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As long as the internet has been around, malicious people have used it to rip others off. Between fraudulent sites, email scams, and other forms of deception, countless people have lost billions of dollars to internet fraud and scams.
Let’s take a look at some infamous examples of online fraud and scams, many of which people still fall for. By pointing them out, you can better recognize the worst offenders to keep yourself and loved ones safe.
1. Email Phishing
While cyber fraud takes many forms, it’s often done through email since that’s a ubiquitous and cheap method of attack. As a result, one of the most common scamming examples is the general phishing email.
In this scam, you receive a message claiming to come from a legitimate entity, such as your bank, email provider, or online retailer. The email lets you know that the company has made some changes and needs you to confirm your information to make sure everything is up-to-date.
If you follow the link in these fishing emails, you’ll be brought to a fraud site. While it might look like the real page, entering your credentials here will send them right to scammers.
Review our tips on how to spot a phishing email so you don’t fall victim to them. It might sound silly, but scammers have evolved to create much more advanced phishing schemes.
2. Tech Support Scams
One of the most concerning internet fraud cases in recent years is the onslaught of tech support scams. In this scheme, someone calls you and pretends to be from Microsoft or a computer security company. They convince you that your computer is infected with some kind of malware and coax you into letting them remotely control your machine.
From there, they might cause actual damage to your system by stealing your data or installing ransomware. They’ll then try to sell you a worthless “security suite” or demand payment for their “services,” getting upset if you refuse.
This scam is easy to fall for if you get caught up in the caller’s lies. But by being aware of it, you can know what you should do about tech support scams in case you’re ever contacted with one.
3. Online Dating Scams
While online dating has a lot of benefits, it’s also a hotbed for cyber fraud. Criminals use online dating to get money from legitimate users by building fake profiles and trying to get others to fall for them.
Usually, online dating scammers have limited profiles with few pictures and not much additional info. They’ll often profess love at an unusually early point and try to get you to chat on an alternative app, so the dating site doesn’t shut them down.
To take your money, the scammer will ask often you to “cover the cost” of something. This could be a plane ticket to supposedly come meet you in person, or shipping a package they send to you. Of course, they’ll never actually meet up with you or even contact you via video chat.
If you use online dating services, you must know how to spot and avoid online dating scams so you don’t become a victim.
4. Nigerian 419 Email Scams
This is one of the oldest internet fraud examples in the book. Someone from a country (often Nigeria, but not always) contacts you via email in broken English. They explain that a rich person they know has died and the money has nowhere to go; if you can help them get the funds out of the country, they’ll give you some as a reward.
Of course, this is completely bogus. If you follow along, they’ll continually ask you for money to cover various “expenses” associated with the fund movement, until you realize they’ve been stealing from you all along.
Due to their notoriety, these types of emails usually go straight to your spam folder, so you probably haven’t seen one in a while. But if you do, simply ignore it and move on. There’s no reason to fall for this classic scheme.
5. Social Media Fraud
Attackers have many ways to steal from you on social media, including taking your money. One popular method is abusing your trust with your social media friends. For example, if someone on your Facebook friend list has their account hacked, the attacker might contact you through a Facebook Messenger.
In many cases, they’ll send a video link with a sensational message like “OMG, is it you in this video?” that tempts you to click on it. If you do click, you’ll go to a dangerous site programmed to infect your computer with malware.
Other times, the scam is more personal. The hijacked account might send you a message saying that they’re in trouble with the law, or need money to cover a hospital bill after a bad accident. If you take this at face value, you’ll end up sending a thief—not your friend—money.
6. Buying and Selling Scams
Like online dating, purchasing and selling products online is another popular activity that’s been tainted by fraud. Whenever you buy something online or sell your own goods, you must stay vigilant to avoid scams.
What to watch for often depends on the service you use. As an overview, we’ve covered eBay scams everyone should know, whether you’re a buyer or seller. You can apply that general advice to other online shopping destinations, too.
Avoid buying from random websites unless you’ve vetted them through reputable reviews. If you sell goods on Craigslist or similar sites, meet in a public place and only accept cash for the transaction. And if someone offers to pay you more than the item’s listed price in exchange for shipping it to a foreign country, it’s a scam.
7. Fake Virus Warnings
Most people trust that antivirus warnings mean something is wrong with their computer, which is why attackers create fake virus warnings to trick you. This example of internet fraud can take the form of browser popups, phony websites, or even malicious apps that generate fake messages.
These might demand payment to “unlock” full security features, or offer a phone number that will connect you to scammers. Fake virus messages are even more insidious with the rise of ransomware. These lead you to believe you’re the victim of an actual ransomware attack, while they’re actually nothing more than simple websites prompting you to pay money.
Make sure you know how to spot fake malware warnings so you don’t walk into a trap.
8. Fake Charities, Sweepstakes, and Others
Don’t put it past scammers to take advantage of a tragic event. Often, after a natural disaster that makes international headlines, fraudsters will reach out via email or other methods to collect money for a “good cause.” Of course, they’re just looking to capitalize on people’s generosity following these events.
Like phishing emails, you should never respond to unsolicited messages like this. If you want to donate to a charitable cause, visit it directly and make sure it’s a reputable organization.
Charities aren’t the only kind of fake message that you’ll run into. If you receive messages claiming that you’ve won a lottery you never entered, have uncollected debt on an account you know nothing about, or similar, ignore it. These are scams trying to take your money.
These scams can also arrive by SMS, so watch your texts as well as your email inbox.
Stay Vigilant Against Dangerous Internet Fraud
We’ve reviewed some of the most notorious examples of online fraud. While you might be familiar with one or many of these, it’s important to spread awareness as much as possible. As more people learn to recognize these scams, they’ll become less effective and hopefully go away for good.
Not all fraud examples take place online. Review the major signs that you’re on the phone with a scammer so you don’t fall for phone rip-offs.