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7 internet scams you need to be aware of
The internet is a wonderful resource that’s full of information, entertainment and funny cat pictures but it can also be a dark place if you stray off the path or run into digital criminals. Unfortunately, anywhere that attracts lots of people will inevitably attract criminals who see these users as potential victims.
New cyber threats are emerging all the time but there are also perennial threats that keep evolving with each passing year. One motto that every internet user should live by is “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” Sharing that link will not win you a free iPhone, you haven’t won a lottery that you didn’t enter, and clicking on that video will not change your life. (Seriously.)
There is no guaranteed way to avoid online scams but exercising common sense and knowing what to look out for are the best ways to avoid becoming a victim. It’s hard to keep track of all the potential pitfalls that are out there but this list includes some emerging scams and some of the old reliables that continue to pose a serious threat to many internet users.
Imagine that you’re surfing the internet when a message from the police suddenly fills the screen and locks you out of your computer. The message says that you’ve been caught viewing something illegal or embarrassing and demands that you pay a fee to avoid further investigation. It might be scary but the reality is that the police don’t go around locking random people’s computers.
Instead, you’ve got a case of cryptolocker ransomware, a type of malware that’s on the rise and constantly evolving. It locks your computer and demands a ransom in a high tech form of extortion.
Phones and tablets are also vulnerable to this threat. It normally directs you to a site where a relatively small payment can be made to get the hacker to unlock your device. Some ransomware can be impossible to unlock and nobody wants to lose all the files on their computer.
What to do:
Paying the hacker is not recommended as you’ve no guarantee that it’ll work. This hasn’t prevented the likes of hospitals and police departments in the US paying hackers to get their data released. Unless you’re a whizz at computers and want to give it a go yourself, the obvious step is to have your computer assessed by an expert to see if your files can be recovered.
2. Mobile Malware
The first case of mobile malware was discovered in 2004
but mobile threats have come a long way since then. Many apps now contain malware; Symantec identified over 1 million malicious apps in 2014. It also found that there were as many as 2.3 million grayware apps that could include harmful tech like adware and spyware.
Smartphones can also be exposed to malware threats from text messages, so beware of suspicious texts and avoid any links they contain. Malware can come in lots of forms and can affect your device in different ways. This includes sending premium text messages, changing your mobile settings, collecting and selling your personal information or tracking your location.
What to do:
Look at the permissions you grant an app before downloading it and only download apps from reliable sources. Your mobile device is essentially a small computer so antivirus software is something worth considering – if you wouldn’t leave your PC unprotected, why leave your smartphone exposed to online threats?
3. The stranded traveller
This old classic might be a bit hackneyed but the fact that we still see this scam shows that someone is falling for it. It usually starts with an email from your friend – let’s call him Paul – telling you that he’s in a foreign country and that he’s been sent to jail, admitted to hospital, mugged or has racked up excessive gambling bills in an illegal poker game. Okay, that last one is unlikely but you get the idea.
The standard practice is to ask the potential victim to wire money to a bank account or to Western Union to save poor Paul from his predicament. There are variations on the theme but the basic principle remains pretty constant in this scam.
What to do:
Look for tell-tale signs like bad spelling or grammar or uncharacteristic expressions to see if it looks authentic. The most obvious step is to give Paul a call to see where he is or to warn him that his email account has been hacked. The chances are he’s watching TV in his house.
4. Super cheap apartments
Fake rental scams are on the increase as they works by offering something that’s too good to be true to people who really want to believe it. The scam has appeared on online rental sites in different countries and basically involves posting an unbelievable house or apartment at a seriously low price.
People who have been desperately searching for something in their budget naturally jump at it, contact the seller and get all the details. The renter asks for a deposit due to the high demand, the potential renters pay it to try and secure the place, and… they never hear from the “landlord” again.
What to do:
If something looks way too cheap to be real then it probably is. If the person won’t meet you in person or over the phone, assume the worst. Never hand over money to someone you’ve only contacted via the internet.
Phishing works by sending emails or messages that ask for sensitive information, passwords or bank details. These emails could be from a financial institution or a utilities provider and these scams have grown more sophisticated over the years. The mail might contain a threat like an overdue bill to try and make you panic into handing over your details.
They might ask you to click on a malicious link that could infect your device or install spyware. Alternatively, they may be looking for personal information, passwords, bank details or payment for a fictional fee.
What to do:
The common advice for this type of attack is that financial institutions and other companies won’t ask for this type of information over email. If you want to be sure, contact them directly to ease your mind.
6. Manual sharing scams
This type of scam relies on people to do the heavy lifting and to share a malicious or affiliated link through social media. A common form of bait will be an enticing video, a sensational headline or a fake competition prize.
The herd mentality means that we’re much more likely to trust something that comes from a friend – which is exactly what scammers are relying on.
The scam might ask people to share or like the scam, exposing all their contacts to the threat. This threat usually takes the form of a piece of malware or something that can steal your personal information. The latest Symantec Internet Security Threat Report revealed that 70% of social media threats rely on people sharing the threat, compared with 2% in 2013.
What to do:
Don’t take shared posts on social media at face value and avoid anything that looks like it’s unbelievable. If it looks suspicious, don’t be tempted to click. Try searching for the topic rather than interacting with the post itself.
7. Online dating fraud
Online dating fraud is another example of scammers preying on emotionally vulnerable people and trying to con them out of money. Statistics from Action Fraud show that there were 2,700 online dating related crimes reported last year, with the average victim losing £10,000.
Close to two thirds of victims were aged between 40 and 69 and almost two thirds of victims were targeted through online dating scams.
What to do:
Never give money to someone you’ve never met. Fraudsters will often want to communicate via text or social media message rather than via the dating site or in face-to-face conversations.
If a profile picture and story seems unlikely, exercise caution. Common reasons for seeking money includes medical problems, or needing the money to come and visit the victim so look out for suspicious patterns.
The internet is home to many wonderful things, but it does come with a dark underbelly. Always exercise caution online and be very careful about your personal data. It’s very easy to put your information out there, but it’s nigh on impossible to get it back!
No one can prevent all cybercrime or identity theft.
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