July 11, 2024

3 common types of scams and how to avoid them

Written by Valeria

Online Safety

The past couple years have seen a steady rise in online scams, topping $10 billion in losses in 2023, the first time that fraud losses have reached that benchmark, according to the FTC.

To protect yourself from these scams, we've put together a list of the 3 most common types of scams, so you can learn how to easily identify them, and more importantly – how to avoid them.

1. Phishing scams

A phishing scam will come in the form of an email or text message that asks you to follow a link to verify your information. This is usually under the pretence of verifying your account due to "fraudulent activity," such as from a bank, a credit card institution, or even a shipping company like UPS or Fedex.

How to identify:

The number one giveaway will always be the sender's email address. Now, granted, online scammers have gotten better and better at this, but if the email address doesn't even have the institution's name it claims to be from, you can bet it's a scam. Some will just be subtle variations like "[email protected]" instead of just "[email protected]" so it's important to look out for these other tells as well:

Generic Greetings.
You'll notice that these phishing scams will have generic greetings like "Dear customer" or use the first part of your email as their greeting (eg. if your email is [email protected], the greeing will go something like "Hi, silversurfer...."). That is a big red flag as your actual banking institution will have access to your name and sophisticated systems that are able to customize the message to you.

It is important to note that should you actually have any fraudulent activity on your account, or need to verify anything, your bank will never send you a link. Every email or text that comes with a link asking you to verify your account – unprompted (verification emails for signing up for a new service are exempt) – should be considered as suspicious.

How to avoid:

If you see a link asking you to verify your account because of fraudulent activity, or anything that sounds like it's going to ask you for your personal/account information, even if you're 99% sure it's legitimate, always call them first. It's better to be safe than sorry.

2. Romance and dating scams

Also known as "catfishing," these scams involve making the victim believe that the person they're talking to online is real in order to build up to a "relationship" where they can ask the victim for money (reasons are various, and could include "so that I can fly out and see you," "so I can pay for my apartment so you can come visit me" amongst many, many other creative ones.")

How to identify:

These may be harder for people to recognize since they're done within a vulnerable context, and the victims always want to believe it's true. But if you ever meet someone online (whether on a dating app, on social media, or otherwise), there are a few quick guides you can follow to make sure you don't fall for a catfish.

Fast-paced romance.
I believe the kids these days are calling it "love bombing," but if the person on the other side of the screen is professing profound emotions and escalating the relationship in a very short time period, it's time to raise the red flag.

Avoiding in-person or video call meetings.
If you've only ever seen what the person on the other side looks like by their profile picture (often fake/a stock photo), that's also a red flag.

Request for money.
Probably the biggest red flag, but if they at any time ask you for money – for an emergency, for travel, medical issues, or other "hardships" – it's time to put the brakes on the relationship.

How to avoid:

It's simple: Never give money to someone unless you also have a relationship with them offline. If you've never met this person in real life, or even had consistent phone or video calls with them, don't trust them with your hard earned money.

3.Tech Support Scams

If you have a computer, you may be vulnerable to thee scams, whereby scammers pose as tech support from legitimate companies (Microsoft, Apple, etc) and claim there are issues with your computer. They will then ask for remote access to "fix the problem," secretly copying over any personal information to their own system, and as a bonus, demand payment for their services.

How to identify:

This is probably the hardest one to identify, so it's important to keep these in mind:

Unexpected pop-ups and urgency.
Sure, things go wrong on your computer that need tech support. However, real tech support will never initiate contact via pop-up messages, nor would they create a sense of urgency with claims like your computer has a virus that needs immediate attention. Remember: tech support is there to answer when you contact them, it's almost never the other way around.

Request for remote access.
This is a very important distinction to make. I've certainly been in situations where I had to have tech support remote access my computer to help me with an issue. But the difference here is that I am the one that reached out to them with my issue, and I've verified their identity (using a legitimate chat box on their own website, I have their name, they verified my account information first.) More importantly, the remote access is usually the very last step in their attempts to troubleshoot, and is not urgently demanded as the only fix.

How to avoid:

If you suspect there is something wrong you'd like tech support to look into, find them yourself. Head over to Microsoft or Apple's own websites, and find their tech support.

These are just some of the online scams that are always circulating, but following these tips can help you with any that come your way. So stay safe, and remember: if it's too good to be true, it is.