Scams 101: All you need to know to protect against online fraud and identity theft

Internet scams are everywhere, inflicting billions of dollars in reported losses from victims each year. Anyone can fall for online scams, as tactics are tailored to the interests of all age groups.

Although email phishing and fraudulent websites are not a new threat to the digital community, the attack vectors deployed by scammers have become more diverse and sophisticated.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common scams:

Coronavirus-related scams

Some of the most popular scams operating at the moment are closely related to COVID-19 and exploit the health and financial crisis. Vaccination campaigns are underway, so beware of any suspicious messages promoting an easy and fast way for you to receive the vaccine by filling out forms or making advanced payments or paying fees.

Coronavirus-themed emails may also include advertisements for food or food supplements that help cure or prevent infections, a trend that has been around since the beginning of the pandemic. Spoofing technology has allowed scammers to impersonate government agencies and exploit government-issued stimulus payments easily. By applying high-pressure tactics and the promise of expedited payments, scammers have managed to dupe recipients into providing their personal information and bank account numbers or paying a small “processing fees.”

The latest Bitdefender telemetry shows that coronavirus-fueled scams are still going strong. 61.68% of all incoming COVID-19-related correspondence was marked as spam on February 26, showing that spammers and cybercriminals are relentless in their attempts to take advantage of the ongoing pandemic.

A daily dose of spam

Billions of unsolicited emails are sent to inboxes every day. While some may be harmless, consisting of ads from retailers, criminals also use emails in mass-market phishing campaigns. They use social engineering techniques such as clickbait and scare tactics to persuade recipients to access a fraudulent link or malicious attachment.

From jaw-dropping discounts to vacation deals and job offerings, your Inbox has seen its share of fraudulent correspondence throughout the year. While you might be tempted to read the messages, it’s never recommended to click or access links your receive from individuals or companies you don’t know.

Congratulations, you’ve won!

Years of practice on consumers has taught them what topics to exploit as they quickly adapt to social, political and economic changes. For example, some scammers may still push their luck by unleashing lottery scams on the general population. Why does this “ancient” scam continue to pop up in the digital threat landscape?

Because consumers still fall for it. The thrill of winning millions of dollars, a luxury car, or the latest tech gadget clouds their judgment. Before they realize it, the fraudster has swindled them out of thousands of dollars in bogus processing fees, gift card payments or worse – their bank account information or Social Security number.

IRS and Bank-related scams

Tax-related scams and IRS impersonations are also favorites among criminals. Bitdefender telemetry recently picked up a phishing campaign targeting US-tax payers in preparation for the 2021 tax season.

Cyber-thieves have sharpened their impersonation skills by mimicking banks and online payment platforms in their phishing campaigns. Most of the time, they warn recipients of unauthorized access to their account or ask them to update particular details to avoid being locked out. Some messages may also include malicious attachments that, once accessed, deploy financial and data-stealing malware on the device or ransomware.

Be my valentine

We can find anything online, and in some cases, even heartbreak. Between February 22 and 23, Bitdefender telemetry found that more than 20% of incoming spam was related to online dating.

Fraudsters often create fake online profiles and enter digital relationships that end up financially and emotionally draining for the victim. Although social isolation may have boosted the online dating scene, looking for red flags can make a difference. These scammers often target people’s vulnerabilities, creating a fake relationship based on a target’s trusting nature. 

They often suggest switching the online platform to keep in touch with you, asking for your phone number and email address instead. After establishing a sense of trust, the scammer will start asking for financial aid and may even resort to blackmail or extortion to get what they want.

How can you avoid being scammed?

The pandemic-fueled assault on users knows no boundaries, as fraudsters and cybercriminals take advantage of various communications tools in their attempt to dupe recipients, including phone calls, emails, instant messaging and texting.

Even though internet-related scams vary in sophistication, they all boil down to stealing your money and personally identifiable information.

You can protect against online scams and fraud by following these steps:

  • Keep your personal and financial information under lock and key – Millions of people fall victim to identity thieves each year. No matter where your internet experiences take you, don’t provide your personally identifiable information, bank account numbers or credit card info via social media, links you received in unsolicited emails or even your bank. Ask yourself: why does this person or entity need this information? If you receive an email, text or phone call from someone claiming to be from your bank, don’t panic and give out your information. Look up the financial institution and contact a bank representative through official channels
  • Be wary of individuals who befriend you online – Social media is bustling with fraudulent activity. Don’t overshare information with people you meet, and always exercise caution when sharing details about your financial status, work, family members and friends. If someone contacts you out of the blue and offers you a get-rich-quick speech, it’s a scam
  • Be suspicious of ads and promotions on social media platforms – Even if an ad is paid that does not guarantee the offer is legit. Before you get excited and grab your credit card, research the vendor. Stick to reputable and known service providers or retailers, and don’t fall for the too-good-to-be-true deal
  • Distrust unusual payment requests – Scammers will ask you to use an unusual payment method when paying for services. Preloaded debit cards, gift cards, or cryptocurrency are an immediate sign of a scam
  • Always check for grammar mistakes and the sender’s email address  – If you’re receiving correspondence from a financial institution, government agency or package delivery service that particularly asks for your information and check for spelling mistakes and inconsistencies. Don’t be fooled by official logos or industry-related lingo as cybercriminals have honed their attack methods
  • Don’t open attachments – opening attachments you receive from unknown individuals can spread malware, including file-encrypting ransomware. Sometimes the malicious file can be labeled as an urgent unpaid invoice, a travel itinerary, a job description document, or a PDF detailing your next steps
  • Don’t enter personal information in pop-up screens – A legitimate agency, company or organization will not ask for your information this way
  • Use a security solution with anti-fraud and anti-phishing security layers that protect against scams and phishing attempts while you browse online
  • Report any suspicious activity to the social media platform, email services or financial institution

It’s time to tip the scales on online fraud and scams. As a member of the online community, you can help make the internet a safer place by promoting good cyber practices to your friends and family.

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