Online scams are not uncommon, everyday millions of people are ripped off of their money and personal information by online scammers. Like the recently caught online scammer “Mike” who swindled over 60 million from people and $15.4 million from a single person alone! If you have an online account containing personal information or you shop online, it is extremely important for you to be beware of online scams and take the right precautions.
Although there are hundreds of online scams happening all the time, if you develop some online safety habits then you can prevent yourself from most of these scams. In this article, we are listing down 12 online scam protection tips that should help you stay safe while browsing the web:
1. Phishing Attacks
Phishing attacks are one of the most common yet effective ways of scamming someone online. In a phishing attack, the scammer creates a fake webpage (mostly sign-in page) that looks almost exactly like the web page of a legit company. When a victim signs-in using that page, all of the information is sent to the scammer instead of logging in. After that, the scammer can use that information to his liking to either hack an account or steal debit/credit card information.
Unfortunately, it is not that hard to execute a phishing attack, and at the same time; it is very hard not to fall for one. For example this new Amazon Phishing attack is very convincing and any innocent shopper could easily fall for it.
Prevention: Phishing web pages are shared as hyperlinks usually through emails and instant messaging apps. If someone unknown sends you a link to click on in order to get some benefits or prevent any damage, never click on it. If you do click on such a link, don’t enter your personal information if asked. Furthermore, phishing webpages cannot copy the exact domain name of the original website, do check if the domain is same or a little different. For example, facebook.com could be typed as facetook.com.
2. Never Use the Same Password Everywhere
As most scams focus on stealing account information to further manipulate, it is important to take the right measures to protect your account information. If you use the same password for all your online accounts, then a single hacked account could lead to all your online accounts being compromised. This gets worse because many people may focus on protecting their email or bank account, but they may not be as concerned about their account for an online video game. A breach of that video game account could lead to getting your email or bank account hacked as well.
Prevention: Never use a same password twice for any of your online accounts. To manage multiple passwords, use a good password manager that will remember all the passwords for you.
3. Email Scams
Email is one of the biggest sources of online scams, which is why almost all email services have a spam filter. Most online scams are received as emails with offers and threats that could force you to give up your information.
Prevention: Never believe or reply to an email that is directed to the spam folder of your email account. Even if you do get a good offer or some kind of threat in your inbox, be very skeptical about it and ensure you know the actual source. At times, it might even seem that your bank account (or other legal company) may ask for your information to tackle a problem, just ignore such emails and manually go to the original company website and login to see if there’s actually a problem.
4. Secure Your PC and Smartphone
Many malicious programs are focused on stealing information and compromising online accounts. Thus, it is extremely important to ensure your PC and smartphone are secure from all malicious apps that could steal your information. Ransomware is a notable malicious program that could lock down your data in your PC and you will have to pay back money to the scammer to unlock it. Furthermore, keyloggers and monitoring software are also malicious programs that could steal your sensitive information.
Prevention: First of all, get a reliable antivirus program with real-time protection. The antivirus should bring decent security, however, you need to be careful at your end as well. Refrain from downloading content from suspicious sources and don’t click on untrusted links (more on that later). A malicious program is always downloaded to your PC, either attached with another program or by force; when you click on a malicious link.
5. Avoid Unnecessary Social Media Friends
It seems really cool to have hundreds of friends that may make you feel like you are very “social”. However, this doesn’t mean you should add anyone to your friends list just to increase the number. Most scammers take advantage of excessive information that they harvest by befriending you on social media channels. They can hack your accounts, sell your information or even threaten you!
Prevention: Don’t accept any friend request from people you don’t know, and unfriend everyone that you may not know. Try focusing on befriending people that are actual “friends”, not people who you once met in 8th grade and never talked again.
6. Don’t Make Your Information Publicly Visible
As scammers and hackers feed on your data, always keep your information private on social media networks and other sites where your personal information is listed. If the information is lying around, ready to be accessed by anyone (including search engines), then you are inviting scammers to target you.
Prevention: Almost all social media networks provide control over your information. Simply go to Settings and then Privacy settings to see how you can control this information. Try to keep your information maximum to your friends and follow tip #5 to ensure there are no scammers in your friends list.
7. Urgent Money Requests
This is a really common scam where the scammer will pose as a friend or relative and ask for urgent need of money. In most cases they will claim to be in deep trouble and may even use the friend’s or relative’s actual account by hacking it. In most cases, this happens to people who expose their friends/relatives information on social media networks (follow tip #6 for this).
Prevention: Before providing any help, make a phone call or a free VoIP call to the person and talk to them to confirm they actually need help.
8. Risks of Using Public WiFi
Finding a free public WiFi network might seem like a holy grail, but think twice before using it. Anyone with the right tools could easily see what data you are accessing and also steal information from unencrypted sources.
Prevention: Always use a VPN service to encrypt the traffic, so snoopers won’t see what you are doing; there are many free VPNs available as well. If you are on smartphone then you can also use a VPN app for Android and iOS. On top of that, never purchase anything online or access your bank’s website while connected to a public Wi-Fi.
9. Avoid Malicious HyperLinks
HyperLinks are the main source of spreading malicious programs or directing people to infected websites. Clicking on a malicious link could lead to downloading a malware or giving up your information to a phishing attack.
Prevention: Never click on a link given to you by a stranger. Ensure the link is from a legit source; and even then try to access the webpage by manually navigating to it in your browser (if possible, of course).
10. Shady Free Trials
Free Trials of apps and services can also be shady and could lead you to spending more money. There are commonly two ways to take advantage of free trials to earn money; and you should also know that they are completely legal.
The company may ask you to sign-up and provide your credit/debit card details to get the free trial for a specific duration, and ensures that they will not charge anything for it. However, if you will not cancel the free trial before the set duration, then the paid subscription will be started automatically from the given payment details. This so-called scam depends on peoples’ forgetfulness to make money and many legit companies do it as well; I have even seen Microsoft doing it.
The other trick is to give victims a very good offer for very cheap and hide the actual price in a fine print that is really hard to read. For example, a company may say that you need to pay $5 to activate and use the service, but mention in a tiny fine print that you will have to pay $59.99 each month to keep using it. Many content skimmer users may just read the offer in bold text and buy it just to find out they are charged more than expected.
Prevention: If you are asked to provide payment details to get a free trial, either don’t take it or if the service is worth it then create a reminder to ensure you remember to unsubscribe. Also, read every detail of an offer with a hawk’s eye, especially if it seems too good to be true. After all, you are paying for the service with your hard earned money, a double-check is surely worth it.
11. Fake Charity Requests
This mostly happens right after a natural disaster, but it can happen any time too. A scammer may try to melt your heart with poor kids’ pictures and sobbing words to get you into making a donation to help people in need.
Prevention: Always search for the name of the charity in question to ensure they are real, and may be try calling them as well. There many other ways to check if a charity is legit or not, you can refer to charity scam signs explained by FTC for more details.
12. Online Video Game Scams
Online video games are a big deal and almost all online games offer some way to buy virtual money in the game with real money to get better items and experience. Many scammers take advantage of this to offer free in-game virtual money if you provide personal information, which they can sell or use for hacking your accounts. They can also hack the online account of an online game by asking for login information in exchange for in-game currency, which no gamer will ever like.
Prevention: No online game will ever give free in-game currency for no particular reason. Even if they do offer such opportunity, it will be announced on the actual website of the online game. Never give your information or sign-up for anything in exchange for incentives that are offered from unknown sources.
Use These Tips to Be Safe From Internet Scams
There are numerous ways online scammers can attack you, and new methods sprung out every now and then. So making basic security habits should keep such hazards to minimum. Some things to keep under your nose include, secured PC, secure connection with internet and websites, not believing in too good to be true offers, and never giving up your information to a stranger, no matter how good reasons they put in front of you.
If you know any other internet scam protection tips or got any scam story to share, do let us know in the comments section below.