Top 10 Tips to Avoid Internet Fraud & Scams
Despite the internet’s phenomenal growth and prominence in today’s world, internet fraud and scams remain among society’s greatest fears and concerns. As the online realm’s rapid evolution continues, so do the deceptive methods employed by hackers and fraudsters.
Cyber crime, for the foreseeable future at least, appears to be here to stay; this means we have to remain vigilant when it comes to any potential scams that could lead to our finances, personal data and identities becoming compromised.
And so, with that said, here are 10 effective ways to stay safer online:
How to Prevent Online Fraud & Scams: Top 10 Tips
Take Your Time
Being able to identify scam mechanics is certainly important, but avoiding danger online often begins with hitting the figurative pause button. In other words, if you’re faced with something that feels even a little suspicious, never lose your cool and rush straight in.
Through the use of bogus adverts, websites and emails, scammers will do their best to motivate you to act as quickly as possible. To make things worse, trustworthy organizations and people are usually impersonated by the orchestrators, increasing the danger level.
By refusing to fall for common pressure tactics, however, many scams can become surprisingly avoidable. This is because humans tend to make much better decisions when they play by their own rules – and not that of a potential scammer’s. So take your time, and never rush into anything without due thought and consideration.
Hyperlinks & Attachments
Dodgy hyperlinks and attachments/downloads are going to get a few mentions throughout this article. This is because they are among the most common of cyber traps implemented by scammers and fraudsters today, on both websites and emails.
It’s true that malicious websites can occasionally work their way into search engine rankings, such as those generated by Google. People tend to land on such sites, however, by clicking misleading content such as ads and hyperlinks. We’ll focus on the latter.
For instance, an email claiming to be from Amazon may provide an innocuous-looking ‘Login to Your Account’ hyperlink; but it could actually be a dangerous ploy, with the link pointing toward a dangerous, data-harvesting site built to steal your personal data.
If you suspect an email to be a possible scam, hover your mouse over any hyperlinks to reveal their true destination URLs. Don’t leave anything to chance; instead, remain in the driver’s seat at all times, vigilantly observing the road ahead and where it might lead.
When it comes to attachments, remember to be on guard for any emails that seem suspicious, such as those which could be impersonating a business, organization, institution, colleague, or even a friend or family member.
Scam email attachments, which often have innocuous names like ‘Sales Report’ and ‘Ticket Confirmation’, could in fact contain malicious software such as malware. It’s nasty stuff, and once downloaded, it could quietly mine your system for personal data.
Account Logins & Personal Info
Never give out confidential data. If you receive an email requesting that you send account logins, bank card PINs, or PII (personally identifiable information) such as your name, contact details and social security number, don’t engage it.
It’s a Phishing scam – and that’s not up for debate, either. Legitimate businesses and organizations, including banks, utility companies, streaming services and retailers, will never ask you to share sensitive account info. Certainly not by email, anyway.
These emails are created by cyber criminals hoping to steal your highly valuable data; and the best way to give them what they want is to play ball, usually by clicking covertly malicious hyperlinks and downloading malware-laced attachments.
Grammar, Spelling & Tone
When we receive email correspondence from professional companies and organizations, we expect it to be written in a professional, considerate way. And why wouldn’t we? Without clear, effective communication, strong business-customer bonds are harder to cement.
Every now and then, a legitimate company or organization may dispatch an email containing the odd spelling/grammatical mistake – but 99.9% of the time, our inboxes receive carefully conceived, polished messages from these guys.
We can therefore agree that any email claiming to be from Amazon, Netflix, HSBC or the SSA, for instance, should be avoided if it features a distracting/notable amount of mistakes/unusual language.
Cases of poor spelling, grammar and unusual tone could be a strong indicator that you’re dealing with a Phishing scam; these impersonation emails are designed to encourage you to unwittingly put yourself at risk, usually by visiting a spoof website or downloading an attachment containing malware.
Adverts & Special Offers
Advertising is essential to the success of any business, especially in the age of the internet. While some ads may be legitimate, with ‘no strings attached’ or malicious agenda lurking beneath, not all ads should be trusted simply because they appeal to your needs.
Any ad could potentially be a gateway to a scam – that’s just the unfortunate reality of the web. The likelihood of being duped by an ad does become far less likely, however, when we apply some healthy scepticism before clicking, and only visit websites, marketplaces and social media platforms with a strong following and reputation.
Although our most optimistic self can be easily seduced by unbelievable discounts and offers, something that seems too good to be true usually is. Engaging with scam ads could result in great heartache and loss – so be careful when scouting out bargains online.
Learn & Recognize Common Scams
By being aware of the general characteristics of common scams, such as those used by malicious websites (discussed more below) and Phishing emails, you’ll be far more prepared and less susceptible to online threats.
Some of the most frequently used scams carried out by cyber criminals involve the impersonation of a whole range of legitimate organizations, businesses, and even government agencies.
So, in that case, if you receive an email claiming to be from the Social Security Agency, Amazon, or your bank, for example, it’s absolutely essential that you understand how to spot what’s real and what’s fake.
While much can be learned from this article regarding common scam tricks, it’s also a great idea to be more proactive going forward; by keeping up to date with cyber security news, you’ll possess increased awareness of every new threat that pops up on the internet.
Retailer Research & Bogus Websites
While the internet has pretty much become a paradise of convenience and money-saving market places, remember that cyber criminals are very aware of our fondness for irresistible deals, offers and discounts.
Nowadays, it’s very easy for just about anyone – including scammers, hackers and fraudsters – to build professional/trustworthy-looking websites and eStores. But how exactly do you spot the bad from the good?
Here are a few tips:
- Check the website uses ‘https’ SSL encryption (indicated by a padlock symbol in the address bar) – especially on eStore pages
- Get a feel for the website – instead of heading straight to the checkout, take a browse of the whole website for more information
- Investigate/read some reviews – both from the website (if provided), but more importantly, from independent review sites and trustworthy sources
- Ask your peers – if you still have doubts, ask your friends, family or colleagues for their verdicts
- Check it’s a registered company – this is something you could in fact do straight away, since any business operating as above board would be registered, without question
Operating System Updates
Strong core cyber security requires both an up-to-date system (preferably on a current product version) along with an up-to-date antivirus suite, the latter of which will be discussed momentarily.
While your behaviour, activities, and ultimately ‘online smarts’ are an integral aspect of cyber security, don’t forget that major tech companies like Microsoft, Apple and Android release frequent updates for very good reason.
In addition to improving operating system functionality and usability, updates are there to bolster cyber security. Most household name systems like Windows, iOS and Android provide ‘automatic updates, a feature very wise to rely upon.
Antivirus & Web Safety Tools
Everybody – absolutely everybody! – should have at least some form of antivirus suite installed across their devices; preferably a paid version from a reputable provider to ensure adequate protection. With so many traps lurking online, it just can’t be stated enough.
Should a virus find itself onto your desktop or mobile device, your personal data and important files are at risk. Certain types of malware are designed to lurk quietly in the background, harvesting data, while others, like Ransomware, lock you out of your system entirely.
Cyber security solutions, such as TotalAV’s Award-Winning Total Protection and Total WebShield apps, provide market-leading features, including real-time scans to detect all known threats.
Password Vault Software
A critical aspect of cyber security begins when a user creates logins, comprised of a username/email address and password. Strong passwords are typically over 10 characters long and are created using lower and upper case letters, punctuation and numbers.
Having numerous strong passwords is a bittersweet reality, however; on the one hand, they are much harder for hackers to guess, but on the other, they are much harder for the user to actually remember.
TotalAV’s Password Vault generates random passwords for accounts, storing them in a secure vault behind a single master password. Better yet, as you visit your favourite websites, the software will automatically fill in your logins for you, saving time.