Phishing. A ‘phishing’ scam is when the scammer pretends to be a legitimate company and uses that front to request personal details or account details. For example, they may claim to be PayPal and demand that the person ‘verify’ their account to keep it from being suspended. Often, they copy logos and other formatting from legitimate mails sent by the company and the mail maybe visually indistinguishable from the normal emails received. Some phishers may sent to any email they can find, however, the more sophisticated hire a hacker to steal a company’s mailing list and use that.
To avoid being phished, take two simple precautions. The first is never to click on the link embedded in the email. Instead, manually enter your bank’s website or use your existing bookmark. The link may look like it goes to one site and actually take you to another. Also, if unsure about an email, use your email client’s ‘View all headers’ option and check the reply-to. The from may be ‘email@example.com’, but the reply-to something like ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’. Phishing emails should be reported to the company the scammer is impersonating.
‘Nigerian’ scams. The Nigerian scam has gone high tech and often come out of Africa. In its original, classic version, the scammer would pretend to be a wealthy individual in Nigeria who needed to get a large amount of money out of the country. If the victim only hands over their bank details, the scammer would promise them a cut of this fortune. Variants include claiming to represent the estate of an unknown relative who has recently died. Modern ‘Nigerian’ scammers may claim to be from various places in the third world, but such scams have also originated in New Zealand and the UK. Another common variant is an email claiming you have won a foreign lottery you do not remember answering. In this case, the scammer is either trying to get your bank details or to trick you into handing over ‘facilitation’ fees that he can then pocket.
Nigerian scams are easy to avoid. Any request to ‘help move money’ is almost certainly bogus. Anyone who asks you for money to get money to you, is a scammer. These emails should generally be ignored and deleted.
‘Good Times’ and other fake viruses. Many years ago, the Good Times virus hoax circulated. It was an email warning the recipient not to open any email with the subject line ‘Good Times’, as it contained a virus that would physically destroy the computer’s hard drive. The email was forwarded by thousands of people and has been referred to as a ‘human-propagated virus’. Good Times is in the past, but the fake virus hoax scam has gone levels beyond it. For example, the Mac Keeper hoax claims that the red pient’s computer has been infected with a virus and they should download this excellent anti-virus software. For a price, of course. The majority of hoax virus emails, however, are internet pranks intended to trick the recipient into forwarding the message to all of their friends.
The solution is not to forward any email unless you have independently verified that the virus (or other warning) is real.
‘You are the Xth visitor’. If you surf the internet without ads blocked, you will see quite a few of these flashing banner ads. The ads state that you are the Xth (usually a high number) person to view the ad and if you click on it you will win a prize. These contests are, of course, bogus. At their most harmless, they are being used to ‘click farm’, that is to gain money by driving false traffic to the web site. More malicious versions may be harvesting your address email or mobile phone number. They also tend to be annoying and damage the experience of browsing the site in which they are embedded.
To protect yourself, never click on any banner ads that are flashing brightly and promise a prize. Also avoid the ones that appear to be miniature video games. These too are often scams. Do not give out your address to any web site unless you are buying something and having it shipped. Mobile numbers should be guarded even more carefully, as companies will often harvest these and then send out unsolicited text messages.
In general, use common sense. Anything that seems to be either too good to be true or too bad to be true probably is. Avoid purchasing items internationally from unknown parties. It is better to buy locally and pay on direct receipt of the item. Scammers have been known to sell fake animals over the internet, especially high priced pedigree puppies and horses. In this case, the item generally does not exist and the scammer pockets the money and disappears. Look at the seller’s web site. Scammers often speak poor English, which can show on their site. Inaccurate details, such as a site purporting to offer cane furniture but having a page that refers to pedigree puppies are another red flag. As stated before, do not click on links in emails. Always manually enter the URL. Never agree to receive funds from an unknown third party.
Despite the fact that many of these scams are obvious when studied carefully, many people lose money on them every single year. Not becoming one of them requires common sense and to keep your eyes open.