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5 Common Internet Scams and How to Avoid Them

Internet scams are thriving, and cybercriminals are taking home big bucks at the expense of innocent victims. According to the FBI's IC3 report, a record-high 467,361 complaints were made in 2019—an average of nearly 1,300 daily complaints. 
Moreover, the agency recorded more than $3.5 billion in losses to individuals and business victims. 
While internet scams are nothing new, the mass shift to digital services has further widened the door and presented fraudsters with new and unique opportunities to attack unsuspecting internet users. 
What are Internet scams?
Internet scams, more commonly known as internet fraud, refer to malicious acts where individuals use internet services or software to defraud or exploit victims mainly for financial gain. 
Cybercriminals will contact potential victims through email accounts, social platforms, dating apps, or other methods to lure the victim into sending money or disclosing other valuable personal information. 
Internet scams are becoming common, continually evolving, and can vary widely. Nevertheless, they all have a common endgame: financial losses, disclosure of sensitive data, and emotional damage. 
How can you identify internet scams? We've put together five common scams and how you can avoid them.
  1. Prize-winning/Lottery Scams
These scams start with a spontaneous email, phone call, or text message claiming that you've won a large sum of money or an enticing prize. The message will invoke secrecy and ask for some facilitation fee in advance that supposedly covers taxes, shipping costs, or other charges. Besides, they sell on the offer, being time-limited to make you act quickly. However, since it's a scam, you'll receive nothing after paying the 'facilitation fees.'
How to avoid: Let’s face it, you wouldn't win money or prizes in competitions you haven't taken part in. Perform background checks on the legitimacy of the competitions. Don't send money to strangers, disclose your data or open random attachments or click links on any messages that hit your inbox.
  1. Online romance
According to the FTC, online scams have nearly tripled in the past years. In 2019 alone, victims lost around $201 million from being defrauded by their online partners. If you've consistently been using dating websites trying to look for love or meeting new people, chances are high that you've come across romance fraudsters. 
Once the scammer builds a rapport and gains your trust, they'll ask for financial favors. Often, with excuses of personal emergencies or plane ticket money to visit the victim. Some even ask for access to your private financial accounts or trick you into committing financial fraud on their behalf.
How to avoid: Be extremely cautious when using online dating platforms. Some romance fraudsters specifically target women and more senior citizens. No matter what your age or gender, observe dating online safety tips and be vigilant of the listed red flags.
  1. False pop-up security warnings
If you've seen an unanticipated antivirus alert pop up on your screen or mistakenly clicked a malicious link, then you've had a close experience with this scam.
Masquerading as a legitimate security provider, this scam works by propagating fear that a virus has just infected your phone or computer. Subsequently, you get a link directing you to download security software immediately.
This scam can either trick you into purchasing malicious software. Alternatively, the software is labeled free to lure victims into downloading, but it has a malware installer hidden within. 
Once installed, the malware puts a foothold on your device, taking control, monitoring your activity, and silently sending confidential data to the attacker. Either way, the aftermath of this scam is devastating.
How to avoid: Don't click on mysterious pop-ups, links, and attachments. Buy genuine antivirus software from reputable security companies which will help defend your devices against such scams, malware, and phishing attempts.
  1. Online shopping scams
Online shopping scams happen when scammers pretend to be legitimate online sellers, through fake websites. They often offer, relist or auction products from famous brands for unreasonably low prices or ridiculous discounts to lure unsuspicious clients.
The scammers will insist on advance payment, and once you make the order or win an auction, you'll most probably receive nothing at all or counterfeit products. Worse yet, if you shared your credit card or bank info, the crooks could wipe your account clean. 
Unfortunately, the global COVID-19 pandemic has encouraged a breed of scammers who target online shoppers, among other COVID-19-inspired scams
How to avoid:
  • Perform comprehensive research on vendors before making purchases.
  • Check for logical reviews, terms of service.
  • More importantly, check for the blue tick that symbolizes most official stores. You can also ask around if the vendor is reputable.
  1. Tax and Beneficiary Scams
In these scams, scammers use messages, regular mail, telephone, social media, or email to set up individuals and sometimes businesses in the case of tax reports.
In the beneficiary scam, the scammer informs you of a money deal and tries to make you a cut if you help them move their money. Alternatively, the scammer will say you're the beneficiary of some inheritance, and you're legally entitled to claim the estate and all you have to do is make payments to facilitate the transfer of funds, after which you receive nothing. You may also be sent documents infected with malware.
In the latter, scammers try to impersonate tax authorities, through which they try to obtain sensitive personal and business information. The data is then used to commit identity and financial fraud. Common tax-related scam tricks include mistakes when filing your tax returns, penalty threats involving overdue tax bills. They may also lure you to making illegal tax evasion payments.
How to avoid: Do not respond to phishing messages or click on any links/ attachments from unknown sources. Tax authorities cannot request personal or financial information over messages. Confirm you're on the legitimate website before entering any information.
Conclusion
No one wants to be a victim of internet fraud or even a statistic. Sadly, cybercriminals never take a break – they're relentless, consistently improving and keeping their eyes out for new opportunities and ways to scam people. Being aware of and avoiding these scams will significantly improve your security awareness.

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