A friend that you haven’t spoken to for a long time suddenly gets in touch on a social networking site and asks to borrow some money. In an act of desperation, a Nigerian prince wants to pass on part of his fortune… to you. A courier company sends you a notification explaining that you need to pay extra for a package you didn't actually order. What do these situations have in common? All of them are attempting to scam you over the internet. Here are some tips on how to protect yourself.
Who are the targets of online fraudsters?
Most online scams have one goal: to steal money or confidential information so that those behind the fraud can gain something. This could be log-in information for social networking sites, allowing cybercriminals to take control of a person's profile, or for example, a login and password for online banking.
Scammers are also targeting our credit card numbers or private photos, for example, to blackmail us or steal our identity.
We can stumble upon online scams in many different places. Fraudsters can send out specially crafted links on social networks or via email. If you click on them, you may be redirected to a fake website that looks just like another site you are familiar with. If you enter your data there, this information may fall into the wrong hands. This technique is known as phishing.
What is cyber fraud?
Even though the way scammers trick you into giving up your confidential information may be different each time, they usually stick to similar patterns. That is why in your inbox, you might find an email informing you that a courier tried to deliver a package, but didn’t manage to contact you. You are then further informed that you have to click the link contained in the message and enter your data in order to receive the parcel.
In fact, there was no attempt to deliver the package, and the mentioned package does not exist. However, if you are fooled by the message, click the link and enter the information you are asked for, you will unintentionally give your data to the wrong hands, resulting in disastrous consequences.
There are endless examples of such situations. Cybercriminals try to impersonate various institutions - e.g. telecommunication operators, banks or the delivery companies mentioned above. A common motive is a fictional, unpaid invoice that needs to be paid as soon as possible.
Often fraudsters hide websites under their links, which are confusingly similar to, e.g., our internet banking panel. It is supposed to let down our guard and make us enter confidential data convinced that the steps we are taking are the right ones.
How to protect yourself from online scams?
What is the best way to protect yourself from such attacks? First of all, you should be very careful and thoroughly analyse every message you receive. When it comes to invoices or courier deliveries, the first thing to consider is whether you are expecting something or whether you are using the services of a particular company (e.g. a telecom).
You should never click on links in emails or download attachments without thinking twice. They may contain malware that will infect your device in order to phish for confidential data.
When dealing with email messages, it is a good idea to check who the sender is. To do this, simply click the address field to view the email address from which the message was sent. If it consists of complicated and illogical strings of characters, it could mean it's a scam attempt.
Another effective way to uncover scammers is to check the linguistic correctness of the message you receive. Very often, they are translated from other languages using online translators. If you come across illogical sentences or misused words - you should be more cautious.
Also, do not give out sensitive data directly in an email. If someone asks you for money, it's a good idea to confirm it through another communication channel. If, for example, a friend requests a quick loan on a social networking site, it is worth calling him or her and confirming this fact. Fraudsters could have taken over their account.
Use anti-virus software and update it regularly
Not all fraud attempts are about phishing. In some cases, the only thing cybercriminals care about is infecting your device.
This is why you should not download files from unknown websites or email attachments from unknown people. An anti-virus program can also be effective protection as it can block suspicious files after they have been downloaded, thus preventing possible malware infection.
It would help if you also remembered to regularly update your operating system and the software you are using. An outdated application version may contain security holes that are exploited by cybercriminals to inject malicious code.
It is also a good idea to make a habit of checking the website's security certificate when using the internet. Most web browsers indicate an appropriate security level by an icon representing a closed, often green padlock, which can be found next to the address bar. Appropriate security certificates may also be indicated by the beginning of the website address starting with https://.
If there is no such icon or website address starting with http://, it may mean a lack of proper connection encryption. In this case, there is a possibility of intercepting data entered on the website by third parties.
The most popular online scams
Online fraudsters keep coming up with new ways to scam people out of money and information. However, some schemes are repeated very often, so it is worth taking a closer look at them.
One of the most popular cases is phishing for online banking login details. For this purpose, cybercriminals send a message informing you that, for example, suspicious activity has been noticed on your account and it has been temporarily blocked. In order to unblock it, you have to click a button located in the email.
In the next step, on a specially crafted website that may resemble your bank's website, you will be asked to conduct verification by entering your bank login details or your payment card details. In each of these cases, you can lose money.
Another way to steal your data is to send a blocking notice to a popular service - it can be, for example, a social network or a VOD platform that you use. If you click the link and enter your login data, they will be captured by unauthorised people, and you may lose access to that service.
One of the oldest online scams is the so-called Nigerian Prince scam. In this case, you are contacted by a person who is sitting on a huge fortune but for some reason cannot formally deposit it and needs an associate, who happens to be you. Usually, you are asked to withdraw money from different banks in exchange for a percentage. However, to confirm your data, you need to send scans of your documents and a small amount of money to complete the formalities. After sending money, contact with the alleged prince suddenly vanishes.
The list of scams is long and diverse - scammers are very creative. Therefore you should remember to be extra vigilant and cautious when using the internet. Always approach such situations with suspicion. The easiest way to protect yourself from a scam is to use common sense.