Everywhere you look, you can find scams: online and in your email, by phone and even by text. Why do they keep happening? Because they work. People continue to fall for them and give fraudsters the money and/or sensitive personal information they want. So no, online scams are not likely to go away anytime soon.
You may not be able to stop online scams from happening altogether, but you can at least make sure that you don’t become a victim of one. There are a variety of online scams out there, all of which may be different in their details. But there are some basic characteristics that most scams share. Being able to identify those characteristics can help you to keep yourself safe.
Email & Website Scams
While helpful in a lot of ways, the internet also enables anonymity, which has made it a haven for scammers. In particular, email has made it even more convenient for scammers to ask for your help to get millions of dollars from Nigerian princes to America, or to tell you about that sweepstakes you won (even though you probably don’t even remember entering it). All you have to do is give them your banking information, Social Security Number, etc.
Hopefully you know better than to fall for those classic phishing scams. But email scammers are nothing if not adaptable. Next to those clumsier efforts to get your financial information, there are other more sophisticated approaches. You may get what look like official-looking emails from your bank, your boss, or the government. However, the links in the text of such emails could actually lead to spoofed websites or that allow malware to be loaded onto your computer.
To avoid falling victim to email phishing scams, hover your cursor over links (don’t click!) to see if the destination web address is legitimate. Verify the sender’s email. And note the tone and grammar of the email itself for any errors or irregularities. If you’re still unsure, don’t click on anything or reply to the email. Contact the supposed sender outside of the email to verify its legitimacy.
Say you do happen to click on a link in a suspicious-looking email, and you end up on what looks like a legitimate website. But take a closer look. You could have landed on a spoofed website, one that’s designed to look official but is actually just a copy intended to trick you into entering log-in or other private information. As with email, look for subtle errors when it comes to color, logos, or content. And check for a padlock icon next to the URL in the main search bar. Its presence shows that the site is secure by SSL certificate, while its absence implies the opposite.
Phone Call & Texting Scams
You may get calls or texts from phone numbers that look familiar. But at the same time, you don’t know for sure if the person on the other end of the line is really someone with whom you want to communicate. Yes, it could be someone you know, or it could be coming from a company with which you do business. On the other hand, it could be a scammer. These days, scammers have the ability to spoof phone numbers and text numbers. That way, they could be contacting you from all the way across the country but look like they’re local.
Texting scams (aka smishing), combine the number spoofing capabilities of phone scams with the tech savviness of email scams. A text scam will often include a link that they want you to click on. As with a phishing attempt, doing so can give a scammer access to your information.
With these phone calls or texts, scammers will try to get valuable personal or business information from you directly. Or they could trick you into giving them access to your device or network, where they are then free to get information or money themselves. If you are unsure about an unknown number, do not answer a call or respond to a text right away. To try and verify the legitimacy of an unknown phone number, you can look it up with a reverse phone lookup. Such a tool can help to reveal the owner or entity that’s actually behind the phone number.
It if turns out that the caller or texter is a person or place you recognize, great! Otherwise, if it turns out that the number is a likely scam, you can report the number to the FCC or to any number of phone scam report sites to try and put a stop to their efforts.
Whether it’s by phone or online, don’t ever let anyone pressure you into giving information or money. Take the time to perform any due diligence you feel is necessary to be confident and comfortable that you’re dealing with legitimate people or companies. Information and a cool head are your greatest weapons against scammers, and they can help you hang on to your hard-earned money, privacy, and peace of mind.