The internet is an integral part of our lives now, with life seemingly impossible without it. It has made things extremely accessible to us, united like-minded people and has been fruitful for innovation. Meanwhile, the rise of social media has helped us connect better with people.
Unfortunately, our dependence on the web has not gone unnoticed by cybercriminals and we have already seen a steady increase in malicious activities targeting our fellow internet users. These range from the hacking of social media accounts to full-blown ransomware attacks on user systems.
Such incidents are almost completely avoidable, and users usually end up being in situations like these due to their lack of knowledge and experience – although admittedly, cybercriminals are always striving to refine their methods to make their malicious programs appear more legitimate. It is always better to invest in decent antivirus software to avoid such situations as a dedicated antivirus receives regular updates so that you are always protected from the latest threats.
What do scammers wish to gain by scamming you?
- Money – The first and most obvious goal is to trick you to make a payment for a service or to apply for a job offer. In this way, scammers usually ask you to make a payment via irreversible methods such as a money order, into third party wallets or by wire transfer. This way, you have no chance to recover your money once you realize that you have been scammed.
- Personal information – Perhaps not as tangible initially as losing your money, but the loss of personal credentials can be more devastating in the long run. It is more valuable than just money to scammers and cybercriminals. Your identity can be abused in various ways and even sold for a hefty profit on the dark web – following which it can be used to basically commit a vast array of crimes. These include the purchase of illegal items such as weapons, using personal information for impersonation or creating a forged identity.
Consider a situation where the initial scam was aimed simply to make a quick buck and you provide them with your personal and banking details – Even if they are unable to extract cash from your account at that given moment, this valuable information allows them to make successive attempts to use your information for:
- Purchasing items using your credit card
- Hacking your online banking account
- Use your email information to gain access to your account
Once you inadvertently disclose your personal data to a scammer, this starts a vicious cycle where your information gets passed around and you are prone to further onslaught from various scammers. Plus, they use trackers to try and gain information regarding what websites you frequent so that they can use it to send personalised spam emails or scams which are relevant to your interests or mirror websites you frequent.
What are the latest scams targeting users on the web?
While these scams have different names, in essence, they try to achieve either of the two goals discussed above.
- Covid 19 Welfare scam – Offers Federal stimulus payments or promises to help you get vaccinated before your turn, in exchange for a fee. Steals your account information or money. Be wary of Disaster relief scams that mirror emergency relief funds. Check the official website of the organization for specifics before you donate.
- Job scams – Promises you a decent salary in exchange for menial labour such as the Car Wrap scam. Basically, you will be asked to pay up for some sort of equipment before you get started on your job. Once you pay up, they will disappear.
- Phishing scams – You are notified about an unauthorised purchase made from your account of an authentic website that provides a specific service – Amazon, Netflix etc. You will be provided with a link that mirrors the actual website and asked to log in to cancel your order. Doing so will provide the scammer with your login credentials which will be used later to purchase items from your real account.
- Fake malware or tech support scam – A classic yet prevalent scam where you receive notifications regarding a malware infestation on your system and asked to download a software to resolve the issue. It basically allows the scammer to gain access to your hard drive contents and allows them to operate your system remotely.
Other classic scams include the Winning Lottery scam and Free credit/loan approval scams.
In short, if you are asked for money or personal information from sources you have nothing to do with, it’s probably a scam.
So, what are the preventive measures?
- Installing an antivirus – A good antivirus software not only defends your system from malware but also prevents you from accessing unsafe or fake websites, filters spam and scans potentially harmful email attachments. Feel free to check out free antivirus plans before subscribing to a paid one that suits your needs best.
- Installing a VPN – A Virtual Private Network or VPN allows you to browse a public network under the umbrella of a private one. A fast VPN service from a renowned cybersecurity company such as Bitdefender specialises in preventing any unnecessary reveal of your browsing information – negating the action of trackers meant to collect information about your browsing habits. This significantly reduces your chances of receiving spam mail and in extension, getting scammed.
- Verify link authenticity – Most of the time, scam emails bait users by redirecting them to a website that mirrors a reputable company where you are asked to log in to your account. Check the URL if it matches the one you normally use to log in or simply avoid opening links to pages pertaining to companies that you have never dealt with before.
- Passwords – Avoid using the same account password for multiple websites. In the event of a particular website getting breached, you find yourself at a considerable risk of having other accounts linked to that email getting hacked as well.
To conclude, while scammers are always reinventing methods to rip you off, you can easily avoid most of their attempts by simply being a little more vigilant and using your common sense. For targeted malicious attempts, there is always security and privacy protection software. Remember, if it seems too good to be true or extremely persuasive in making you pay up – it is most likely a scam.