Each year, internet users lose billions of dollars to online scams, using clever ploys to trick us out of our information and money. By offering prizes, referencing current events, or just creating a sense of urgency, scammers know how to get us to click when we really shouldn’t. Check out these recent scams, so you know what to look out for.
Nosy Quizzes & Questionnaires
Quizzes circulating on Facebook, Twitter, and other social platforms may look like a fun way to win free stuff, but often they are phishing attacks in disguise. Many appear to be sponsored by big-name brands such as airlines and major retailers, offering free products or discount tickets if you just answer a few questions. The questions are designed to get you to reveal personal information that can be used to guess your passwords or security questions, such as your mother’s maiden name, or your hometown.
Creepy Crypto Scams
While cryptocurrencies lost a lot of value over the last year, the same cannot be said for cryptocurrency scams. The majority of them center on distributing crypto mining malware, which allows hackers to access a person’s computer or device without their permission in order to mine for cryptocurrencies. In fact, these scams have been so prolific that at the end of 2018 McAfee reported that coin mining malware had grown more than 4000% in the previous year.
Many of these miners were distributed through phishing emails and websites, using “giveaway” scams on social media, or even via crypto mining chat groups on platforms such as Slack. Cybercrooks enter the chat rooms, pretending to be fellow miners, and encourage users to download malware disguised as “fixes” to crypto issues.
Romance & “Sextortion” Scams
The meteoric rise of online dating has led to a similar increase in romance scams. These often involve bad actors preying on lonely people who are looking to connect. Scammers build up a sense of trust over online dating and social media platforms, before asking for money. They often claim the money is for an emergency, or a plane ticket to visit. This kind of manipulation works so well that the Better Business Bureau estimates that victims in the U.S. and Canada lost nearly $1 billion to romance scams between 2015 and 2018.
And while romance is one way to manipulate users, another driver is fear. This is certainly the case with the recent rise in so-called “sextortion” scams, which scare users into paying money to prevent incriminating pictures or videos of them from getting out. The bad guys claim that they obtained the embarrassing content by infecting the victim’s device with malware, and often send part of an old, leaked password as proof that they could have accessed their account.
Topical News Hooks
Whenever a major story sweeps the news, chances are the scammers are looking for ways to capitalize on it. This is exactly what happened during the recent U.S. government shutdown, which left 800,000 federal employees out of work for over a month. Since many of these workers were looking for extra income, job scams abounded. Some phony job ads asked workers to fill out detailed job application forms, in order to steal their Social Security numbers and other private information.
In another ruse, scammers sent out phony emails that appeared to be from the IRS, saying that the recipient could get a discount on their tax bills if they paid during the shutdown.
Package Delivery— Phony package delivery emails usually spike around the holidays, but in the age of Amazon Prime delivery scams are circulating year-round. Be on the lookout for more recent Amazon scams that come in the form of a phishing email, asking you to review a product to get rewards. If you click on the link it could deliver malware, or even ransomware.
Tech Support— This is one of the oldest, but most persistent scams to date. Phishing websites and phony pop-up warnings that a computer or device is infected have led thousands of people to hand over personal and financial information to fix a problem they don’t really have.
Even though consumers have become savvier about these scams, a recent Microsoft survey found that 3 out of 5 people have been exposed to tech support scams over the last year.
So, now that you know what to look out for, here are our top tips for sidestepping the scammers:
- Be careful where you click—Don’t open suspicious links and attachments, and never click on pop-up messages from an unknown source. If you get a suspicious login or payment request, go directly to the provider’s official website to see if the request is legitimate.
- Know how to spot the fake—Phony messages or documents will often look like a simplified version of the real thing, with poor quality graphics, incorrect grammar and spelling, and a generic personal greeting.
- Keep your personal information private—Avoid online quizzes, and never share personal or financial details with someone you don’t know in real life. Review your privacy and security settings on social sites to make sure that you aren’t leaking information.
- Be a smart online shopper—Only buy from reputable websites, and steer away from deals that seem too good to be true. Be suspicious of unusual payment requests, such as buying gift cards or using virtual currency.
- Become a password pro—Choose complex and unique passwords for all of your accounts. Consider using a password manager to help you create and store complicated passwords securely.
- Protect your computers and devices—Use comprehensive security software that can safeguard you from the latest threats.
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