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How To Identify And Protect Yourself From Online Scammers

Sep 5, 2023 | Blog, Security


Online scammers have their sights trained on you. As you’re reading this article, they could already be infiltrating platforms where you maintain a presence – your business website, email addresses, social media accounts, and third-party e-commerce sites that you frequently shop at.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), cyber crimes resulted in US$10.3 billion in losses in 2022. The industry has proven to be lucrative to cyber-criminals that the FBI expects the number of victims to continue to rise over the next few years.

You have to take the threat of cybercrime seriously and acknowledge the reality that becoming a victim is not just a question of “when?” but “how?”.

We wrote this article to help you identify the potential warning signs and red flags that you’re about to become a victim of cybercrime. Likewise, we’ll give you useful tips on how to protect yourself from these online scammers.

What Are The Different Types Of Online Scams And Cyber-Crimes?

In the digital age, thieves no longer have to carry out their crimes at night wearing dark clothing with masks covering their faces. They can run their scams online under the guise of sophisticated malware and elaborate online schemes designed to steal valuable information from unsuspecting site users.

But how do these cyber-criminals operate?

Here are some of the most common online scams and cyber crimes operating on the Internet.

1. Fake Anti-virus Software Alert

You’re catching up on the latest stock market news when a pop-up ad suddenly appears on your screen. The pop-up is advertising security software that claims your smartphone is infected with over a hundred viruses.

The threat can be contained right NOW. All you have to do is to download the FREE security software.

If you let fear get the best of you and agree to download the software, you could actually be downloading the threat itself.

This type of scam is called “scareware”, a tactic that scares people into downloading free apps to clean their smartphones of harmful viruses. The only things the app will clean from your phone are your personal information.

2. Fake E-Commerce Websites

The Internet is home to thousands of fake e-Commerce websites that always seem too good to be true. Yet, because billions of people use the Internet every day, these fake e-Commerce websites only need a fraction of the total online population to make a killing in sales.

A fake online shopping website will capitalize on shoppers’ motivation to search for the best value on the Internet.

They’ll entice you with a website that looks like the ones you frequent whenever you’re shopping for online deals. Once you’re in, the website will bait you hook, line, and sinker with unbelievable offers.

Here’s an example:

“US$750 for the iPhone 14 Pro Max – BUY NOW! Only 7 units left! Click here.”

Right below the picture of the iPhone 14 Pro Max which retails at stores for US$1,599, you’ll read testimonies from “happy customers”. Sometimes the fake store will include pictures of happy customers as further validation.

When you click on the button, you’ll end up on a page that will instruct you to provide your personal information – email address, mobile number, birth date, and of course…

… credit card information.

If you pay and receive an iPhone 14 Pro Max from the website, chances are it’s fake. And if you try to go back to the site, guess what?

Because the scammers know your phone number and IP address on your computer, you’ll get blocked.

3. Phishing

Similar to fake anti-virus alerts, phishing scams often employ scare tactics to compel the victim to take action right away. Phishing scams are deceptive in that these tactics involve using the identity of a company you’re involved with such as banks, subscription services, and other service providers.

A good example of a common phishing scam is when the scammer sends the intended victim an e-mail from his bank notifying him of suspicious activity detected in his account.

The email concludes with a statement that reads “Please verify your personal information including your bank account details by clicking here.”

You’ll also be required to change your password.

If you follow what the scammer told you to do – game over. Not only will you put your bank deposit at risk but your email and other online accounts are now exposed to other types of cyber threats.

4. Notices of Pre-Approval

Who doesn’t like to have free stuff – especially if they’re in the form of pre-approved credit cards and loans?

The Notice of Pre-approval scam hedges its success because 77% of households are embroiled in some type of debt. The possibility of having immediate access to funds is too enticing for recipients of the pre-approval notice.

Once they click on the link, they’ll find out that it’s not really for free. In order to avail of the credit card or loan, they have to first pay an upfront fee.

The scammer makes sure the upfront fee is low enough that the victim isn’t discouraged. The fee can be justified by the credit limit or by the amount of the available loan.

Similar to the other scams discussed so far, the victim will be asked to provide personal information.

If you don’t receive a credit card in the mail or hear again from the “Lending Officer”, that means you’ve been scammed.

5. 419 Fraud

If you receive an email from someone purporting to be of Nigerian royalty who needs your help in transferring large amounts of money, delete it right away. This is an example of 419 Fraud which is more popularly known as the “Nigerian Royalty Letter Scam” or the “Advance Fee Scam”.

To entice recipients to cooperate, they’re offered a princely portion of the total cash once the job is completed. However, “to qualify” for the offer, you have to transmit amounts of money to the account of the sender as “advanced fees”.

It’s called 419 Fraud as a reminder of the specific section in Nigerian law that defines this act as a crime.

According to the FBI, in 2022 alone, more than 11,000 people fell victim to 419 Fraud. Collectively, the total amount of money lost in advanced fees was estimated to be in excess of US$100 million.

6. Big Jackpot Scams

In this type of scam, you might receive an email or a text message that states your name was randomly selected in a nationwide raffle and that you won a large amount of money.

To receive your “winnings”, you must first transfer a small amount of money to an account specified in the email or message.

Some of the people involved in Big Jackpot Scams can be quite persuasive and call the intended victims on their smartphones. They’ll try to appear legitimate and motivate the victim by creating a sense of urgency.

For the unfortunate ones who fall victim to the scam, once they send out the money, they’ll never hear from the perpetrators again. If they try calling the number that called them, they won’t be successful.

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7. Debt Relief Scams

Cyber-criminals are also cyber-sleuths. They know the consumers who are mired in debt and desperate for help.

The scammers present themselves as officers of a company with a track record of helping debt-ridden individuals find financial relief. They’ll send you links to their website and social media accounts to create an impression of authenticity.

Someone from the company will reach out and assure you that they will negotiate your outstanding obligation with your creditors. Furthermore, the representative will guarantee you of having better credit standing after hiring the company’s services.

However, before they get started, you have to pay an upfront fee which is usually calculated as a percentage of your total debt.

Once you issue payment of the upfront fee, you’ll never hear from them again or see your money.

8. Travel/Vacation Scams

Travel and vacation scams are prevalent on social media platforms especially Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest where people love sharing about their vacation.

The Modus Operandi of the travel scammer is to post beautiful, eye-catching pictures that are easily associated with a fun vacation – sand, surf, lush scenery, smiling families, and delicious food.

You might be offered special discounts on airline tickets, hotel accommodations, amusement park entry fees, and other travel perks. To find out more, you’ll be asked to click on the button.

You’ll end up on a landing page that will require you to fill out fields about your personal information, credit card number, and contact details.

Once you click “send”, you’re now exposed to the risks identified below:

  • An iteration of the advance fee scam;
  • Non-existent bookings;
  • Phishing scams;
  • 419 Fraud;
  • Having malware uploaded on your PC

Travel scams hit an all-time high after lockdowns were lifted around the world and people could take vacations again.

9. Surfing for Sympathy

Have you come across these posts on Facebook where you see a picture of a sick child or old person? The lead-in to the post will request one of the following:

  • Money; to pay for the sick person’s hospital bills and medicines.
  • Likes and shares; to help create awareness of the sick person’s situation.
  • An “amen”; to lift up the spirits of the sick person. In exchange for an amen, you’ll receive a blessing.

Those who surf for sympathy and ask for cash intend to dupe social media users of their hard-earned cash by having deposits made to a bank account.

But those who ask for likes, shares, and an “amen” are going to edit the contents of the page and use the higher levels of engagement to run more nefarious schemes.

For example, they’ll use the high number of likes to promote fake supplements, non-existent jewelry, and fly-by-night services.

10. Tech Support Scams

You’re working on the computer when suddenly a pop-up appears on the screen. The message is a warning that your computer is infected with a deadly virus. To get rid of the virus, all you have to do is to download an app.

Once the app is downloaded, a “computer tech” will fix your computer from a remote location.

What you don’t know is that the “computer tech” is downloading the deadly viruses in your computer and stealing your data. Sometimes, these scammers can be more aggressive and call you on your phone.

Conclusion: How To Protect Yourself From Online Scammers

Now that you know what these scams are and how to identify them, here are 10 valuable tips on how to protect yourself from becoming the next victim of these online scammers.

  1. Keep the security protocols on your computer updated. Ask your web designer for his recommendation on the best anti-virus software and malware programs.
  2. Don’t go to suspicious websites or those without SSL certificates.
  3. Frequently change the passwords of your email, social media, and other online accounts.
  4. Never give out your password to anyone – not even to a friend who messages you on social media. Give your friend a call and verify the message. It’s possible your friend’s account got hacked and it’s a scammer asking for help.
  5. If you don’t know the number calling you – don’t pick it up. If it’s a friend, he would follow up with a text message. In fact, go to the settings of your phone and block numbers that aren’t in your contact list from calling you.
  6. If you receive an email or text message from your bank informing you that your account has been hacked, don’t panic. Call your bank right away and verify the status of your account.
  7. Don’t react if the subject of the email appears serious. If you don’t know the sender, don’t take chances. Delete the email.
  8. The social nature of social media can make anyone vulnerable to distressing posts. Scroll past posts that prey on your sympathy. And don’t “like” or “share” posts just because someone told you to. As far as “e-Blessings” are concerned, prayers can be said privately.
  9. The old adage remains relevant and true “If something is too good to be true, it probably is.” So scroll, scroll, scroll!
  10. Any remarkable offer that comes with an upfront fee or advanced payment is fake.

If you’ve been victimized by a scammer or if you feel you were close to getting scammed, act right away and report the incident to the administrator of the online platform. Go to the local authorities and file a report as well.

Unless these scammers are caught and placed behind bars, they’ll continue to take advantage of unsuspecting people some of whom could be your friends or family members.

Are you confident about your website’s security features? Entrust the care and security of your website with us. Just sign up for one of our budget-friendly Extreme WordPress Care Packages.

And if you found this article useful and informative, feel free to share it with your community.



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