How to Deal with Online Scams
Online scams have grown not only in numbers but also in the populations they target and the intricacy of their schemes. Many online scammers impersonate government agencies, charities, and other fraudulent services as a means of stealing money or personally identifiable information (PII) from victims. This can lead to identity theft, harm to reputations, legal trouble, and financial ruin.
As technology grows, online scams become more elaborate, reach more people, and appear much more legitimate. The days of the “Nigerian prince” emails have been replaced by schemes that even the smartest and most tech-savvy people have trouble recognizing. Therefore, it’s essential to understand how to deal with online scams so that you can be prepared for them.
Recognize Online Scams
Online scams can take many forms and they generally appear through email, social media, internet ads, and other web-based content. Here are some common online scams:
- Winning offers: Many online scams appear as offers or advertisements for money or prizes that have been “won.” The scammers hope to gain PII from their victims by encouraging them to provide certain data in order to claim the winnings. No organization is offering “free” money or prizes. Victims of this type of online scam are at risk of identity theft and other fraud.
- Fake charities: Online scammers will impersonate charitable organizations in order to ask for monetary donations or your personal contact information. These scams are especially active after a natural disaster or significant world event such as the Coronavirus. If you wish to donate to a charity, do not respond to an offer through email or social media. Your money will not reach those in need, but rather go to scammers. Instead, seek out and research the authentic organization and then make a donation.
- Online surveys: Some online surveys are legitimate, but most are means of web mining. This means that individuals or corporations are trying to gather as much personal data as possible from responders through social media or targeted online ads. Any access to your PII puts you at risk for theft of such information, so it’s best to ignore online surveys.
- Extortion: A) Some online scammers will impersonate official and even government agencies such as the IRS, Social Security Administration, financial institutions, or collections departments. These scams are dangerous because they use fear and intimidation tactics in order to get money and/or information from victims who are usually members of the senior population.
B) Often, these scams will appear as “official” emails that threaten hefty fines and even legal prosecution if demands for information or payment are not met. It’s essential to understand that government agencies do not conduct any business through email, but rather through the postal service. Therefore, if you receive any threatening messages online from a supposed government agency, it is definitely a scam. You should never respond to such emails or provide any information or monetary payments.
- Catfishing: A) Catfishing is a term describing a particular type of online scam in which someone adopts a false identity online in order to obtain money, information, or other means of support. Catfishing scams generally target people on social media or dating websites. The “catfisher” deceives their target by pretending to be the person they have created in a profile and establishing a relationship with their victim(s).
B) Catfishing victims generally experience abuse and fraud which often leads to emotional and financial distress. In addition, many suffer from psychological trauma as a result of such elaborate deception and false intimacy with a stranger.
Recognizing online scams is the first step in how to deal with them. If you happen to be too late in recognizing an online scam and become a victim of monetary or identity theft, it’s best to follow the procedures recommended by experts in order to restore and repair damage due to internet fraud. In addition, it’s wise to seek emotional and mental support to cope with this violation.
Report Online Scams
Thankfully, there are ways to report online scams. Whether you receive any retribution often depends on the scope of the fraud and how much damage has been done. However, if you have been a victim of an online scam or you recognize one in progress, there are benefits to filing a report.
Here are the steps you should take to report online scams:
- Record as much information as you can about the scam.
- Report everything to your state consumer protection office.
- If you have suffered any monetary loss, report the scam to your local police.
- If advised to do so, report the scam to the federal government.
Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that you will recover any money lost to scammers. In general, any government agency that receives a report of a scam will use it for tracking patterns of fraud or possible legal actions against a known industry perpetrator—not for individual compensation. However, your online scam report may save others from becoming victims.
There are ways to protect yourself from risks and victimization due to online scams. One such protective measure is to recognize online scams when you see them, and never take the bait. Do not ever give or send money, gift cards, or money orders to any online solicitor. Even more importantly, do not ever provide your financial information, PINs, or passwords to anyone online.
In addition to protecting your finances from online scammers, you need to guard your personal information as well. This means that you should never provide anything that is considered PII to anyone online without definitive proof that they are a legitimate entity and require the information. In fact, it’s best to limit the presence of your PII on the internet as much as possible to avoid being targeted by online scammers through your email and/or social media.
Overall, it’s important to remember that if something on the internet appears too good to be true then it is almost definitely false. This applies to any promises of lucrative investments, prize or money offers, and even seemingly perfect online relationships.