Top Internet Scams You Should Be Aware Of
Internet scams are all too common. While you might associate online fraud with sloppy, poorly spelled emails from deposed royalty, scams can be much more sophisticated. Scammers often prey on vulnerabilities, like fears around COVID-19 or the desire to be in a romantic relationship.
The median loss from an internet scam is $160, according to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), but some have been scammed out of significantly more than that. Learn more about common internet scams to be aware of.
COVID-19 Online Scams
When the coronavirus started spreading, online scammers saw an opportunity. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports many scams related to COVID-19, including:
- Fake products and "cures"
- Emails claiming to be from reputable organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that contain malicious downloads or links
- Requests for donations
- Investment opportunities in coronavirus cures and vaccines
There are many best practices to protect yourself from this and other online schemes. First, keep in mind that if a cure or vaccine for COVID-19 is found, you probably won't find out via email. If you're unsure of the legitimacy of an email, check reliable websites like the CDC's or visit the BBB Scam Tracker, which tracks scams targeting consumers.
If you're not sure that a charity is legitimate, check a website like Charity Navigator.
If the charity or individual asking for a donation is pushy or asking for cash, money via wire transfer, or gift cards, consider steering clear.
Avoid investment opportunities that aren't through reputable brokers. You can check the background of individual brokers and firms by using BrokerCheck.
One of the top online scams is phishing, which is when scammers use email to get you to provide your personal information. For example, you click on a link in an email that looks like it's from your bank and enter your username and password. The scammer now has access to your banking information.
To protect yourself, make sure you have antivirus software installed on your computer and that it's up to date. If you receive an email from a company asking for you to log in or update payment information, go directly to the company site rather than clicking on an email link. You can also contact the company directly to confirm whether the request is legitimate.
Another common internet scam is known as “typosquatting” or URL hijacking. This practice targets users who incorrectly type a web address into their browser. For example, instead of typing Google.com, the user types Gooogle.com. When the user makes this mistake, an alternative website opens, and this website is owned by a hacker.
In many cases, these websites have the same look and feel as the intended website. Some of these operations are in place to sell products or services that are also available on the intended website, but there are also spoof sites that attempt to steal personal information such as Social Security numbers or credit card information.
Double-check the spelling of web addresses you visit, and if something looks off, don't proceed.
Ransomware is a third type of internet scam, and in this case, your data is held hostage until you pay a ransom. This type of software infiltrates a computer when you download an attachment that is affected, visit the wrong website, or click on a certain link.
The best way to avoid ransomware is to ensure that your computer is running the most up-to-date version of the operating system and has updated antivirus software. It is also important to not click on the links in unsolicited emails and to back up your data regularly.
With a romance scam, someone pretends to be looking for a romantic partner. You might meet them through a dating site or on social media. They invest a lot of time in talking to you, but they have a job that keeps them from meeting you in person, like working on an oil rig or working as a doctor in an international organization.
Eventually, they start asking for money. It might be for emergencies, to pay for travel, or something else. They usually ask for money to be wired or for a gift card. To protect yourself, never wire money or send gift cards to someone you haven't met in person. If you're being pressured to send money to someone and they always have an excuse to not meet in person, be skeptical.
According to the BBB, romance scams cost a median loss of $3,000 in 2019.
With a job scam, you get a job offer for remote work. You may be asked to provide personal or sensitive information, "overpaid" with a large check and asked to wire back the difference, or asked to inspect and resend packages.
To protect yourself, be skeptical of work-at-home jobs that don't require training or that hire you on the spot. Don't deposit unexpected checks, and visit company websites to ensure positions are legitimate.
The Bottom Line
To avoid scams, be skeptical of any unsolicited emails or direct messages. Visit company websites, call and confirm any communications you're not sure about, or check the BBB Scam Tracker. To stay up-to-date on scams, consider signing up for the FTC Consumer Alerts newsletter.
Better Business Bureau. "New Risks and Emerging Technologies," Page 7. Accessed Oct. 17, 2020.
FTC. "Coronavirus: Scammers Follow the Headlines." Accessed Oct. 17, 2020.
FTC. "How to Recognize and Avoid Phishing Scams." Accessed Oct. 17, 2020.
McAfee. "What Is Typosquatting?" Accessed Oct. 17, 2020.
Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. "Ransomware." Accessed Oct. 17, 2020.
FTC. "What You Need to Know About Romance Scams." Accessed Oct. 17, 2020.
Better Business Bureau. "New Risks and Emerging Technologies," Page 11. Accessed Oct. 17, 2020.
Better Business Bureau. "BBB Tip: Employment Scams." Accessed Oct. 17, 2020.