Online scams have plagued consumers for years. Unfortunately, as technology evolves, so do the skill-sets of cybercriminals.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, over 351,000 complaints of internet-based fraud were filed in 2018. That breaks down to nearly 1,000 complaints per day, costing Americans over $2.7 billion in financial losses in 2018.
To help protect you from joining those statistics, check out this brief breakdown of the five most common online scams (with tips on how to avoid them).
Scam #1: Overpayment
If you frequently sell items online, be on the lookout for overpayment scams.
Here’s how they typically work: say you’re selling extra tickets to an upcoming concert and accept online payment for them. An excited buyer responds to your advertisement, they purchase the tickets, and then they “accidentally” wire you double the money you requested.
The buyer then contacts you admitting to their “mistake” and asks for half of their money back before the money clears your bank account.
How to Avoid It: This may seem like a reasonable request, but tread carefully. Always wait to send back any funds until the buyer’s payment officially transfers to your account. Why? Scammers can transfer fake money that temporarily posts to your account before disappearing forever. Never be pressured into making financial transactions. If the buyer is legitimate, they’ll wait for you.
Scam #2: Romance Scams
While this may sound like a bad genre of airport novels, romance scams rank among the most damaging cyberattacks.
According to the FBI, romance scams result in the greatest financial losses of all internet-related crimes, draining over $100,000 from the average victim.
Thanks to the popularity of online dating apps, scammers can easily build manipulative relationships with unsuspecting people and compromise their financial resources. Criminals who use romance scams will often ask for loans “due to personal emergency” or even ask for their significant other’s bank account information.
How to Avoid It: No matter how trustworthy a person may seem, never provide money or financial information to strangers. You wouldn’t hand your credit card to a random person on the street, and you shouldn’t do it online—no matter how frequently you’ve been texting, talking, or FaceTiming. And the moment you suspect questionable behavior or malintent from an online romantic contact, immediately sever communication.
Scam #3: Fake Credit Reports
“Free credit report” advertisements are everywhere. Whether by email, text, or social media, fraudsters love to dangle the promise of checking your credit for free.
Never open those messages.
As it turns out, all Americans actually are entitled to one free copy of their credit report every year. The website that offers this pro bono service is AnnualCreditReport.com.
Scammers will use their twisted genius to create URLs that look deceptively similar to AnnualCreditReport.com, so you won’t think twice before entering your private information.
Unfortunately, if you fall for this scam and enter your personal information (like your Social Security number), you could have your identity stolen.
How to Avoid It: Stay one step ahead of the scammers by checking your credit report throughout the year. Many banks allow you to do this each month when you view your credit statement. Beyond eliminating the need for a credit check, remind yourself to never open emails, ads, or pop-ups advertising anything with the word “free” in it.
Scam #4: Malware Attacks
Pop-ups may be tiny, but they can wreak major havoc on your devices.
The most dangerous pop-ups typically masquerade as security warnings. In fact, they’re so devious that they’ll claim your computer has been infected by a virus (when the pop-up itself is the virus).
Unfortunately, pop-ups aren’t the only form of malware. Cybercriminals will use news articles and fake emails with your bank’s logo to bury viruses deep in your devices.
How to Avoid It: When it comes to cyber security, the first rule of thumb is to never open suspicious messages. You should also download browser-specific software to block pop-ups entirely. If you use Google Chrome, for example, click here to learn how to adjust your security settings and silence pop-ups. As for general computer safety, you can install comprehensive antivirus software through leading companies like Norton and McAfee.
Scam #5: Coronavirus Scams
By capitalizing on the pandemic’s global upheaval, cybercriminals have found new ways to target people’s financial information.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a number of COVID-19-related fraud schemes have been perpetrated over the last year. Scammers have used robocalls, text messages, social media, and even in-person visits to defraud many Americans (and in some cases, commit medical identity theft).
How to Avoid It: As vaccines become more widely available, be sure that all of your health-related transactions are completed through authorized vendors. Never provide your personal information to unknown individuals, online or otherwise. As a general rule, don’t reply to suspicious-looking COVID-19 emails or texts posturing as “official” CDC or government information.
While the digital era maximizes convenience, it also increases the chances of fraud. Protect yourself by only communicating with people within your network, and only provide your personal and financial information to trusted parties.
If you do become the victim of a cyberattack or scam, you can file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
To ensure you never end up in that position, however, be sure to complete the following four steps:
- Strengthen all of your passwords
- Set up multi-layered security features (like multi-factor authentication)
- Install antivirus software on your devices
- Backup your data in cloud storage or on an external hard drive
At uLink, we prioritize your safety above all else. Whenever you send money home, we ensure it gets there fast and safe.
Plus, after your 1st, 2nd, and 5th transactions, we’ll send you a $10 gift card to use at your favorite retailers. That’s $30 in gift cards after your first five transactions with uLink.
Miles from home—just moments away with uLink.