Every year, almost three million instances of internet of phone scamming were reported to the Federal Trade Commission (https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/reports/consumer-sentinel-network-data-book-2017/consumer_sentinel_data_book_2017.pdf), of which more than one in five resulted in a loss of money.
The single most common type of scamming to watch out for is phishing. In a phishing scam, the scammer will send an email impersonating a legitimate person or organization to try to get access to someone’s bank account or other valuable accounts. These can be made out to look like they were sent by tax agencies, universities, companies trying to sell you stock, or essentially anything else that might trick someone into giving up their private information. This is avoidable with a keen eye. Ignore anything that is not from the actual federal government or someone you know.
Another common scam is the infamous 419 scam, better known as the Nigerian Royalty Scam. In a display so ridiculous that it seems impossible to fall for, scammers will send someone an emotional email that basically amounts to, “I am a wealthy person from a different country who will pay you large sums of money to help me out of a difficult situation.” People do fall for it, though, and they have been falling for it since they received letters about sending money to help break Spanish royalty out of prison in the 1800s. Avoid this by throwing away anything to do with transferring ludicrous amounts of foreign money to your bank account.
Malware and ransomware are also common internet scams. People usually get these viruses through obscure or untrustworthy websites that they may be trying to use in their everyday lives. This includes watching movies, downloading YouTube videos, virtual gambling, and any number of other things. These websites like to put massive invisible ads over the entire screen so that when you click anywhere it takes you to an even sketchier website. Oftentimes, the download button on MP3 converters just downloads a virus instead of the MP3 file. Malware and ransomware can destroy your computer or “hold it for ransom”, demanding payment in order to restore your files.
“I actually have a friend who fell for this one,” said Logan Hines. “He was using a sketchy website to gamble for in-game items in a video game, and when he tried to complete a transaction it sent a link with a ransomware virus to all of his contacts. Nobody clicked it as far as I know, but we would have been in trouble if we had not have looked it up.”
This is the best defense against this type of scam: looking up the website before using it.
A particularly dangerous scam for students is the debt collection scam. Student loans are already known to take advantage of students who have just left high school and do not fully understand how to properly manage finance, often presenting a “sign here and make your dreams come true” attitude. On top of the potential financial ruin brought by carelessly signing student loan contracts, scammers can easily get access to that information through social media posts and send urgent emails threatening either extremely heightened interest or prison time (even though student loan companies have no authority to send you to jail, but many people do not know that). Avoid this by ignoring anything that is not specifically from the loan company, and be sure to confirm the email by contacting the loan company by different means such as a phone call.
In-person scamming is also something huge to watch out for, especially in shopping malls, major downtown districts, and other crowded areas. People will walk up to you and ask for money, often coming up with stories that aim to inspire or elicit sympathy. Sometimes these scammers drag children or disabled people around with them to act as their “salesmen,” as this often gives rise to more empathy. Even though it may be sad, paying these people will not help their situation. Instead, it will prove that this is lucrative business plan. These scams can be dangerous, too, especially if they ask you to come with them to a secluded location. These can be avoided with a discerning disposition.
The best way to protect yourself against fraud is by educating yourself on common methods and being perceptive. If you recognize signs that there is a scam afoot, simply wash your hands of the situation. There are few scams that a keen eye cannot get you out of.