Online scams are all too common these days. What’s even more alarming is how successful they’ve been. According to AntiFraudNews, 289,874 internet fraud complaints were made to the Internet Crime Complaint Center in 2012 alone. The people making these complaints reported a total loss of $525,441,110, with those losses averaging out to $4500 per person. Things were even worse in the UK, where in 2012, the Anti-Fraud Command Centre reported an estimated £27 billion lost to cyber crimes.
Hopefully you’ve never been a victim, but if you have an email account you use on a regular basis, you’ve surely encountered these devious ploys before. Some are easy to spot – like the low level 419 scams that may involve a generous bank executive in Hong Kong who offers tens of millions of dollars for helping transfer huge sums of money from the bank in his home country. Spotting others can be a bit tricky. If you’re curious about what the threat landscape looks like, enjoy this look at the most effective online scams.
Online Dating Disasters
What would you do for love? Well if you’re using the internet as your dating platform, you could end up paying quite the price. Scammers realize that human emotions often make us vulnerable, so they prey on our desire for companionship to make quick profits. While there are many legitimate online dating sites, even some of the genuine ones are a haven for heartbreaking shysters. When they work, these scams can be damaging beyond monetary losses.
In the online dating world, scammers can cause quite the bit of raucous all from a fake profile. After being burned in your last few relationships, you find someone you’re compatible with through a dating site. For months, they fill your head up with inbox messages bearing sentiments of love. Once you’re hooked, they convince you to send a couple hundred (or thousand) dollars so they can buy a plane ticket to finally come see you. But they never show. Now you’re out of money, and possibly even worse, emotionally distraught over the fact that you’ve just been duped in the name of love.
Disaster Relief Plots
When a devastating hurricane or another type of disaster strikes, many people want to aid the victims in any way they can, and donating money is usually the easiest. Unfortunately, savvy criminals see this as an opportunity to con their way to those relief funds and essentially aid in making a bad situation worse. Fraud complaints broke out across email and social media right on the heels of the Haiti earthquake and subsequent relief efforts in 2010. Haiti-related scams ranged from fake charity funds to directing relief searches to rogue anti-virus software sites online.
Super Social Engineering
Social engineering is a deceptive tactic that when executed at near perfection, can compromise both personal and enterprise systems. The more charismatic of cyber criminals use it to manipulate targets into handing over information or access to something of potential value. It has long existed on the internet, but seems to be picking up wicked steam in the social media era. It might happen like this:
You get a friend request from your cousin, who you thought was already on your friends list, but they’re crazy like that so whatever. In reality, you’ve accepted a social engineer who cloned your cousin’s profile all to get a bird’s eye view of your social life. By listening, they can see that you work at the local department store, take a lunch at noon with Dave, and like to have two beers after dinner. Soon, they send a message encouraging you to open a malicious attachment related to a function you mentioned attending in an update. You open it and now your system, and possibly your network, is hit!
PayPal is one of my favorite internet services. Unfortunately, it also plays the pawn in many online scams. Attackers have gotten craftier than ever, so it’s no big deal to spoof an email domain and dress up a message that looks like it came right from PayPal. These scammers often try to trigger alarm by threatening to take action on your account if you don’t open an attachment or click on a link to supply information. PayPal scams get more sophisticated so you have to look out for spelling and grammar errors, calls to open attachments and other things a professional company wouldn’t request via email.
Work From Home Traps
The thought of working from home is appealing. No grueling commute. No supervisors breathing down your neck. There are numerous work from home programs, but few are what they seem. These things send you on a goose chase of tracking down info on supposed money-making opportunities, but of course, you have to pay for it. In some cases, you’re paying as little as five dollars, but it becomes a big deal when you don’t get what you ordered or receive something useless. Then there’s the fact that they’ve got your credit card information, which opens the door to identity theft and more.
Stamping Out Cyber Scams
Having no official internet law enforcement groups makes combating online scams difficult. Still, efforts are being made to neutralize the onslaught of cyber-attacks. In 2012, eHarmoney, Sparks, and Match.com inked a deal with the California Attorney General to eliminate scams across their collective network. Match was especially diligent in at least suggesting that it wanted to address complaints from users who had been scammed through the site. Only time will tell how impacting this agreement turns out to be for the online dating industry.
Portals on the PayPal, FTC, and USA.gov websites teach consumers how to protect themselves from identity theft and online scams. You can tap into all the information sources you want, and they’ll all draw the same conclusion– that we must take it upon ourselves to avoid these potential disasters. Preventing this stuff calls for awareness and mental diligence. You have to know that if a Nigerian prince offers to give you $25 million for moving some numbers around, it’s way too good to be true. A law firm is not going to email you a notice to appear in court in an attachment (that’s a new one).
Photo Credit: Don Hankins via Flickr