Finding out you have been the victim of an online scam can instantly lead to a roller-coaster of emotions. Anger, sadness, frustration and more anger are all possible and all justified. Whether being the victim of your own carelessness or because you got tricked by something that sounded too good to pass up, the important thing is what you do next.
Examples of Online Scams
The following is by no means an exhaustive list of every type of online scam out there. Rather, it serves as to provide a general understanding what types of scams to expect and be aware of so you’ll know to avoid falling for them.
1. Credit Card Theft
This type of scam usually involves a website that is designed to look exactly like a site you know so you feel safe entering your credit card info. Except, the moment you do enter your info, your credit card details are harvested and used for nefarious purposes.
Alternatively, there have been cases of scammers randomly generating credit card numbers, then requesting pre-authorizations for small, random amounts like $1.01 just to see if the credit card number is valid. This will likely happen without you knowing. The scammers will then use your credit card to make purchases online. If you notice random pre-authorizations that you don’t recognize through your mobile banking app, call the bank right away to replace your credit card.
The way phishing scams most commonly operate is by sending their victims emails (or text messages) that look very much like official emails from banks or other trusted institutions requesting that you update your information with them. Some might claim that your account will be frozen if you don’t verify your details – which does cause quite a bit of panic if you’re unaware of the scam.
Clicking on the email link will send you to a web page designed to mimic the official website, but instead will ask you to re-enter your login credentials and confirm your details like full name, address, date of birth; sometimes even provide answers for your security questions.
Scammers use this stolen information to access your online bank account to transfer money out.
3. Identify Theft
Identify theft works very much like phishing, except the scammer will use the stolen information to take out loans, purchase cars, apply for credit cards, etc. thereby ruining your personal credit score. The damage from this scam is exceedingly difficult to repair since it’s very difficult to prove that the actions were not your own but the scammer’s. It’s something that can take years to fix, if you can fix at all.
4. Online Dating Scam
Perhaps you’ve heard of The Tindler Swinder on Netflix? Online dating scams are more common than you might expect, and people do fall for them. This scam is effective because it ignites an emotional connection between the con artist and the unknowing victim who is desperate to find that spark. As the relationship progresses and trust is built, they come to you in urgent need of help paying their bills, fixing a car, etc. and you send them money.
5. Remote Access Scam
Also known as technical support scam, these scammers will often call you over the phone with the pretense that your computer system is vulnerable. They’ll claim to represent large tech companies like Microsoft and say that your computer is infected with malware and offer to fix it. The scammers will instruct you to install a remote access tool, most likely Teamviewer, so they can gain access to your computer. They might also hold your computer hostage and demand payment in the form of gift cards.
How to Tell if You’re Getting Scammed
You may have unwittingly fallen for a scam – like phishing – and not realize it until one day, your bank accounts are completely drained. To prevent that from happening, familiarize yourself with some of the common signs of a scam in progress.
1. Random Phone Call
If you receive an unsolicited phone call from an unknown or unrecognizable phone number claiming to be from a bank or authority, you should be suspicious. Financial institutions or government authorities will never ask you to verify your details with them over the phone. If you do receive such a call, hang up.
2. Unsolicited Emails/Text Messages
If you receive any emails seemingly from banks, financial institutions, or even government authorities requesting that you verify your personal information with them, especially if the email doesn’t provide any specifics or address you with your full name, delete them.
Often, these emails or text messages will be accompanied by a threat of some sort to get you to comply. Just remember, your bank will never freeze your bank accounts or issue warrants for your arrest if you don’t verify your details with them.
Also, beware of text messages with links. It might be very tempting to tap on the link, but just know that a phishing scam is waiting for you on the other end.
3. Unfamiliar Credit Card Authorization Holds
These random pre-authorizations (or authorization holds) for relatively low figures ($1.20, etc.) tend to avoid any attention. But to remain vigilant, check your banking app once if a while. When you do spot any pre-authorizations that you don’t recognize, call your credit card provider immediately to have new cards issued. That way, you’ll prevent the scammer from even using your card to make purchases. If you don’t manage to get to it in time, you’ll have to pay for any purchases the scammed made until you get a chance to raise it with your provider.
What to Do if You Have Been Scammed
If you’ve fallen victim to a scam, there might be time to rectify the situation if you act quickly. Of course, it depends on what type of scam it was, but there are some universal remedies that you should be taking regardless.
1. Change Your Login Credentials
If you believe you have fallen for a phishing scam, quickly log in to your bank or financial institution online account and change your passwords. This will prevent scammers from gaining access and making withdrawals if they haven’t already.
Change your email account password. The scammer might still be able to reset your online banking password if they have access to your email.
Also, you should change your secret questions and answers for important online accounts in case they try to reset the password this way.
2. Audit Your Computer Security
If you were a victim of the technical support or remote access scam, the first thing you should do is go offline. Scammers won’t be able to access your computer if it’s not connected to the internet.
Then immediately remove the remote access application you were told to install. If you were told to use a web-based remove access tool, then quit the browser.
In a nutshell, undo everything they told you to do.
There’s a possibility that the scammer changed your password to log in to your computer so they can hold it ransom. Change your computer password too.
If you’re relatively inexperienced with computer security, ask for help. Explain what happened and let an expert inspect your computer for flaws and vulnerabilities.
3. Secure Your Social Security Number
Did you give the scammer access to your social security number? This can get really complicated, fast, so it’s important to do everything you can quickly to try and lock down your information. Start by heading to identitytheft.gov and learn how to lock down your number.
4. Freeze Your Finances
If your credit card numbers or personal information were jeopardized, you should also activate credit monitoring either by implementing a freeze and/or a fraud alert. A freeze essentially prevents any credit checks from running. The alert requires a business to contact you and verify your identity before running credit. Both will prevent scammers from taking out loans in your name.
5. Document Everything
Whether it’s for connecting with your bank, law enforcement, credit bureaus, etc., write everything down as it happened. The more information you can provide to the authorities to investigate the matter, the better chance you have at successfully recovering anything you have lost.
Tips for Better Security
The best thing you can do is not to be scammed at all and while it’s not completely avoidable, there are immediate steps you can take to mitigate future risks. The best part is that at least some of these will work even if a scammer has access to basic info like your email, name, phone number, etc.
1. Set Up Two-Factor Authentication
Broadly speaking, almost every online service like Gmail or banking will offer 2FA as an added security option as it’s one of the most recommended methods to protect against online scams. 2FA is an extra layer of verification that’s required after entering your password. It might come in the form of a PIN code texted to your phone or through a code authentication app like Google Authenticator.
2. Use a Strong Password/Password Manager
Changing your passwords whether you have been scammed or even if you think you could have been a scammed is a great step. The best case solution is to use a password manager to help generate random passwords that would take years to hack.
3. Block Unknown Callers
Modern smartphones include a feature to prevent unknown callers from getting through. This filter prevents spam calls from even reaching you.
On your Android phone, open the Phone app and go to its “Settings → Blocked number.” Enable the toggle next to “Unknown.”
On iPhone, you can silence the unknown callers by going to “Settings → Phone → Silence unknown callers.” These calls will be silenced and go straight to voicemail.
Don’t worry about missing legitimate calls – if it is important, they’ll leave a voicemail or send you a text message.
4. Audit Your Social Media Account Privacy Setting
When companies ask you to set up security questions, it’s often limited to questions like your first street, first school, mother’s maiden name, favorite movie, etc. These questions are basic and the answers can easily be discovered via social engineering.
Check that the information shared on social media isn’t publicly available. Perform an audit on your privacy settings on whatever social media platform you’re on to make sure that only the intended audience can view your updates.
No matter how you or someone you know has been scammed, it’s an awful and emotional feeling. Never mind the potential monetary concerns, it can take a toll on your mental health. Know that friends and family will (hopefully) support you and if nothing else, be there to talk to and help you remember that you can move on from something as awful as being scammed.
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