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The Internet’s Most Succesful Online Scams

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7 Online Scams and How to Avoid Them

As much as technology has developed in the past century, you'd think humanity would have developed along with it.

And it's true, we've made a lot of progress in the past 100 years. We're less violent, more educated, and life expectancy has shot up while infant mortality has gone down.

But one thing that hasn't improved is our propensity to scam each other.

Though the details of their scams have changed over time, con artists have been practicing their arts throughout all of human history.

Insurance scams, for example, were prevalent in Ancient Greece. Con artists would take advantage of bottomry, a type of maritime insurance, by hiding their ships in foreign ports and claiming they had sunk in order to collect on their policies.

And while Chatroulette blackmail schemes may have only become possible with the advent of the Internet, such schemes have been going on since long before then. In the early 20th century, a similar ruse was called "The Badger Game," where a young woman would lure a lonely married man from a bar to her hotel room, and then threaten to out him to his wife unless he paid a hefty fee.

Even the famous Nigerian scam didn't start with the Internet. It's been going on at least since the 19th century, when it was known as the Spanish Prisoner scam.

Developing technology hasn't put a stop to all our scheming and scamming - in fact, it's made it easier.

But protecting yourself can also be made easier with technology, if you know what you're doing.

Check out the graphic below to learn about how to watch out for the most common scams that are perpetrated online, how to protect yourself - and where to report the perpetrators so they get the justice they deserve.


Transcript: 7 Online Scams and How to Avoid Them

Criminals around the globe are getting ever more tech-savvy and there are now countless ways you can get stung online.

Be alert - here are just a few online scams you should be aware of.

Email Scams

1. The 419 scam/Nigerian letter scam

What happens

  1. You receive an email from an "official" representing a foreign agency asking for your help to transfer millions of dollars out of the country.
  2. You're promised a cut if you help, but first you must send your account details and some funds to cover various fees.
  3. You send your details and never see the promised return. Victims are often extorted for more money or have their identity stolen.

Warning signs

  • You don't know the sender
  • The offer is too good to be true
  • Email contains spelling and grammatical errors

Avoid being a victim:

2. The Spoofed Banking Scam

What happens:

  1. You receive an email warning you of a security breach related to your bank account. The email contains a link taking you to your bank.
  2. You log in using your username, password or card details.
  3. The fake (spoofed) website steals your money and identity.

Warning signs:

  • The email address is suspicious (e.g. bad: [email protected] good: @paypal.com)
  • The email doesn't address you by your name (e.g. bad: 'Dear valued customer)
  • The linked URL is incorrect (e.g. bad: somethingelse.com) - hover your mouse over the 'click here' button to see
  • The email is urgent (e.g. "If you don't take action now, your account will be suspended") - a legitimate company would not threaten to close your account if you ignored an email

Avoid being a victim:

  • Never click on links to your bank via email - type in URLs directly into your browser yourself

3. The Threat Scam

What happens:

  1. You're sent an email threatening to out you as a pedophile, harm your family or have you assassinated.
  2. Email demands payment, or has attachments loaded with viruses.

Warning signs:

  • Email has poor English
  • You have no reason to be threatened
  • Scammer asks for money

Avoid being a victim:

  • Don't reply to the email - you'll only confirm your email address is active and encourage communication
  • Check your social media settings and make sure they're private, in case scammers are using your public details against you
  • Report threats to local law enforcement, especially if they're violent in nature

Social Networking Scams

4. Facebook app scam

What happens:

  1. You're browsing Facebook and click on a post you find interesting - but it turns out to be malware.

Some popular scams include:

  • Install a plugin to see who's viewed your profile
  • Install a plugin to change Facebook functionality (such as the background color)
  • Giveaways

Warning signs:

  • It requires extra steps to view (e.g. you must complete a survey and re-share a message first)
  • The content is shocking or salacious (e.g. celebrity sex tapes)
  • It promises something Facebook would never do (e.g. allows you to see profile views)

Avoid being a victim:

  • Research apps or plugins before installing them (Google: 'app name' + 'scam')
  • Be aware of the functionality limitations Facebook has (e.g. there's no 'dislike' button - no matter what you download)
  • Check to see which Facebook apps you've granted permission to (Go to 'Settings', then select 'Apps') - remove any suspicious apps you don't recall downloading

Web Browsing Scams

5. The Fake Virus Scam

What happens:

  1. A window pops up advising you that your antivirus software is out of date

Warning signs:

  • Pop-up uses overly dramatic language
  • Pop-up warns you about 'malicious software' or 'illegal pornography on your computer'

Avoid being a victim:

  • Use keyboard shortcuts to close the pop-up (ALT+F4 for Windows, Command+W for Mac)
  • Check if there's an official update on the website of your antivirus software
  • Make yourself familiar with your chosen antivirus software and know what real alerts and messages look like
  • Keep your web browser up-to-date
  • Use a reputable pop-up blocker software to avoid future incidents (e.g. Adblock)

6. Ransomware

What happens:

  1. You unknowingly download software that takes over your computer - either from:
    • Spam email
    • Malicious website
    • Legitimate website that has been hacked
    • Software downloaded from peer-to-peer file sharing networks
  2. Your computer is locked:

Lock-screen ransomware

  1. A webpage, allegedly from your local law enforcement agency, claims you've violated a law and your computer will remain locked until you pay the fine

File-encrypting ransomware

  1. A pop up states your files have been encrypted and demands payment within a set timeframe before the ransom increases

Payment is usually requested in the form of Bitcoins or pre-paid cards.

If you're a victim of ransomware:

What to do will depend on the type of ransomware and your operating system - but the key step is to work with your computer offline from any networks to limit the spread.

  • Lock-screen ransomware
    • This can be removed by running an antivirus software - most security vendors will have detailed instructions on how to remove the threat.
  • File-encrypting ransomware
    • If your important photos, videos, spreadsheets or documents are securely backed up, then there's no need to pay. Simply restore your computer from back up.

If you haven't backed up, and your files are encrypted, it's most likely you won't be able to access your files without paying.

  • If you do pay:

There's nothing stopping criminals demanding more money from you

  • If you don' pay:

You might lose your files, but you will learn an important lesson for next time - to regularly back up

Avoid being a victim:

Always practice safe browsing habits:

  • Don't open suspicious emails or attachments
  • Make sure your browser and antivirus software is up-to-date
  • To limit impact, regularly back up important files using an external hard drive

7. The Remote Access Trojan (RAT)

What happens:

  1. You unknowingly download a RAT
  2. Malware installs itself and gains administrative control over your computer

Possible outcomes include:

  • You're added to a botnet - a network of computers that is used to spread viruses, malware and launch DDoS attacks
  • Your webcam is taken over, with the resulting video being used as blackmail
  • Your confidential details are accessed and compromised
  • Your files are altered or deleted

Warning signs:

  • None - RATs can be difficult to detect as they don't appear in task lists

Avoid being a victim:

  • Always ensure your antivirus/antispyware software and firewall are updated, effective and running
  • Avoid clicking on any suspicious websites
  • Avoid torrent downloading
  • Cover your webcam when not in use

Scams have been around forever, but with smart browsing habits, you can stay ahead of cyber scam game.

Take precautions:

  • Don't open strange attachments

Use protection:

  • Make sure your computer has a firewall and antivirus software installed
  • Keep antivirus software up to date

Back up your files

  • Back up important data on external drives (and don't leave them connected to your computer when not backing up)
  • Back up data using cloud data storage (such as Dropbox or Google Drive)

Trust your instincts

  • If something is too good to be true, it probably is


KeriLynn Engel

About KeriLynn Engel

KeriLynn has worked as a freelance writer for various websites. She is an advocate for domestic abuse victims and has way too many hobbies.


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Sameer Sahil

August 29, 2015

recently,one of my friend facebook account was hijacked and attackers tried to scam money from 3 of the guys,but he recovered the account and was all safe.


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