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Your Digital Self: These online scams to steal your money will shock you — even if you think you’ve seen them all

New types of internet fraud are finding victims every day. Here's what to watch out for. Read More...

Online scammers have an old bag of tricks, but they are also trying to come up with innovative methods to cheat people out of their money and personal information.

Even if you are well-informed about online privacy, you should review the following list of insidious schemes you should keep a lookout for.

1. Employment-related scams

Even with unemployment low, you might find it difficult to find a job that is the right fit for your skills, experience and other factors, such as location. It is easy to feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle. That is why it is especially frustrating when you come across a job that seems like the perfect fit, only to find out it is a scam.

Employment scams can be sneaky and take different forms. From fake job listings to fraudulent hiring practices, it is important to pay attention to any red flags that might indicate you’re dealing with a scammer, including:

  • The employer asks for money: A legitimate employer should not ask you to pay anything to start working. If an employer asks you to pay a fee or to cover the cost of training, it is likely a scam.
  • The employer is difficult to contact or verify: If you are unable to contact the employer easily or verify their identity, it may be a scam.
  • The employer is vague or evasive: If the employer is unwilling to provide details about the job or the company, it could be a sign of a scam.
2. Investment-related scams

Swindlers can create fake investment opportunities to get people to part with their cash. While scams involving virtual currencies have been among the most popular ones in recent years, traditional investing has its own fair share of fraudulent schemes to watch out for. They can be convincing — the scammers will often promise high returns with minimal risk to lure in victims.

If an investment opportunity seems too good to be true, it probably is. Investment-related scams are especially dangerous because they can involve large sums of money which can be hard to recover.

Here ae red flags to watch out for:

  • Pressure to invest right away: Scammers will often try to pressure their victims into investing right away lest they have time to do their own research or to consult with a financial adviser. Be wary of anyone who tries to rush you into making a decision. Take the time to research any investment opportunity thoroughly before committing.
  • Unsolicited offers: Be cautious of any investment opportunities that come out of the blue. Scammers will often use unsolicited emails, calls or social media messages to lure victims.
  • Lack of transparency: Legitimate investment managers will be transparent about their fees, risks and potential rewards. If that is not the case, or the details seem vague or too good to be true, it may be a scam. Be sure to ask for clarification and do your own research before investing.
3. Phishing scams

Phishing scams are a type of online fraud where scammers send fake emails or create fake websites in an attempt to trick people into giving out personal or financial information. If you fall for a phishing scam, your money or identity can be stolen.

Watch out for:

  • Links that don’t match the display text: Scammers will often use a different link than the one displayed. For example, the display text may say “www.legitcompany.com,” but the actual link may be something completely different, such as “www.scammerwebsite.com.” To check the link, hover your mouse over the link (but don’t click on it) and look at the bottom of your browser window to see the actual link.
  • Misspelled URLs: Another tactic that scammers employ to trick people into visiting a fake website is to use a misspelled version of a legitimate URL. For example, they may create a fake website at “www.legitcompnay.com” (notice the misspelling of “company”) in an attempt to convince people they are visiting the legitimate “www.legitcompany.com” website. To stay safe, be sure to check the address of any website you visit, and look for any misspellings or discrepancies. You should also bookmark the websites of companies and organizations you do business with to ensure that you are always visiting the correct website.
  • Suspicious attachments: Phishing scams can sometimes include attached files, that when opened, can install malware on your device or steal your personal information. Be cautious of any emails with attachments that you are not expecting, and don’t click on or download anything from a source you don’t trust.
4. Impostor scams

Impostor scams are a type of fraud where scammers pretend to be someone else in order to trick people into giving them personal or financial information or money. One commonly used tactic is to impersonate a government agency employee. Impostor scammers are often able to use victims’ personal information to make their claims more believable. Here is what you should watch out for to protect yourself:

  • Requests for personal or financial information: Legitimate organizations will generally not ask for sensitive information through phone calls or emails. If you are asked for this type of information, it could be an impostor scam.
  • Demands for immediate payment: Scammers may try to pressure you into making a payment right away, either over the phone or through a wire transfer. They may even threaten legal action if you don’t comply. Needless to say, don’t provide any personal or financial information or make any payments.
  • Phony requests for information from the “IRS.” The Internal Revenue Service doesn’t initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages or social media channels to request personal or financial information.

This isn’t a complete list of illicit schemes — not by a long shot. There’s been an increase in scammers’ use of sophisticated technology and social engineering tactics. For example, they may use artificial intelligence or machine learning to create realistic-sounding phone calls or to generate convincing fake emails and website content.

In addition to technology, scammers may also try to exploit current events or popular trends to make their scams seem more believable. For example, they have preyed on people’s concerns about Covid pandemic to create fake websites selling cures or to send fake emails allegedly from health organizations.

It can be difficult to keep up with all the different types of scams out there, but the most important thing is to stay vigilant and to be aware of the tactics scammers use. By understanding how scams work and knowing what to watch out for, you can protect yourself and your money.

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