The Internet is full of fraud. It is easier to scam people online than to do it on the street. At the same time, many online scams are well known and easy to avoid. Fraudsters know this and use different social engineering tricks to look like legitimate businesses. Most scammers operate from countries where there is almost no control. They act in the gray area of the digital world and use popular security tools that make them anonymous, invisible and inaccessible to regulators, law enforcement agencies and victims. Scammers work just like ordinary businesses. They have offices, secretaries, shifts, payrolls and even holidays.
How do I avoid online fraud and scams? This is usually easy since many of them are pretty clear. In most cases, you just need to train yourself to understand the difference between fake and real websites.
Below are seven of the most common online frauds, as well as tips on how to stay safe.
1. Binary options
Binary options is a simple way to trade financial markets with limited risk and profits. Binary options are legitimate by themselves and are used worldwide as speculative instruments. USA, UK, Australia and many other jurisdictions allow, regulate and oversee binary options trading. But there are plenty of unregulated brokers, signal services, autotrading services and “professional” advisors that are engaged in numerous scams. All they are trying do is persuade you to spend some money so that they can have it.
Scammers offer many interesting features for people who want to deposit money. Malefactors behind fraudulent binary options target people who are looking for easy money. These people are often desperate to earn money quickly. Future victims search the internet and find ads that promise quick profits. Once you deposit money, it is almost impossible to withdraw anything.
Phishing websites take the second place in my list of most common Internet scams. Phishing websites use URLs, names and design that make you believe you are using a popular and legitimate service when, in fact, you are not. Phishing websites are just clones operated by hackers. I found tons of phishing sites investigating binary options, but phishing can be applied to all sorts of websites.
Most often, phishers target the financial sector like banks or other businesses that regularly receive money from people. Cryptocurrency exchanges have recently been heavily targeted by phishing attacks. Social networks also suffer a lot.
3. Fake news
Fake news is a big problem all over the world. Fake pieces of news are used to weaken public opinion and draw attention away from important events. The problem has become so big that school students are now beginning to doubt facts and information they study at school. This problem attracted mass attention after the U.S. elections in 2016. The bad consequences of false news can be found in many aspects of our life. People do not trust media outlets, public figures and government officials any more.
4. Spam email messages
Spam messages are used for almost all Internet scams. Although many of them are easily recognized and sent directly to your junk folder, some are carefully crafted and need to be manually filtered. These days, sophisticated cybercriminals create spear phishing emails, employing detailed information about their victims. They take time harvesting information in social networks and other open sources. Unsuspecting users receive targeted emails that include contact information or even secret details known only to a limited number of people.
It is no surprise that so many people get caught into the spear phishing nets. If you do not know the sender or have doubts in terms of the language or topics, it is best to avoid such messages. Do not click links in it and do not open any attachments. It is easier to call the alleged sender and verify if he sent you that message.
5. Fake greeting cards
Greeting cards that look like they are sent from your relatives or friends is a popular way among scammers to distribute malware. In the past, hackers used fake greeting cards to infect computes with adware that showed pop-ups or other annoying ads. Currently, they may use more dangerous viruses like ransomware that will encrypt your files and require money for the decryption key.
6. Fraudulent lotteries
Lottery scams are still successful and bring criminals a lot of money because they exploit such human qualities as greed and dreams of instant wealth. Who doesn't dream of winning the lottery? A lot of people are easy targets for such scams. To claim your prize, malefactors ask you just to verify your contact information and provide financial data. A lot of criminals run these scams on Facebook, Instagram and other social networks. At the end of the day, people who share their sensitive info face such problems as identity theft and unauthorized transactions emptying their bank accounts.
7. Fake antiviruses
It is old, but it's still around. You're searching the Internet and suddenly see a pop-up saying, “Your computer is infected. The good news is that you can download our antivirus to clean all threats.” What these ads do not say is that the pop-up window you just saw is actually promoting malware. This antivirus software may remove something, but it may also scan your computer for sensitive data and then send it back to the hacker. Fake antiviruses looks like McAffee, Norton or other trusted services. In the worst-case scenario, such tools block your computer and start asking for a ransom payment to unlock it.
How to identify online fraud?
Modern scams are very complex and may consist of numerous interconnected websites and fake social media accounts all created to convince you of their authenticity and legitimacy. It is advised to consider the three factors described below:
1. Registration data
Any lawful company will give you all information about its registration and licensing. You will easily find its business address, phone numbers, etc. On the other hand, scammers try to provide fake addresses or use “virtual offices” that allow companies to create accounts by email. When planning to send money to anybody, it is better to verify all registration and contact information, as well as read reviews of previous and current customers.
2. Too good to be true
To attract more victims, fraudsters have to offer things that cannot be guaranteed, such as instant high profits. Legitimate firms usually do not do that, especially in financial sector. If the offer seems too good to be true, it is better to skip it.
3. Upfront payments
Unless it is a charity fund, there is no reason why you need to pay for a job offer or contest participation. When you are asked to send money, this is a red flag that must not be ignored. Many Twitter users have fallen victim to these tricks.
How do you avoid most common Internet scams?
- Update your software.
- Back up your data.
- Use the best antivirus program.
- Use a VPN to hide your IP from fraudsters and encrypt your traffic.
- Do not click on suspicious links and email attachments. The only thing security software cannot protect you from is yourself.