ONLINE SCAMS SPIKE
The advent of the internet has provided us with a remarkable era of exploration, facilitating the pursuit of new interests, fostering connections with loved ones, and granting us unparalleled access to preferred products and services. However, with this online freedom, there is potential peril, most notably in the form of online scams, which have surged by nearly 70% in recent years. Online scams, sometimes referred to as internet scams or online fraud, are continuously evolving and exhibit a wide range of deceptive manifestations. These typically involve the exploitation of internet services or software to defraud individuals or take advantage of them, often with financial gain. Russian-American writer Maria Konnikova is spot on with her description of online fraud in our day and age:
“Fraud really thrives in moments of great social change and transition. We’re in the midst of a technological revolution. That gives con artists huge opportunities. People lose their frame of reference for what can and can’t be real.”
WHAT ARE ONLINE SCAMS?
Cybercriminals employ various avenues to reach out to their potential victims, ranging from personal and professional email accounts to social networking platforms, dating applications, and other communication methods, all in an endeavour to extract valuable financial or personal information. The culmination of many internet scams typically follows a familiar script: victims suffer financial losses or do not receive the promised funds from the cybercriminal. In the direst circumstances, individuals may even find themselves victims of identity theft.
TYPES OF ONLINE SCAMS
Unfortunately, there are dozens and dozens of different techniques that scammers use in their quest to trick us. We’re all familiar with phishing, ransomware and social media impersonation or engineering. Let’s take a look now at a few more types of scams – some you’ll know too well, while a couple of them might not be so familiar. Many of these extend beyond the world of business IT, impacting our daily lives online.
FAKE SHOPPING WEBSITES
Cybercriminals go as far as creating bogus online shopping websites that can be quite deceptive, often mimicking legitimate retailers. These faux sites usually dangle temptingly unreal deals, offering popular clothing brands and high-end electronics at unbelievably low prices. Their objective is to lure you into making a purchase, all the while capturing your banking details during the transaction for their own nefarious purposes. Another crafty tactic employed by hackers is known as formjacking, especially aimed at online shoppers. They may try to breach the security of a legitimate retail company’s website and reroute shoppers to a fraudulent payment page. Although not as easy to achieve as creating a fake website, this malicious ploy enables them to pilfer your credit card information and personal data. So, always keep an eye out for these red flags:
- If a web page redirects you to one with “http://” in the URL, be cautious.
- When the prices seem too good to be true, exercise caution.
Online dating is a fantastic way to connect with potential romantic interests, but it’s essential to be aware that cybercriminals can exploit these platforms to deceive unsuspecting individuals. To put things into perspective, in 2020, there were over 35,000 reported victims of romance scams. Here’s how these online scams typically unfold:
- The scammer usually targets their victim on an online dating site and initiates an online relationship.
- They work to gain the victim’s trust while consistently providing excuses for avoiding in-person meetings.
- Eventually, the cyberthief requests money or solicits details about the victim’s financial situation.
If not recognized in time, romance scams can result in the theft of your personal information or money by someone you believed cared about you. But don’t worry, there are telltale signs to help you stay on guard:
- Their online profile appears too perfect to be true.
- They claim to live out of state, often at a considerable distance.
- The relationship progresses at an unusually rapid pace.
- They ask for money or request personal information.
The lottery scam falls under the umbrella of phishing scams. Here’s how it typically unfolds: In an unsolicited email, you may receive the exciting news that you’ve won a substantial sum of money, a complimentary voyage to an exotic locale, or some other remarkable prize. The email will instruct you to claim your prize or trip by simply covering a few minor fees. However, once you’ve paid these fees, you’ll likely never receive any further communication from the purported organization. Indicators of online scam involvement may include:
- Being declared a winner of a contest you never entered.
- Prizes that appear exceptionally enticing or too good to be true.
- The requirement to make a payment in order to receive your supposed prize.
DISASTER RELIEF SCAMS
When adversity, like a natural disaster or even the current humanitarian crisis resulting from the Israeli-Gaza conflict, strikes, you would naturally anticipate a wave of sympathy and support from others. Unfortunately, there are individuals with malicious intent who seize opportunities during such trying times to engage in disaster relief scams, all in the pursuit of personal gain. These online scams unfold through the transmission of deceptive emails that masquerade as authentic charitable or government entities. These cybercriminals endeavour to persuade you to contribute funds to assist those affected by the disaster. Regrettably, any credit card and personal information you provide may be exploited for illicit purchases, potentially jeopardizing your credit and financial security.
Indicators of disaster relief scams to be cautious of include:
- Emails from government agencies or charities that don’t align with their official website domains.
- Websites lacking sufficient or entirely omitting contact information.
THE NIGERIAN LETTER SCAM
The Nigerian letter scam, also known as 419 fraud or the advance fee scam, stands as one of the longest-running online swindles. Here’s how it typically operates: You receive a heartfelt message from an individual purporting to be a government official, a wealthy foreign businessperson, or a member of a prosperous foreign family. They appeal to you for assistance in securing a substantial sum of money from an overseas bank. In return, they promise to share a portion of this wealth with you and may present counterfeit documents to lend an air of legitimacy to the arrangement. Be cautious of online scam red flags, which may include:
- Receiving unsolicited letters or emails from a foreign location claiming a personal connection to you.
- Requests for your personal or banking information as part of the scheme.
MORE ONLINE SCAM EXAMPLES
- Scareware – installing ‘free antivirus’ software that contains malware to steal your personal information
- Travel scams – being scammed into paying for travel insurance and then stealing your financial details and personal information
- Tech support scams – fraudsters using urgent pop-up messages or fake online ads to promote illegitimate software services and carry out tech support scams
- Cryptocurrency scams – these include deceptive giveaways, impersonations, and blackmail aiming to acquire your personal information necessary to gain access to your digital wallet
ONLINE SCAMS IN THE UK
Based on the most recent data provided by UK Finance, the first half of 2023 witnessed a staggering 1.4 million reported fraud cases, resulting in criminals absconding with £580 million from unsuspecting consumers. Ofcom reports that a striking nine out of ten individuals have had encounters with online scams or fraud, and nearly half of them found themselves entangled in these scams. Troublingly, a quarter of those who fell victim to online scams reported financial losses, with a significant one-fifth losing £1,000 or more in the process. Rocio Concha, director of policy and advocacy at Which?, says:
“This research exposes the frightening scale of online fraud and backs up recent Which? research that found a slew of misleading and potentially fraudulent investment adverts are still targeting Facebook and Instagram users. The Online Safety Bill has been going through Parliament for a year and progress has been much too slow, with people still being scammed every day. The government must take a crucial step in the fight against fraud by ensuring the Bill includes the strongest possible protections for consumers and is passed into law without further delays.”
Online scams in the UK include the usual suspects such as fake online shopping sites, bogus giveaways, QR code jacking, quishing emails, debt collector scams, energy-saving device scams, clone holiday booking websites, scam HMRC text messages promising cash, the infamous ‘Suspicious activity on your account’ scam, charitable donation scams and fake Ukraine fundraisers, the loved on in need scam, and a host of others.
HAVE YOU BEEN A VICTIM OF A SCAM?
If you suspect you’ve fallen victim to a scam, it’s crucial to take immediate action. Contact your bank without delay. In cases of fraud or cybercrime, it’s imperative to report the incident to Action Fraud. You can do this by visiting their website or by dialling 0300 123 2040. Additionally, it’s essential to report the incident to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). You can file a report with the FCA online or by calling 0800 111 6768. If you find yourself grappling with financial challenges as a result of a scam, seek assistance from Citizens Advice. Their national phone service, Adviceline, is available at 03444 111 444 from 9 am to 5 pm, Monday to Friday, and can help you chart a path forward.
AVOIDING ONLINE SCAMS
Here are some straightforward tips to avoid becoming a victim of online fraud:
To good to be true – If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is as fraudsters often dangle enticing goods or deals that seem unmatched.
Double-check their identity – Always confirm the identity of any unsolicited contacts, especially if they’re reaching out to you out of the blue. Impersonation fraud is a tactic where criminals pose as legitimate entities to gain your trust.
Don’t give out personal information – Protect this information, as its compromise can lead to identity theft or unauthorized access to your bank accounts.
Don’t trust unknown attachments or links – Avoid unknown email attachments or links, as they may contain malware that could compromise your device and personal data.
Use a protected payment method – When making payments online, choose secure methods that offer customer protection, such as verified payment services or your bank account.
IZAK’S TALKS ONLINE SCAMS
In my latest book soon to be launched, You Don’t Need a £1 Million Cybersecurity Budget, Izak Oosthuizen, I have dedicated an entire chapter to online scams and fraud. Here is an extract to whet your appetite:
“The long and the short is that online fraud is with us and everyone online is at risk. But there is a lot you can do to protect yourself. Fraudsters will send out a barrage of messages to as many people as possible to up their odds of hitting the jackpot. So, if your inbox is overflowing with emails from one company or person, be wary – it might be a scam. Don’t let them toy with your feelings. Stay alert. Verify information before doing anything. Use security tools to fend off dangerous websites and spam messages. Do these things and you’ll be able to enjoy the internet and work without worry.”
TELL SCAMS TO SCRAM
Staying safe and secure online is now more important than ever. You need an IT solution that will stop scams and online fraud in their tracks. You need a solution that will tell scams to scram – for good! And that’s exactly what I will help you with to give you peace of mind. Without being boastful, I am what many consider to be a London IT thought leader, entrepreneur, and cybersecurity expert. I have more than two decades of experience in helping SMEs in the UK with IT support, cybersecurity and risk mitigation, and implementing good cyber hygiene. With IT in my blood and in my blood, data protection is the name of the game for me. Contact me today and let’s secure your digital world and stop cybercriminals in their tracks.