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How To Avoid Being A Victim To Online Scams

Tutorials 06 November 2016
Techaroo - How To Avoid Being A Victim To Online Scams

Money is the source of all evil as they say, and it's no wonder the internet is rife with corruption and scams. Criminals, which are often tech-savvy people, invent ways to rob people of everything they've worked hard for. The way we are using internet based applications these days makes us highly vulnerable to online scams. We need to be more alert, cautious, and smart with our browsing habits as these malicious internet organisations are constantly evolving and changing how they deliver scam content to us. Luckily there are some common obvious signs that can be used to determine if something is a more likely a scam, however, until you train your eye to spot the intent you will always fall victim. Below you'll find a few common internet scams that will hopefully allow you to browse the web more freely, this list is by no means complete, so treat everything you do online as if it were a scam and you will soon learn to be more vigilant.

Letter Scam

Internet criminals don't always originate from 1st world countries, many of the scams are from people living in poorer countries where the exchange rate for foreign money makes scamming people very profitable. A very common scam involves a letter from a government official, sometimes even royalty from countries such as Nigeria. These criminal organisations will write very heartfelt letters requesting help in order to recover some money in a country outside of theirs. Their scam usually involves the victim depositing a certain amount of money into the account of the criminal in order to release millions of dollars from an offshore banking account of which the victim will be offered a percentage. This is simply not true. Once they have the victims money, their communication stops and the user is left wondering what happen. 

Some warnings you can use to identify such threats such as if the offer to good to be true, or the sender is an unknown person, or perhaps the email will contain too many grammatical and spelling errors due to the sender's poor use of English.

How to avoid: Never reply to any email that matches the description above. If the email contains any attachments or links, avoid clicking them at all costs. It is best to simply delete the email or in some cases, you can report the email to the authorities. 

Phishing Scams

This is the most common method of scamming victims, emails originating from large corporate entities,and in some cases from individuals, are presented in a way that they appear legitimate, such as a bill payment or security breach warning from the bank. It often is designed as an eye-catching offer or simply uses scare tactics to coerce the users into performing an action. Once the user has clicked the link from within the email they redirect onto an external website and are asked to provide personal login credentials such as email accounts and password for Paypal. By completing the form the scammers have successfully gathered the information they need and can progress to using the account. In most cases, the accounts that are "phished" will likely be connected to money where the criminals will then transfer funds out  into their own banking network, and therefore impossible to recover.

How to avoid: You should never reply or click any links within these emails. Any legitimate organisation will never contact you via email asking you for your personal information because they have no need to as they already have you on their records. If they do, they will more likely know your name and then address the email as such.  If you have any doubts, the best form of defensive is being proactive. Instead of performing the actions the email has instructed you to do, rather find the number for the organisation and call them directly, then ask them to confirm the email received is correct and how to proceed. Another option would be to visit the companies website directly by opening a browser yourself and typing in the companies domain i.e into the browser, then from there use the contact form supplied and request more information about the email. 

Ransom or Threat Attacks

Nothing makes people more susceptible to scams than being made to feel scared. All too often users download or click email attachments only to find their computer has been infected with a certain type of virus known as ransomware. This software will quickly encrypt your photos and data using advanced methods, and then hold you to ransom demanding you pay money in order for them to decrypt your files. Other forms of attack or threatening emails, emails that suggest they will hurt your loved ones, or send accusations to friends that you're involved in a suspicious activity. 

These attacks can be avoided by looking at the warning signs such as poor grammar, or that you have nothing to hide and everything mentioned is fictitious. Basically, any email that requests money in return for something threatening should be questioned.

How to avoid: It has been mentioned before but it is vitally important that email attachments are never opened unless you know 100% what the contents of the attachment are, or if you are expecting the email. Also, never give our your information to anyone you don't know. Once your personal details are available online to those malicious criminals it is only a matter of time before you fall victim to them.

Facebook Scam

Facebook, where would the world be without social networking, access to all our friends and family, and in some cases, we store personal information on our profiles. Unfortunately, criminals also love social media, and it's no wonder why. Malicious users don't have to work very hard these days to gather details they can use against you or your family. With a few enticing pictures or games, a user will innocently click on their the bait thinking they're safe when in fact they are simply harvesting your sensitive data.

How can you tell what is a fake app or picture? It's fairly easy but requires a bit of common sense. Pictures or videos with clickbait or shocking headings such as "Wait till you see what happened to this girl after she swam in the ocean" or "See this celebrity naked pictures" are often the bait that lures the victim into the trap. Once you click through there is usually a second page that requires an extra step to view the content. It's at this point alarm bells should be ringing. 

How to avoid:  As mentioned, never view shocking or disturbing content on facebook. There are other places you can view such material, Facebook is not one. Always do some quick research before viewing the content, such as using Google to search for the title of the content. No doubt millions of people have already fallen victim to this and have reported the exact title to other forums or authorities. Lastly, check your App permissions and make sure you only allow access to apps that you know are 100% safe.

Fake Anti-Virus Warnings

This particular scam is extremely common, especially when browsing  illegal download or porn sites. While viewing these sites a user will be redirected to a site that looks very similar to popular anti-virus programmes such as AVG or McAfee or even Windows error screen called the Blue Screen Of Death (BSOD) while displaying a message to call a fake Microsoft Technical Support or to renew their fake anti-virus registration. The user, obviously confused, will more than likely follow the instructions and proceed with the scam. The scammers will then connect remotely to your computer and take control. This control now gives the so-called Microsoft Support Staff access to your entire computer and they will often sound like legit support staff, however, their one and only goal is to demonstrate how infected your computer is by showing you very common Windows error logs. Every Windows machine will have errors or warnings in their log file - it's normal.

Some warning signs include using threatening words such as 'Your computer is at serious risk' or 'Your computer is infected by the Zeus virus', or if a popup appears over the website they should be browsing.

How to avoid: Close any popups without the use of a mouse click. You can use the keyboard shortcut 'Alt' + 'F4' simultaneously. If the anti-virus warning is different to the anti-virus software you already have installed, you can ignore the threat. Enable popup blocking on your browser, and use an up-to-date browser too. Having an older depreciated browser will make you more vulnerable to attack.