Whether it’s banking, shopping or simply keeping in touch with friends and family, the Internet makes a lot of things easier. However, just as the Web makes life easier for people, it also presents a world of opportunity to con artists seeking to exploit the numerous potential security flaws of the virtual world. As such, online scams are ubiquitous and they come in many different forms, sometimes leading to devastating consequences. They are constantly evolving as scammers find new ways to exploit new software, operating systems and online communication methods. Unfortunately, you can only rely on your security software so much, since there is no substitute for common sense and getting into a few good habits to minimize the risk of becoming a victim. Following are the most common online scams to watch out fof:
#1. Phishing Scams
The most common online scam of all, phishing scams use social engineering to manipulate people into unwittingly giving away their personal or financial information to the scammer. Phishing scams most often come in the form of an email that appears to be from a legitimate business such as an online bank or e-commerce store. Other phishing scams may take the form of entire websites, particularly when someone enters a commonly misspelled version of the Web address they’re trying to reach. Most phishing scams are quite easy to distinguish, since they often appear to come from companies you don’t have any dealings with anyway. However, there are plenty of exceptions. In reality, no legitimate business will EVER ask for password or payment information by email, and any such attempt is undoubtedly a scam.
#2. Advance Fee Fraud
Commonly known as the Nigerian 419 scam, advanced fee fraud is one of the older types of scam, and it actually predates the Internet when people would receive fraudulent faxes and mail in the post. Although extremely common and potentially financially devastating for victims, these scams are almost invariably blatantly obvious to the vast majority of people. An advanced fee fraud scam typically involves a claim that millions of dollars are being held abroad and the individual wants to move it out of the country. However, they’ll need to you to pay the ‘transfer fees’ in advance before you can receive a ‘portion’ of the money. These scams are often targeted to businesses, particularly those that offer accommodation. In these cases, they usually involve huge reservations for dozens of people who don’t exist.
#3. Lottery Scams
The international lottery winner scam is another of the most common attempts at online fraud, although the vast majority of these emails end up straight in the spam folder never to see the light of day. Lottery scams are effectively a version of the Nigerian 419 scam in that they promise lots of money, but not without extorting you out of a large sum beforehand. Of course, the so-called winnings are completely fictitious, which shouldn’t come as any surprise considering you wouldn’t have entered the non-existent lottery in the first place or ever even heard of it for that matter. In order to enjoy your non-existent ‘winnings’, the scammer will ask you to pay a ‘processing fee’ potentially allowing them to gain complete access to your financial information at the same time.
Scareware is one of the most common forms of malicious software and, like many online scams, it also uses social engineering tactics to dupe the user into shelling out their money. Scareware scams come in many different forms and range in severity from mild to severe. In fact, even some supposedly legitimate software can arguably be described as scareware, particularly if it provides fake or exaggerated claims about malware infections on your computer. Again, however, most of it is pretty obvious and you’ll most often come across scareware when downloading torrents or visiting adult websites. Scareware might appear to ‘scan’ your computer before telling you that your computer needs ‘cleaning’. However, before you can ‘clean’ your computer of non-existent infections, you’ll need to buy the full version.
#5. Greeting Card Scams
Online scammers are increasingly likely to use greeting card scams to manipulate victims into unwittingly downloading malware onto their computers. As the name suggests, these scams exploit the recent growth of online greeting cards. Again, they often make use of social engineering tactics by appearing to be from a friend or family member. Nonetheless, most of these scams exhibit some tell-tale signs such as a lack of your name in the address and a lack of the sender’s name in the email body. Additionally, fake greeting cards often end up in your inbox(or, more likely, spam folder) when it’s not a birthday or other special occasion anyway. Usually, in order to open the ‘greeting card’, you’ll first need to download a special viewer application which will in fact by a Trojan, virus or other malicious software.
Most online scams are obvious, often characterized by appalling English, irrelevant content or various other tell-tale signs. Nonetheless, even the most experienced and vigilant among Web users will occasionally come across something that’s rather more believable and sophisticated than your typical online scam. After all, many scammers are continuing to hone their skills and keep ahead of the game to take advantage of potential security flaws in newer software and vulnerabilities in methods of communication. Just by exercising some common sense, you can greatly increase your chances of staying safe online. For a start, if there’s money involved and something seems too good to be true, then it almost certainly is. Other scams rely on the power of fear or urgency, while others blatantly ask for personal or financial information.