In 2019, the FBI reported a record $3.5 billion in losses due to internet scams. The sad fact is that as the internet has exploded in popularity, so have the opportunities for being conned, scammed, defrauded, and targeted by professional hackers. It’s imperative these days to stay informed about the most common and dangerous scams – so you know what to look out for, and how to avoid them. Having a solid plan in place for keeping your data and online assets safe can help avoid tragedy. Below is Computer Repair Plus’s list for 2020.
We hope it goes without saying, but if you think these scams are sitting in your inbox: do not respond. Do not engage. Never answer requests like these below, and never, ever give your bank information away – to anyone, but especially to a stranger – online. Any email correspondence that you suspect is a scam should be sent directly to the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, or the Federal Trade Commission.
The 419 Fraud Scam
Sometimes referred to as the Nigerian letter scam or the “advance fee” scam, the 419 fraud scam is one of the most common scams online today. In case you were wondering, the 419 comes from the section of Nigerian criminal code that outlaws fraud. In 2019, more than 14,000 people fell victim to this scam. As a collective whole, they lost more than $100 million, averaging a loss of nearly $7,000 each.
We hope at this point that the scam sounds familiar to you, but just in case you’re unaware: the scammer usually poses as a Nigerian prince or other wealthy West African socialite who is grieving the death of a beloved family member, and needs your help financially. Somehow, this member of Nigerian royalty has contacted you directly. He says he needs to keep a large sum of his money in your bank account for safekeeping. In return, he says he’ll share a large chunk of the money with you – but he needs you to pay the advance fees first. You can imagine where it goes from there.
The Pre-Approved Notice
Congratulations, you’ve been pre-approved! You may have seen an email with a subject line like this in your inbox before, usually accompanied by a cluster of glittering, smiling, winking emojis. These emails usually offer a credit card or bank loan with fantastic interest rates and sky-high credit limits. These offers might be extra appealing to you if you’re in a financial bind. But beware: you must pay advance fees at sign-up and at various stages along the way – and before you know it, the con will run its course and you’ll get nothing in return.
Always remember that with valid, legitimate credit card and loan offers, you will never be asked to pay advance or up-front fees at sign-up. Credit card companies and loan lenders do charge interest or fees, typically, but they never ask for these payments in advance of granting you a card or a loan.
The Phishing Scam
This one operates on a different principle than some of the more obvious scams. Let’s say you get an email that looks legit – it’s from your bank, your college, some store you like to shop at. You don’t look too closely at it but you recognize it generally. You open it up and clink on the link. Instead of taking you to the legitimate source you expected, the link redirects you to a site where you are asked to enter personal data like passwords and account information. We’ve said it before, but we’ll say it again for the folks in the back: do not give your private information away online. Hackers will steal it and use it to break into your accounts. More than 114,000 people were victims of phishing scams in 2019. They lost $57.8 million, collectively.
Never, ever click the links in phishing emails. Doing so only makes your computer, your passwords and all your private data vulnerable to hackers, scammers, and viruses. Be sure to closely inspect your emails for legitimacy. Phishers will try to make the email look legit, and trick you into trusting it. Be on the lookout for typos, spelling or grammar errors, suspicious formatting, logos that don’t look quite right – as well as, obviously, a sketchy or suspicious email address.
The Disaster Relief Scam
Ah, yes. Operating by one of humanity’s darkest and most repulsive instincts, the disaster relief scam preys on vulnerable, well-intentioned people who believe they’re donating to a disaster relief fund or other charity. After Hurricane Florence hit in 2018, for example, grifters and scammers began targeting civilians across the country, trying to get passwords, bank info and other data for the purposes of identity theft and fraud. It got so bad that the Attorney General of Virginia issued a formal warning, cautioning all Virginia residents to be hyper-vigilant.
As with other scams discussed today, you can usually tell these guys from their legitimate counterparts because of the way they ask for money up front or demand sensitive info and passwords. Never supply these details. Only give to legitimate, established institutions or efforts. If you’re in any doubt abou the legitimacy of a relief fund or charity, you can visit GuideStar or Charity Navigator to verify that they’re legit.
Social Media Travel Scams
Social media has now become one of the most popular ways for scammers and con artists to trick you out of your money. Instagram in particular is vulnerable to these types of schemes. Scammers use victims’ FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) against them with this scheme. Travel scams usually lure the victim in with a beautiful travel photo – and because all ads on Instagram are simple and meant to be alluring, it’s hard to tell at first that you’re falling victim. Sometimes the ‘ad’ will promise a free trip or plane tickets to some exotic locale. Once you click on it, you will be asked to fill out a survey overflowing with personal data and private information, or hackers will simply use the open connection to install viruses and data-harvesting malware on your computer.
Scams like these are one of the reasons we have blue checkmarks on Twitter and Instagram now – so you can tell if the account is legitimate, verified and trusted. Look for that blue checkmark, and any other markers of legitimacy. Travel companies, airlines, hotel chains, travel bloggers and other legitimate sources will all have verified accounts and tons of followers. Beware of suspicious-looking accounts that are unverified and that only have a handful of sketchy followers.
A Good Rule of Thumb
A good rule of thumb is that if anyone online is asking for your bank info, your private data or any kind of weirdly personal information up front, you are looking at a scam. Always use secure servers, verify accounts, and never give your personal data out online.
If you think you’ve been scammed, change all your passwords and have your computer tuned up by a professional who can remove any hidden viruses or malware (like, oh, we don’t know…the trusted pros at Computer Repair Plus).
Keep in mind that legitimate institutions, charities, merchants and organizations will never ask for your private banking info or personal data up front – and furthermore, they will always provide a way of establishing validity, authenticity and trust.
Trust your instincts and be on high alert. If something seems a little too good to be true – it probably is.