Common Online Scams
October is dedicated as Cybersecurity Awareness Month by the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency. Considering this, Cash Central wants to do our part to ensure everyone has the tools to stay safe online. While most of us may like to think we’re immune to falling for an online scam, it happens a lot more than you think. Earlier this year, the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) released their annual Internet Crime Report for 20201 which indicated there was a 69% increase in complaints of internet crime from the previous year, with reported losses of $4.1 billion. Here are some common online scams to look out for and ways you can protect yourself.
Phishing scams are one of the most common online scams. According to the IC3, they make up roughly 30% of all reported online scams. Phishing occurs when a scammer reaches out to a person with a fraudulent message, usually via email, to trick the person into revealing sensitive personal information. The scammer then uses this information to make fraudulent transactions in the victim’s name, often causing great damage to the persons credit and standing as a consumer. Phishing scams can be difficult to spot as they often look as if they are coming from a legitimate company the victim may already do business with. These emails may:
- Claim there is an issue with your account resulting from fraud or suspicious activity.
- Claim there has been an issue with your payment.
- Claim they have an offer for you that you will receive once you verify your information.
These are just a few examples of scams you may see, and to learn more you can check out information the FTC has on recognizing and avoiding phishing scams.2 The important thing to remember is that the scammers’ goal is to get your information, so be wary of any email or text that asks you to give out that information. If you’re ever in doubt about a message you’ve received, err on the side of caution, and reach out directly to the company in question.
The use of online dating sites is an increasingly popular way to meet new people. According to Statista, in May of 2021 there were a total of 44.2 million online dating users3 in the United States alone. Many people enjoy online dating as it can open the door to meeting people you may otherwise never encounter, as you can connect with people all over the world. Unfortunately, this also can open the door for possible scammers. Perpetrators of romance scams will create fake online dating profiles in the hopes of making a connection with someone who they can convince to send them money. With romance scams you may see:
- The relationship moving very quickly, despite not having met the person in real life.
- Continuous excuses for why the person is unable to meet in real life, often because they live too far away. Common excuses include being in the military or working internationally.
- Requests to transfer money for a claimed hardship.
- A dating profile that seems too good to be true.
While we often want to help people we love and care about when we can, protect yourself and never send money to a person you have never personally met.
Facebook is currently the largest social media platform4 hosting a total of 2.853 million users, and their Facebook Messenger app comes in close to the top as well with 1.3 million users. Many use the platform to stay connected with acquaintances, close friends, and family which can make it easy to automatically trust those you interact with. Sadly, scammers will sometimes try to use this trust against you to trick you into sending them money. They have been known to completely copy a person’s profile5, using their name and photos, and then attempt to reach out to the person’s friends. Oftentimes, they will claim a hardship and ask that the friend send them money, usually in a very specific manner such as a wire transfer or gift cards. If you ever receive a message such as this, reach out to your friend directly either by phone, or by contacting them on the profile you’ve known them to use. This way you can confirm it really is the person you know before sending them any money. It is also a good idea to decline a friend or message request from someone who is already on your “friends list” on the platform.
1Internet Crime Complaint Center. (2020). Retrieved from: https://www.ic3.gov/Media/PDF/AnnualReport/2020_IC3Report.pdf
2Federal Trade Commission. (2020). Retrieved from: https://consumer.ftc.gov/articles/how-recognize-and-avoid-phishing-scams
3Dixon, S. (2023, Jan 3). Retrieved from: https://www.statista.com/topics/2158/online-dating/#topicOverview
4Dixon, S. (2023, Feb 14). Retrieved from: https://www.statista.com/statistics/272014/global-social-networks-ranked-by-number-of-users/
5Harley, David. (2018, Oct 11). Retrieved from: https://www.welivesecurity.com/2018/10/11/send-clones-facebook-cloning-revisited/