Watch Out for These Top Internet Scams
- Subtitle: Top Internet Scams
Internet scams are continually evolving. The FBI documented a record $3.5 billion in losses due to internet crimes in 2019.1 Right now, con artists around the world are likely targeting a computer or mobile device near you. Here's a look at the most common internet scams—and what you can do to safeguard your personal information and wallet.
COVID-19 Online Scams
According to Google, "Scammers are taking advantage of the increase in COVID-19 communications by disguising their scams as legitimate messages about the virus. Alongside emails, scammers may also use text messages, automated calls, and malicious websites to reach you."
Common types of COVID-19 scams include:
- Fake health organizations. Scammers pose as health authorities like the World Health Organization (WHO) and U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to offer cures, tests, or other COVID-19 information.
- Websites that sell fake products. These sites offer face masks, hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, and other high-demand products that never arrive. Buy products from known marketers only.
- Bogus government sources. These scammers claim to issue updates and payments on behalf of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or local tax authority.
- Fraudulent financial offers. Scammers may pose as banks, debt collectors, or investors with offers designed to steal your financial information.
- Fake nonprofit donation requests. Many people like to donate to charitable causes to help with disaster relief. This provides an excellent opportunity for scammers to set up fake nonprofits, hospitals, and other organizations to collect funds. Donate directly through a reputable nonprofit's website instead of clicking on a link you receive by email or text.
Disaster Relief Scams
When disaster strikes—whether it's a pandemic or weather-related—so do fraudsters. Hiding behind the guise of an actual aid organization, scammers will use a tragedy or natural disaster to con you out of your money. By thinking you’re donating to an emergency relief fund, you unwittingly provide credit card or other e-payment information.
You receive an email from a seemingly familiar enterprise that you deem legitimate, such as your bank, university or a retailer you frequent. The message directs you to a site—usually to verify personal information such as email addresses and passwords—that then steals your information and exposes your computer to attack by scammers.
Phishing scams are some of the most common attacks on consumers. According to the FBI, more than 114,700 people fell victim to phishing scams in 2019. Collectively, they lost $57.8 million, or about $500 each.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, phishing emails and text messages frequently tell stories to trick people into clicking on a link or opening an attachment. For example, phishing attempts may:
- Say they've noticed suspicious activity or log-in attempts on your account
- Claim there's a problem with your account or payment information
- Say you need to confirm or update personal information
- Include a fake invoice
- Ask you to click on a link to make a payment
- Claim you're eligible to sign up for a government refund
- Offer a coupon for free goods or services
You should never click the links provided in emails you can't independently confirm. Doing so will make your computer and personal information vulnerable to viruses and malware. Again, though the sender may seem legitimate—which is exactly what the scammer wants you to believe—no reputable institution will ask for your password or other key personal information online. Phishing emails will often contain typos or grammatical errors, and the sender's email address often looks suspicious.
Fake Shopping Websites and Formjacking
Thousands of fake websites offer "great deals" on well-known brands. These websites typically have URLs similar to the brands they try to mimic, such as "Amaz0n.net." If you buy something from one of these websites, chances are you'll receive a counterfeit item in the mail—or nothing at all.
Formjacking is another retail scam. This happens when a legitimate retail website is hacked, and shoppers get redirected to a fraudulent payment page, where the scammer steals your personal and credit card information. To avoid this scam, double-check that the URL on the payment page is the same as the website where you were shopping. Cybercriminals may change the URL very slightly—maybe by adding or omitting a single letter. Be sure to take a close look at the URL before you enter your payment details.