Educate yourself against the most frequent schemes.
Most Internet users have a sixth sense for scams by now—we’ve all received narrative-heavy emails from “Princes” or almost clicked on vague, excited pop-ups that exclaim “Congratulations, You’ve Won!” But as the web evolves, so do the scams, and they can be found everywhere from pop-up windows, to your Facebook feed, to your email inbox. Here, five of the most ubiquitous modern scams to look out for online.
Email phishing links
Suspicious email links are one of the most common scams on the Internet. Though the chain messages you used to receive from an impressionable friends and well-meaning relatives are less prevalent these days, phishing scams are still around in new formats. Take for example a recent scam email that circulated earlier this year, asking the receiver to check out an attached “Google Docs” file. Clicking the link took them to a real Google security page and requested permission for the fake “Google Docs” app to manage users’ email accounts, giving the scammer access to the information attached to the user’s email. Any time a user clicked the link, it automatically sent itself to everyone in the user’s contacts. Avoid scams like this with a hard and fast rule about opening email links: Only click on links sent from someone you trust and that you’re expecting to receive. If an acquaintance you haven’t spoken to since college is attempting to share a Google file with you, it’s probably a scam (or at the very least, a mistake).
Tapping into feelings of wanderlust is an effective tactic for getting your guard down. Online travel scams, like a fake Southwest airlines promotion that recently circulated on Facebook offering free plane tickets in exchange for taking a customer service survey, are designed to be clicked on. Once you do, malware is downloaded onto your computer that can give you viruses and steal your information. Make sure to verify that travel promotions are coming from the company’s verified social account or website before pursuing any offers.
Work-from-home job offers
If an advertisement that claims you can make $13,000 each month without leaving your house, then it’s probably too good to be true. These ones take a lot of willpower to avoid—who doesn’t want an easy way to make extra money? Scam work-from-home jobs can range from rebate processing to taking surveys or re-selling discount products. If you’re pursuing a work-from-home opportunity online, make sure to thoroughly vet any prospective employers. If it asks for money or personal information or simply sounds too good to be true, it’s probably a scam.
Charity scams prey on goodwill and emotional vulnerabilities. In 2015, the Federal Trade Commision charged four national cancer charities—The Cancer Fund of America, Cancer Support Service, the Children’s Cancer Fund of America, and the Breast Cancer Society—with defrauding consumers of $187 million. Before you donate, make sure to investigate charities that are new or unknown to you using websites like charitynavigator.org.
Fraudulent e-commerce sellers
When buying anything online, it’s important to verify the seller before making an official purchase. Obviously, if someone is selling Hamilton tickets on Craigslist for $50, that’s a red flag. But even trusted sources like Amazon can be home to fraudulent sellers. Amazon sources from a wide variety of merchants, not all of which are legitimate. Amazon does have a money-back guarantee in place for those who are taken advantage of by a seller in their marketplace, but avoid getting scammed in the first place by checking customer reviews and seller background before purchasing. One easy rule of thumb is that a seller should have multiple positive, verified reviews to be considered trustworthy. Also, check how long the seller has been on Amazon and note the number of listings in their store. If it’s a relatively new seller with thousands of listings, that might be a red flag. Take some time to read and understand Amazon’s listing restrictions and be prepared to report if a seller violates them.