Gather information, email addresses, transaction receipts and contact information associated with the scam.
- Contact the state’s consumer protection office and call the local police department to report any theft.
- Report the fraud to the Federal Trade Commission.
- Take steps to report identity theft resulting from stolen information.
- Add free fraud monitoring services to credit reporting.
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