How to Protect Yourself From 3 of the Biggest Online Scams Right Now

Philip Bates 25-04-2017

Cybercriminals are skilled at adapting to new technologies, incorporating new ideas, and twisting old scams to hook in as many people as they can.


But some scams remain pretty constant.

NatWest bank has published a list of the top scams people have most fallen victim to throughout 2016. These schemes continue into 2017, and surely beyond — fraud that’s universal and affects thousands of people What To Do If You’re A Victim Of Online Credit Card Fraud Read More worldwide.

What can you do about them? How can you protect yourself?

1. Advance Fee Fraud

This is a variation of the well-known “Goods Not Received” fraud, in which a seller asks for money before sending an item. Often, this happens on a separate platform, away from auction sites and third-party marketplaces (like those on Amazon).


It’s tempting because a seller will likely offer a discount for taking discussions away from official sites; after all, eBay takes a percentage of fees in order to keep itself running. EBay is the middle man 8 Simple Things You Can Do to Fight EBay Scammers Despite high profile and embarrassing security breaches, eBay remains very popular, but it's a big target for fraudulent activity. So how do you reduce the risk of being a victim of online eBay scammers? Read More , who thinks it deserves credit. And you might feel bitter about that. However, auction sites do offer a level of security that you simply don’t get in private negotiations.

Very simply, a seller asks for payment for a product or service before the item is shipped or service carried out. The result is that you lose money because what you’ve bought never turns up.

It’s no shock that, according to the U.K.’s NatWest bank, this was the second most common scam to affect its customers in 2016.

How can you protect yourself? Just refuse. It’s easy to say, but if you’re tempted by offers of a discount, it might be hard to do. You can see why real sellers would want payment in advance though.


wad of hundred dollar bills
Image Credits: 401(K) 2012 via Flickr

Know your rights. In most places, it’s against the law to receive payment for goods without dispatching them first — although there are always exceptions. This even applies to pre-orders, however. Sellers only offer discounted prices on pre-orders so they can factor in how many items they need to buy from their providers before actually submitting their order, not so they can withdraw money early.

If you are tempted to pay in advance, at the very least keep it to official platforms which offer precautionary methods — payment through PayPal An Introductory Guide to PayPal Accounts & Services PayPal offers a lot of services that you might not be aware of -- here's a guide to understanding some of the lesser-known options. Read More , for instance, or using a credit card.

2. Spoof Payment Requests

This is actually a relatively new scam, at least in this form, with the number of cases rising considerably since 2014.


It involves a fraudster sending a spoof email to the accounts department of a business, purporting to be a senior member of staff CEO Fraud: This Scam Will Get You Fired & Cost Your Boss Money A new email scam where an attacker will pose as your boss aims to fool you into transferring company funds into a bank account they control. So, how can you defend against CEO Fraud? Read More . That email would request a bank transfer of funds, often with PDFs attached in an effort to look more official.

A prime example of this is agricultural firm, Scoular Company, based in Nebraska. In 2015, an employee wired money to three banks in China after receiving a falsified email supposedly from the Chief Executive, apparently as part of a secret acquisition of a business in China. Because it was hush-hush, the employee kept quiet about the transfer, and those responsible made off with some $17.2 million.

figure arms crossed
Image Credit: Ben Dalton via Flickr

It’s pretty easy to find out the senior staff and email addresses to spoof just by looking on either social media (people love to boast about their jobs on Facebook, yet don’t alter their privacy settings), naturally including LinkedIn, or through governmental departments like Companies House.


How can you protect yourself? If you’re a senior member of staff, inform employees of this, especially the accounts department.

If you receive such an email, check the address: it’ll likely be very similar to the real one What Is Email Spoofing? How Scammers Forge Fake Emails It looks like your email account has been hacked, but those weird messages you didn't send are actually due to email spoofing. Read More . Check the language used: does it sound like the person it’s supposed to be from? Keep an eye out for any other signposts that this is a fake 5 Examples To Help You Spot A Fraud Or Fake Email The shift from spam to phishing attacks is noticeable, and is on the rise. If there's a single mantra to keep in mind, it's this -- the number one defense against phishing is awareness. Read More .

The key is this: always check such requests, ideally face-to-face, or alternatively on the phone.

3. Vacation Scams

One of the worst scams takes advantage of your excitement in anticipation of a much-needed vacation.

In a way, it’s similar to the “Goods Not Received” fraud — but instead of offering items that never turn up, this involves you being offered a holiday that doesn’t actually exist.

This could be a full package, a rented property or hotel room How to Avoid Apartment and Condo Rental Scams More and more people are finding their next place to live through online services, and scammers have learned to take advantage yet again. Don't become the next victim. Read More , or a tour while on your break. If you’re going through unofficial lines, you’re susceptible.

Then again, you’re also susceptible if you do use genuine sites. Let’s take Airbnb as a prime example Security Threats All Airbnb Users Need to Know About It might offer flexible accommodation for good prices, but Airbnb can be a security nightmare for those renting. So what can you do about it? Read More of this. It’s a great idea: an online platform to rent out rooms or entire properties to tourists. Home-owners and visitors can reap the benefits 5 Big Benefits of Booking an AirBnB Room over a Hotel AirBnB has enhanced the guest experience, and mainstream hotels are starting to feel the heat. Here's what AirBnB is doing different, and how it'll improve your traveling experience. Read More , but, despite Airbnb’s altruistic raison d’être, it can still be one big scam The Risks and Rewards of Renting Out Your Apartment on Airbnb Are you thinking about renting your spare rooms out on Airbnb? Here's why you should, and also why you might think twice. Read More .

sunset on beach with sheds
Image Credit: chas B via Flickr

It’s obviously not the only way criminals target you on vacation 5 Sneaky Travel Scams You Can Beat with Technology Travel can be dangerous as every place has its own unique tourist scam. Here are five of the most wicked tourist scams, and how technology can stop them dead in their tracks. Read More : your general good spirits can mean you become more reckless and so blind to some fraud. Just one example of this is asking a taxi driver to take you to your hotel, but you’re soon convinced on the journey that your accommodation has either shut down or is particularly awful. They’ll take you to a better one (and get commission from the new hotel!).

How can you protect yourself? This is particularly a problem when booking online, but that’s something most of us do anyway! Go through the necessary procedures to make sure a site is secure and trustworthy How Web Browsing Is Becoming Even More Secure We have SSL certificates to thank for our security and privacy. But recent breaches and flaws may have dented your trust in the cryptographic protocol. Fortunately, SSL is adapting, being upgraded - here's how. Read More : notably, take notice of the URL. Does it look right? Are there any odd suffixes? Does it employ the encrypted HTTPS What Is HTTPS & How To Enable Secure Connections Per Default Security concerns are spreading far and wide and have reached the forefront of most everybody's mind. Terms like antivirus or firewall are no longer strange vocabulary and are not only understood, but also used by... Read More ?

Phishing is very common What Exactly Is Phishing & What Techniques Are Scammers Using? I’ve never been a fan of fishing, myself. This is mostly because of an early expedition where my cousin managed to catch two fish while I caught zip. Similar to real-life fishing, phishing scams aren’t... Read More . This entails users being directed to a fake site that purports to be a genuine well-known brand. That’s why you should never click on links through emails, but instead search for the real site on a different tab or browser.

Naturally, you should look for reviews before booking anything, although it’s worth remembering some companies pay for good public feedback. Try an image search as well 21 Quick Browser Tools to Search for Images Online What if you want to search for an image similar to one you see? Or, what if you want to quickly locate an image based on a word or phrase on a page? Read More , to make sure a property has not been fraudulently duplicated anywhere.

Knowing Is Half the Battle

That’s not just a phrase meaningless to anyone but G.I. Joe fans: knowledge really is power, and simply recognizing some of the biggest scams of last year lessens the chance of you falling victim to them.

Have you ever ordered goods, only for them not to turn up? Or received a spoof email pretending to be from another member of staff? What did you do?

Related topics: Online Security, Scams.

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  1. KT
    April 26, 2017 at 5:50 am

    About 6 years ago I posted a muscle car on ebay for local pickup only here in the US and I got a buy it now from a url in the UK but a user location in Germany. I played along to the point that I got a fake check in the mail!

    • Philip Bates
      April 30, 2017 at 1:59 pm

      Crikey. Did it all turn out okay in the end? It can be pretty infuriating, but if you're in the right frame of mind, kinda fun to string along the scammers, play them at their own game!