How to Recognize Online Scams

When you’re online, do you think about your security? Or do you tend to take for granted the fact that your search provider is already protecting you and your information?

Most of the time, there’s nothing wrong with that. After all, many internet search providers have pretty good security protocols in place. But they can’t catch everything. Sometimes, it is up to you to identify an online scam in order to protect yourself from becoming a victim.

Thankfully, doing so doesn’t require advanced technological expertise. With just a keen eye and some common sense, you can stop online scams before they happen.

Email Phishing

Email scams, or “phishing,” have occurred for just about as long as email has existed. Why? Because they keep working. 

Classic phishing emails include things like offers for millions of dollars from African princes or sweepstakes winnings. In order to get your reward, all you have to do is give them your banking information or Social Security Number, or pay some sort of transfer fee. 

When it comes to those kinds of blatant phishing emails, you know better (hopefully) than to fall for their outlandish promises. But next to those relatively clumsy efforts to get your financial information, there are some more sophisticated approaches, ones that you may not be able to immediately identify as fake. 

More refined phishing attempts can look like official communications from your bank, your boss, or the government. Such supposed authority makes it much more tempting to click on links or provide information as the email requests. However, any links in such emails could lead to spoofed websites. Or they could end up loading malware onto your computer. 

  • How can you avoid falling victim to email phishing scams? 
  • Hover your cursor over any links (without clicking) to see if they go to legitimate websites. 
  • Verify the sender’s email. 
  • Note the tone and grammar of the email itself for errors, or for overly urgent-sounding requests for you to take action. 
  • If you’re still unsure, don’t click on anything or reply to that email. Try to contact the supposed sender directly by phone or in-person to verify the legitimacy of the email.      

Scam Websites

This is where email phishing or text “smishing” (SMS phishing) can potentially lead. A scam website is a site created solely for the purpose of gleaning users’ personal and sensitive information. Or it can offer products or services for sale that are either extremely low quality or don’t actually exist. When it comes to the latter, the site will take your payment and then deliver something that little resembles what you thought you ordered. Or you may never get a delivery at all.

If you suspect a site is a scam, there are a few things you can do to verify that. Check online review sites to see other customers’ experiences with the site. Search the site’s phone number, email address, etc. to find out the name of the owner behind it; if it’s not the name of the site or associated parent company, that’s a big red flag that the site is a fraud. Finally, look closely to make sure that any transactions will be conducted securely, through a payment service like PayPal or other secure checkout.

Spoofed Websites

When it comes to spoofed sites, scammers essentially create a copy of a legitimate website—same layout, logos, content, everything. They want to convince you it’s real so you log in. By the time you realize that you are not actually on an official website, the scammer has your log-in credentials, which they can then use on the real website to access your account.

It can be difficult to tell if a site is fake or not. But there may be some giveaways. In the main field where a site’s URL is shown, you should see what looks like a padlock right in front of the web address. The presence of that lock tells you that the site and your connection to it is secure. Don’t see it? Then the opposite could be true. 

And, while the page may look genuine, closer inspection could reveal small mistakes: a logo that is slightly pixelated, colors that are paler or darker than normal. It could just feel…off. Before entering any information, you could try the cursor hover technique over any links on the page to see where they actually go. 

And simply trust your instincts. If something seems weird about a site, just leave it. 

All in all, the best way to ensure you don’t become a victim of an online scam is to recognize it before it happens. By keeping an eye out for the suspicious details described here, you are now much better equipped to stop phishing emails and scam or spoofed websites in their tracks.

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