The internet age has created a fertile environment for crooks and scammers to take advantage of vulnerable people and with increasingly sophisticated techniques they are catching out more people every year. Sometimes even the experts can be caught out so it pays to know the latest tricks.
Here we look at some recent scams to steer clear of.
1. Email Phishing and Copycat Websites
Email scams have been around almost since the internet began but over time it has become increasingly difficult to separate the real customer support emails from the fakes. Clever fraudsters will send emails with a genuine-looking address from a bank or business that you are signed up with and even create fake websites to click through to requesting your information. Banks, government offices, post offices and online retailers are all the subject of scam emails and most of us see them on a weekly, if not daily basis. Scammers collect your personal data, process payments into their bank accounts, and use your internet connection to hack your computer and steal valuable information.
Various reports show that 75% of organisations experienced a phishing attack in 2020 and the most commonly impersontated brands are Microsoft, DHL, Linked In and Amazon.
TIPS: As a consumer it pays ALWAYS to be careful. Never click on an email that you are not 100% sure about. If you don’t trust an email, go direct to their website and log in rather than clicking on the email.
FACT: During the COVID-19 pandemic the number of online scams surged globally with scammers setting themselves up as fake health organisations and non-profits seeking donations.
2. Fake Goods
Fake goods are nothing new – they have been around for a long time before the internet was even invented! Sellers simply create copy-cat versions of famous brands using much cheaper materials, stick a logo on and sell them for a massive mark-up. The process is much easier online where it’s harder to for a buyer to come back to the seller and there is no opportunity to check the validity of a product before the transaction has taken place.
TIPS: To avoid falling for online product scams always use recognised auction sites like eBay where there is proper buyer feedback and the website uses ID checks to check that the seller is valid.
3. Inheritance Scams
One scam that is so common it has even been spoofed in a TV comedy show is the inheritance scam. We’ve all seen it – a long lost relative usually located somewhere far, far away has died and left millions to the recipient of the email. All they have to do to unlock the riches is send money to pay for the legal fees. It’s a far-fetched tale but sadly it has hooked in many vulnerable people who have parted with a lot of money as a result.
Scammers will go to great lengths in this instance to legitimise the story, creating legal documents that they say must be signed to give over power of attorney. Not only are they seeking to steal your money, but also your identity as well which can be used in other scams. Those who question the legitimacy of the information may even be sent fake birth certificates in a false attempt to validate the scam.
TIPS: It is never a good idea to follow up any out-of-the-blue email that suggests you are eligible to receive a huge payout. Whether it’s inheritance or a lottery win. Simply ignore the email. If you are tempted to follow it up, speak to a friend first and get their opinion before you do.
4. Lotteries and Casinos
With the internet has come online gambling a hugely profitable online business model for legitimate operators, and a perceived gold mine for scammers too. Mythical lottery wins are a common method used by fraudsters to instigate identity theft. They will contact the victim on email or by phone, claiming that documents like your passport are required as proof of ID before the winnings can be paid out.
The gambling industry is regulated in many countries and operators are required to go through lengthy auditing processes before they are issued with a license that allows them to legally take bets from customers. Auditing ensures that all games are fair and every dice roll, card turn or slot spin has a completely random outcome. But that does not stop unlicensed scam sites from appearing and offering copy-cat games that look like the real thing but are rigged to ensure the house edge is much more favourable. Sites like these are likely to withhold your money if you do win.
TIPS: To avoid lottery and casino scams, don’t play at sites that don’t have a real license. Reputable licensing jurisdictions include the UK, Malta and Gibraltar and any casino that carries a license from one of these regulators is safe to play with. There are plenty of websites now that offer comprehensive online casino reviews of sites with a license.
5. Online Dating
Dating is another industry that has thrived in the online environment, from websites to apps, there are 100s of ways to meet a new partner right now. But there are also plenty of scams too. These usually involve the fraudster setting up a fake profile and initiating contact with their victim. They will build a relationship until they feel trusted enough to ask for money from their companion.
Dating scams like this are particularly difficult to recognise at first as the scammer will do a very good job of faking their interest which is easy to do a world in which all communication is done over email, phone or messenger. Typically they will say that they are in a job that means it’s hard to meet up – the military for example. Money will usually be requested to pay for an airline ticket, for a medical emergency, or to pay off debts.
TIPS: Dating sites make people vulnerable to scammers as the victims are not normally expecting it. They have come online to meet people and the fraudster is performing that role. The most important thing to remember is that you should NEVER give money to anyone you have just met online and not in person. If you are suspicious, then stop speaking to the person, and report them if you are feeling threatened.
Online scams are more common now than ever and we must all be vigilant at all times to make sure that we don’t fall victim. Sometimes it’s almost impossible to tell a fake from the real thing so it pays to be wary. And if in doubt, always ask a friend what they think before responding to something you think may be a scam. Often, someone not involved in the situation will have a clearer view on it.