Cyber scams: What are they, and how to avoid them

As our lives become more present in the digital space, we become more reliant on the technologies that drive cyberspace. This lends itself to presenting difficulties for those online to understand how these technologies work. In turn, this lack of knowledge and accompanying confusion provides fertile ground for those looking to perpetrate scams and commit fraud. Because the degree of novelty for emerging technologies in general is quite high, practicing due diligence to find out who you are transacting with is paramount. Be sure to research the organizations and companies you interact with to provide yourself with the highest level of protection possible.  

Same old scams recycled 

Some scams are as old as the proverbial hills, and still effective. One scam that shows up every year is in the form of a phone call or email from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The ‘IRS agent’ contacts you using threatening language about owing back taxes and facing strict fines and penalties, if you don’t settle up your debt. They pressure you to settle your ‘back taxes’ in conventional currency or in bitcoins or other cryptocurrency. Don’t be fooled. The IRS never calls or emails you. They contact individuals through conventional letters sent via the post office.

Another classic and often humorous scam is the charming ‘Nigerian Prince’ swindle. While scammers may dress it up so it’s not necessarily a Nigerian prince, don’t fall for anyone trying to convince you to help them transfer funds out of a foreign country and promising you a share of the loot as a reward for your assistance. When it comes to offers that are too good to be true, or threats too horrible to contemplate, use common sense. Aside from that, discard such emails and unsolicited calls. 

Malware 

Malware is one of the original tools for online scam artists. The complexity of the technology we use today increases the efficacy of malware. Thieves and scammers in the digital ecosystem write malware to attack digital wallets, empty your accounts, spy on your clipboards to steal your passwords, and swap out your authentic logins for those belonging to a scammer. This type of malware is called a ‘Clipboard Hijacker’ and it works by monitoring Windows clipboards.   

Hints to help avoid falling to this sort of scam include: 

  • Keeping your virus software up to date. 
  • Never download and/or execute files unless you are certain they are from a reputable source.  
  • Never open a suspicious attachment.  

Phishing 

Most of us are familiar with the term ‘phishing’. It’s hardly a new type of online scam, but it’s one that remains popular. For those unaware, this type of scheme comes to you in your email inbox. Thinking it’s an email from one of their accounts or a wallet provider, customers click on the link provided which takes them to a site that looks and feels exactly like the site of their account or a wallet provider. However, the site is fraudulent. By entering their account and login information into this fake site, they’re giving the scammers all the information they need to empty accounts or assume an identity. Some steps people can take to avoid phishing scams include: 

  • Keeping credentials PRIVATE. Never give them out.  
  • Examine the URL in the link thoroughly to ensure it’s the link to the actual site or service.  
  • Simply avoid clicking on any link that you’re not 100 percent sure of altogether.  

Fraudulent wallets  

The fraudulent wallet is another scheme for which to keep your eyes peeled. These sophisticated methods of theft trap you by offering mobile apps for your smartphone. Once you download and install the fraudulent app, the scammers can access whatever information they need on your smartphone to access your accounts. The takeaway here is to do your homework before installing any app onto your phone, especially those apps for uses where fraud is running rampant. Some tips to keep you on the lookout for these types of scams include: 

  • Keep your business with wallets whose identity is not in question.  
  • Never allow yourself to succumb to pressure to deposit funds or furnish any personal information.  
  • Download only those apps that you’re sure are legitimate. 
  • Do your homework on ANY wallet before taking the plunge to do business with them. Who is running that company? Where are they located? Can you confirm their legitimacy through any other source?  

Impersonation scams 

Social media platforms are the Garden of Eden for celebrity impersonation scams. Scammers set up celebrity profiles and then announce some sort of giveaway where they ask people to send them small amounts of cryptocurrency, for instance, with the promise of returning larger amounts in exchange, often double what you send them. This species of scam is rampant on various social media platforms and pops up on livestreaming platforms as well.  

These con artists announce a giveaway for something valuable. Using bots, they make it appear to be legitimate with lots of ‘people’ claiming to have received their coins. The frenzied nature of the posts and responses creates an atmosphere where the unsuspecting victims rush into a poor decision before having time to apply any critical thinking to the situation.  

It often appears very convincing as accounts appear to be valid ones. The scammers accomplish this by taking over a verified account and simply changing the name. They pad the number of retweets, likes, and other stats by using bots to make it look legitimate. To avoid falling prey to the celebrity impersonation scam, examine the name and handle on the account closely to the celebrity’s real name.  

Blackmail 

Blackmail never goes out of style. Blackmail is a popular method for scam artists to pry money away from innocent victims. One typical method of blackmail comes via email where the scammer claims to have hacked your computer and can now access all your files. They threaten to release some sort of incriminating or embarrassing information that you might not like to be set loose on the internet. They may even threaten sending it to everyone on your contacts list or spam your social media connections. Unless you send them some money, of course.  

Don’t fall for this ruse. They have nothing, nor can they get it. They’re playing a game sending out as many blackmail letters as possible knowing some small percentage will fall for sending them a ransom. You can cut down on this sort of thing by using a virtual private network (VPN) when you surf the Internet.  

You’ve been scammed. Now what?  

If victimized by an overseas operator, you’re probably out of luck. You can always report the scam so that others may not fall prey to it, however. You can report any sort of cyber scams to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) as well as agencies specifically set up to deal with them. This includes the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) which also investigates phony websites, email extortion and blackmail, and other similar cybercrimes. Another group is eConsumer. They’re a consumer protection agency and deal with all sorts of common scams including our famed Nigerian princes, false giveaways, fake sites, etc.

To help keep you and your assets safe online, employ the following tips as part of your strategy to protect digital assets: 

  • Safe wallets 
  • Strong authentication tools 
  • Conduct business only with known and reputable service providers 
  • Confirm all addresses 

There is no magic bullet to avoiding cyber scams. As our lives rely more on a digital presence, more scammers and scams are sure to follow. The best thing you can do for yourself is to keep reading and educating yourself about the digital ecosystem and stay current on all the trends and scams that arise.