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Signs That Someone is Scamming You Online (And How to Prevent It)


Joanna Yuen

Marketing & Content Specialist - 28 Jun, 2024


If you spend time online, then you are in danger.

Perhaps not immediate danger (sorry for the scare), but the potential is always there for an online scammer to target you using a variety of clever methods. In this article, you’ll learn how to tell if someone is scamming you online - and how to prevent it from happening in the first place.

The Scoop on Scamming

Scamming is essentially online fraud, which is an intended action by internet users to trick a target into potentially harmful actions. These efforts usually result in a loss of money or personal and confidential information, or other damage. Online fraud is considered a cyber crime, but the main difference with scams is that they trick victims into performing harmful actions voluntarily.

Often, fraud campaigns hide or make up information and impersonate another person or company for this purpose. In the US, the number of cyber crime cases including online fraud has increased significantly in recent years, going from about 467 thousand in 2019 to more than 800 thousand in 2022. Accordingly, the monetary losses caused by cyber criminals have seen a spike from 3.5 billion U.S. dollars in 2019 to 10.3 billion U.S. dollars in 2022.

With the rapid growth of technology and the internet, scammers have found new and sophisticated ways to deceive people and exploit their personal and financial information. At the same time, we are online more than ever and using various platforms which all store some degree of data. Studies show that the average person has around 100 different passwords in use. It only takes one slip-up for sensitive data to be exposed, and data breaches are a very real phenomenon. Unfortunately, scammers can now use bots to scan several sites at once, and since many people use the same password for multiple sites, a single breach can put them in danger across several platforms.

Social media is also considered a “golden goose” for scammers, where they can essentially hide in plain sight. One in four people who reported losing money online since 2021 did so online. Social media makes things particularly easy for scammers, because they can impersonate real people with very little effort. They can even pretend to be you, and try to con your family and friends. Many people who did not grow up with social media are not particularly savvy on these methods and quickly fall prey, though research shows younger people (who tend to be on social media more often) were the most likely group to experience scams through social media. Scammers can also place ads using the paid advertising offered on social media tools, and they can find out personal information that helps them to target you like age, geographic location, and even income.

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The Most Popular Online Scams

In addition to social media, which is a huge problem for online scamming for the reasons we already covered, there are plenty of options for scammers to choose from. There are already several types of online scams, and cyber-criminals are getting more crafty all the time. Here are some of the most common scams today. Keep an eye out for these, but remember - new scams pop up all the time.

  • Phishing scams: These scams involve impersonating a legitimate organization or individual to trick people into providing sensitive information like passwords, credit card details, or social security numbers.
  • Online shopping scams: These scams involve fake online stores or sellers who take payment for products but never deliver them or provide counterfeit goods.
  • Email scams: These scams often come in the form of deceptive emails claiming to be from a reputable source, asking for personal information, or offering fake prizes or opportunities.
  • Romance scams: These scams involve individuals creating fake online profiles to establish romantic relationships and then manipulate victims into sending money or providing personal information.
  • Tech support scams: These scams involve fraudsters posing as technical support representatives who claim that a person's computer has a problem and offer to fix it for a fee, but their intention is to gain access to personal information or install malware.
  • Investment scams: These scams promise high returns on investments or exclusive opportunities but are designed to deceive people into providing money without delivering any real returns.
  • Lottery or sweepstakes scams: These scams inform victims that they have won a lottery or sweepstakes and request payment of fees or personal information to claim the prize, which doesn't exist.

How to Tell if You’re Being Scammed Online

When it comes to identifying potential scams in emails, text messages, or phone calls, there are several signs to watch out for. Here are some common red flags:

  •  Unsolicited communication: If you receive a message or call from someone you don't know or haven't interacted with before, especially if they claim to be from a company or organization, it could be a scam. Legitimate organizations typically do not reach out to individuals without prior contact or consent.
  • Requests for personal information: Be cautious if the sender or caller asks for personal information like passwords, social security numbers, credit card details, or bank account information. Legitimate companies usually have secure methods for collecting such information and would not ask for it through unsolicited messages.
  • Urgency and pressure: Scammers often create a sense of urgency or use high-pressure tactics to rush you into making immediate decisions. They may claim that you've won a prize that requires immediate action or threaten consequences if you don't comply. Be wary of such tactics and take the time to verify the legitimacy of the situation.
  • Poor grammar and spelling errors: Many scam emails and messages contain grammar and spelling mistakes. Legitimate organizations typically have professional communication standards, so errors in language can be a red flag. Keep an eye out for unusual phrasing or poorly constructed sentences.
  • Suspicious links or attachments: Be cautious of clicking on links or downloading attachments from unfamiliar sources. Scammers often use malicious links or attachments to install malware on your device or direct you to fake websites that mimic legitimate ones. Hover over links to see the actual URL before clicking on them.
  • Sender's email address or phone number: Pay attention to the sender's email address or phone number. Scammers may use email addresses that closely resemble legitimate ones, with minor variations or misspellings. They can also use spoofing techniques to make their phone number appear legitimate. Double-check the contact details for any suspicious discrepancies.
  • Unrealistic promises or offers: Scammers often make extravagant promises of easy money, guaranteed returns, or exclusive opportunities. If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Exercise caution and conduct thorough research before engaging in any financial transactions or investments.
  • Lack of verifiable information: Scammers often avoid providing verifiable information about themselves or their organizations. They may use generic email addresses, refuse to provide contact details, or provide vague responses to specific questions. Legitimate businesses should have a transparent online presence and readily available contact information. In general, it’s a good idea to try to Google any suspicious websites, and see if you get taken to the same site mentioned.

Remember, scammers are skilled at deception and often use psychological tactics to manipulate victims. If you suspect a message or call is a scam, trust your instincts and take steps to protect your personal and financial information.

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Steps to Prevent Scamming

The first and most important step in avoiding scams is just being aware of how common they really are. Thinking that it could never happen to you leaves you particularly vulnerable.

From there, taking proactive steps to protect yourself online can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to scams. Here are some essential steps to help you avoid being scammed online:

  • Create strong and unique passwords - Create strong passwords that are unique for each of your online accounts. Use a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. Avoid using easily guessable information like your name, birthdate, or common phrases.
  • Enable two-factor authentication (2FA) - We know this adds extra steps and can sometimes be a pain, but you should still enable two-factor authentication whenever possible. This adds an extra layer of security by requiring a second form of verification, such as a unique code sent to your phone or email, in addition to your password.
  • Be cautious of unknown emails and links - Do you recognize the links or email address present? Avoid clicking on things or downloading attachments from suspicious emails or messages. Hover over links to see the actual URL before clicking on them. Be particularly cautious of emails that ask for personal information or urge you to take immediate action.
  • Verify website security - Before entering personal or financial information on a website, ensure it is secure. Look for "https://" at the beginning of the web address, indicating a secure connection, and a padlock icon in the browser's address bar. Avoid entering sensitive information on unsecured websites.
  • Keep your software updated - Regularly update your operating system, web browsers, antivirus software, and other applications. Software updates often include security patches that address vulnerabilities, reducing the risk of exploitation by scammers.
  • Be mindful of social media - Be especially cautious about the information you share on social media platforms. Avoid posting personal details that scammers can use to impersonate you or gain access to your accounts. Adjust your privacy settings on each platform to limit the visibility of your posts and personal information.
  • Be especially careful with online transactions - When making online purchases or conducting financial transactions, use reputable and secure websites. Verify that the website has secure payment options, indicated by trusted payment icons. Avoid making payments through unsecured platforms or wire transfers to unknown individuals or entities. If a website looks “off” to you, don’t enter any payment information.
  • Educate yourself - Staying informed about common online scams and tactics used by scammers is a great line of defense. Regularly read up on the latest scams and techniques employed by cybercriminals and familiarize yourself with the warning signs and best practices for online safety.
  • Just trust your instincts - If something feels strange or sounds too good to be true, trust your judgment. If an offer or message seems suspicious, it's better to err on the side of caution and avoid engaging with it. Take the time to research and verify the legitimacy of any online transaction or communication before proceeding.

What to do If You’ve Been Scammed

Chances are, at some point, you might run into an online scammer. If that happens, start by following these steps:

  1. Stay calm: It's important to remain calm and not panic. Scammers often try to instill fear and urgency to manipulate their victims.
  2. Stop further communication: Immediately stop all communication with the scammer. Do not provide any more personal or financial information.
  3. Document the scam: Take screenshots or save any emails, messages, or other evidence related to the scam. This documentation may be useful when reporting the scam.
  4. Report the scam: Report the scam to the appropriate authorities. This can include local law enforcement, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
  5. Contact your bank and credit card company: If financial information was compromised, contact your bank or credit card company to report the scam and take necessary steps to protect your accounts.
  6. Update Your security: Change passwords for all online accounts and enable two-factor authentication whenever possible. This helps prevent unauthorized access to your accounts.
  7. Educate Yourself: Learn about common online scams and how to protect yourself in the future. Stay vigilant and be cautious when sharing personal or financial information online.

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Remember, it's important to act quickly and take these steps to minimize potential damage and protect yourself from further scams. While you definitely shouldn’t panic, you should protect your other banking and credit card information as soon as you can, and report the activity to the correct authorities.

Online scams are a real trend sweeping the online world. It’s never been more important to stay vigilant, stay informed, and prioritize your online security. If you need more tips on leveraging tools and technology to make the most of your online experience, make sure to follow Shift’s blog.