How To Identify & Avoid Internet Scams

Over the years it has become commonplace to conduct business and private transactions over email and text message. Unfortunately, that fact has drawn a slew of scammers trying to “phish” information from people over the internet.

To stay safe online, you need to know how to identify and avoid internet scams.

What Scams Look Like

Most businesses engage with customers via email and scammers take advantage of that fact. They often craft emails that look like they’re from a financial institution, an online store, a social network, or a payment website.

This practice of impersonation is known as phishing. Phishing is the practice of tricking people to share personal information or in order to gain access to people’s computers.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, the following are the most common ways that scammers try to get you to click a link or open an attachment in your email or text messages:

  • Say they’ve noticed some suspicious activity or log-in attempts
  • Claim there’s a problem with your account or your payment information
  • Say you must confirm some personal information
  • Include a fake invoice
  • Instruct you to click on a link to make a payment
  • Say you’re eligible to register for a government refund

Some of these are commonplace emails you may receive from legitimate businesses. So how do you know if it may be a scam?

Recognizing a Scam

Scammers often adapt their methods to better con people. There are still some key factors that should indicate whether or not something is a scam.

Does the email use your name?

Any companies you do business with will use your name. If you receive a suspicious email that doesn't use your name and refers to you as a customer, or something similar, then that is a warning sign.

Check the URLs

Companies use URLs that contain their name. A scam email will likely use a URL with random words (or combination of letters and numbers) without the company name. This is one indicator that the email may be a fake.

Mention of Money

If someone or some company is contacting you regarding anything money related, it’s likely a scam. This includes offers that indicate you have won money, have unclaimed money, or have been left money by somebody. Think about it, when is the last time you received money through email? Exactly. You don’t.

This is especially true for offers that say you have won a prize, but you just need to make a deposit first to claim the money. Never send credit card, payment or other personal information via these unsolicited emails.

Sense of Urgency

Scammers want their victims to act without thinking because they’re more likely to fall into their trap that way. Frequently, fake emails will use urgent language like, “Act now!” or “Immediate response required!” Nothing sent to you via email is that urgent. Take the time to evaluate the email to make sure it’s legitimate before acting upon it.

Something’s Wrong

Similarly, scammers may try and lure you into a scam by convincing you that something is wrong. Most commonly, they’ll send a generic email saying something is wrong with your account or your computer. Scammers often leverage the threat of computer viruses to get people to follow their instructions. Ironically, this often leads to them gaining access to your computer and installing malware.

When in doubt, proceed with caution. If you’re not sure about an email, try contacting the sender directly using the contact info on their website to double check that the email is real. If you don’t recognize the sender, chances are it could be a scam.

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