Internet Scams/Fraud

There is the saying that “whatever has an advantage must have a disadvantage as well” and this is the case of the concept that I will be intimating you on “Internet Scam”. The world is a global village with an evolving trend in technology. All these efforts have actually been geared to make life better for the ever-increasing population. There is no doubt that the advantages of the internet cannot be overemphasized but it is also pertinent to point out that the disadvantages are also overwhelming as well.

Most people are quite familiar with some of these advantages and that’s ok. The purpose of this post is actually to educate you on the demerit that accompanies the use of the internet. Believe me when I say that the disadvantages are quite enormous and the fact that the world is gradually advancing into a stage where we can actually not do without the internet is the reason why you should take your time to read this because you know that you will definitely use the internet. So the big question is what is internet scam or fraud?

Internet” and “scam” or “fraud” whichever way it is used means the same thing. The internet here provides the access while scam in this context is the activity which I will be telling you about. Internet fraud is basically the use of the internet or any tool (it might be an application) that requires an internet connection to deceive people. If you have read my previous post on how to make money online as a freelancer, you would have a little insight on how the internet provides access to the world even from the comfort of your living room. The same goes for internet scams. There are various ways people get scammed and this is very important for us to know as you do not have to wait until it actually happens to you.

Common online scams

Phishing scams

Internet scams do not just happen when you are using your computer or mobile phone, you get exposed once you get connected to the world. Imagine actually being connected to the world! Literally, that’s several billions of people with various backgrounds and intentions and this is the real problem. You get connected to the internet to check your email and you receive an email from your bank or Credit Card Company or delivery company and it looks so real. Notice that I said “your credit card company” for example, now that’s because that’s the idea behind phishing email. The scammers send you an email that looks like the real one you have been getting from your credit card company or bank as the case may be. Now, these guys are pro and they already have generic proposals they send out to the millions of people on their mailing list which means if one does not get to you then another just might work. Let’s look at a typical example, you receive an email saying that you are required to do some data verification with your bank following an upgrade in their systems. Now, this will definitely get your attention at first and then the next step is actually a life-determining one. Now let’s say you choose to ignore the message completely, it could actually be legitimate and your bank account gets blocked (but that’s not what we are looking at). Let’s say you actually respond to the email saying that you have actually verified your account or you haven’t, most likely, you will be asked to provide your bank details, credit card number and all the necessary information. Now once they have this information, they have access to your funds and you know what that means. What then do you need to do or how can you identify a phishing email? Here are some useful tips for you.

1. Open your eyes: Well, it’s not just enough for you to open your eyes but for you to actually see what is expected of you. Like I did mention, most phishing emails or websites are identical to the original ones. However, there are always errors or ways to identify them.

Somehow, I receive several of these kinds of emails daily and I just decided to use one of them as an example. To start with, the moment I saw this I already knew it was a scam and you know why? I do not have an account with the said bank in the first place. Now, the same is applicable to anyone reading this post. The message might come from eBay or Amazon or a lottery company asking you to take part in a survey or that you have won a lottery. It could also be from a credit card company saying that there was an unauthorized access in your account among others. Irrespective of how genuine the email or website might look, you already know you have no account on eBay or Amazon or the said credit card company so that should give you heads up. How can you win a lottery when you did not even participate in any lottery competition in the first place? These are possible questions that you should ask yourself and by the time you pause and answer these questions, you are actually closer to avoiding a phishing scam. Looking further at this particular email takes us to another way of identifying a phishing scam.

2. Check the web address: Checking the web address in this context is not for you to actually click on the link. Clicking on the link is, in reality, one of the overall essence of sending you the phishing email in the first place and once you click on it, you are one step closer to being trapped in the hornets’ nest. The first thing you should do is to move your mouse over to the link. This is actually something I would want all readers of this post to actually practice and see for themselves. Pick one of your emails from a verified source, move your mouse over to the attached link and you would notice that the web address is corresponding with that of the company’s at the bottom left of your screen. On the other hand, moving my mouse over to the attached link in this example, I noticed that the link appearing is actually looking weird and it’s likely going to take me to an entirely different website, so in such cases, all you have to do is look but don’t click.

3. Be analytical: Most phishing emails as I have already mentioned are generic. Obviously, the scammers do not have all the information about you and as such, the message is always vague. As a matter of fact, go through all the emails you have received from your bank or credit card company or any company you actually have an account with, you will notice that they actually address you by your name for example, “Dear Wesley Jones” and not something like “Dear Valued Customer”. Take a look at the example below!

In this section, I am imploring all readers to be analytical, to open their eyes before they  as you might just be one click away from doom. To start with, I remember that I did send Payoneer an email and I actually do have a Payoneer account which actually arouses my interest the moment I received the email. Then take a look at the email address, it is legit, unlike the first example where the email is just gibberish. Furthermore, the customer was addressed personally “Dear Chijioke Nwuga” and not vaguely as “Dear Valued Customer”. Also, always look out for spelling errors as this is very common among all phishing scams.

Are there other sources of phishing scams?

Yes, there are. So far, you would notice that a lot of emphasis as regards phishing scams has been directed towards emails and invariably websites. Now that’s because this medium actually accounts for a greater percentage of such incidence. Phishing scams could also come in terms of bulk SMS, instant messaging and any other means of communication all looking like the real deal. Naturally, the message is actually to catch your attention. Always embedded in the message (whichever means used) is an accompanying link to a website which is where you will be required to provide confidential information. Having already mentioned the ways to identify such, I believe you have not wasted any time reading this post as I am confident that you wouldn’t fall victim to phishing scams whichever form it might take.

Malware/Scareware

Scammers are always looking for new means to get victims and this is one of such new inventions. There are numerous softwares out there that propose some imaginary benefits to help fix your computer or mobile phones. Now, this is where malware and scareware fall in. The activities of these installed softwares could vary depending on the intention of the scammer. For some, they function in such a way that they deviate from the conventional purpose that softwares render, rather, they gain access to your entire computer thereby granting the scammers some level of access. I am not saying that you shouldn’t install softwares but I am saying that one has to be mindful of the kind of softwares we install. Most malwares/Scarewares are installed from websites or email attachments. It’sparticularly funny how these scammers send the messages. In most cases, you will see a pop-up on your screen while on a particular website telling you that your computer has serious problems that needs immediate attention and all you have to do to get it fixed is to click the link and install the software. Now, this is actually convincing as we all need our computers to function properly. Once the software is installed, then we are exposed to the scammers who created such software. It is very important for me to point out the fact that most pop-ups actually occur in non-secured sites. Now it is easy for me to tell you to only get softwares from secured sites or to install only verified softwares but then, saying that you will not visit some unsecured sites is not entirely feasible so the essence of this post is to give you insight on what to expect and how to go about it. Its is also very important for me to mention that malwares/scarewares do not just come from pop-ups. There are several other means of exposing your computer to malwares/scarewares and I will briefly discuss a few of them.

File Sharing programs and networks

There are numerous file sharing programs and networks available like Tunnel vision, P2P file sharing, public sharing among others. Irrespective of the technique used, this actually exposes your system to potential hackers during the file sharing process. With particular emphasis on P2P, most of it has been designed to automatically allow other P2P users on the same network to have access to a shared directory on the computer. You could have thousands if not millions on this network thus leaving you vulnerable.

Warez

Is a generic name commonly used for pirated softwares distributed all over the internet. In this case, I would say that we are actually the cause of our problems as we chose to install such softwares that violate copyright laws probably because we do not want to pay for the real products or we want a cheaper price. Most scammers create websites with fake “cracks” and “keygens” that have been specially designed to grant them access to confidential information once you install their softwares so now that you know the dangers of such, I would advise you desist from such.

Other notable sources of malwares/scarewares include the use of unpatched operating systems and programs, installing rogue security applications, free games, and more importantly me and you. The choices we make, the sites we visit, the games and softwares we chose to install among other activities best know to our individual selves will go a long way to determine how easily we fall prey to these activities.

Advance fee fraud

Literally, advance fee fraud just as the name implies is when the victim is convinced to pay a certain amount of money to a total stranger in anticipation of a proposed goods or services by the scammer. Irrespective of the format it may take or how the scammer may decide to convince the potential victim, it all boils down to the fact that you will be required to actually make some advance payments first before you will get the proposed service. The most annoying aspect of the advance fraud fee is that it does not just stop at the first payment. Once you fall victim to the first payment, the scammer comes up with an excuse requesting you to send more money. This goes on and on until you either run out of funds or regain your senses and by this time it is already too late. Somehow, one country sits on the very top of this type of scamming and that is Nigeria. The advance fee fraud is commonly referred to as “Nigerian Letter” where the country happens to be the origin. In addition, it is also commonly referred to as 419 which was coined out from the section of her constitution that has made provision to punish offenders. A typical “Nigerian Letter” describes a scenario where the scammer claims to have either a very large sum of money in a local bank and needs help transferring the money to an account outside the country. Now, most times the scammers claim that the money actually belongs to another person who is possibly dead or for some reason can no longer access it or is being persecuted among other reasons. All that is expected from you is to provide your account and help them transfer this money after which you will receive a certain percentage. Now by the time you put the pieces together, you will actually begin to reason in line with the story and this is actually where the real problem starts. The moment you indicate interest, the scammer then tells you that there is a challenge and that the victim should send some money to help resolve the challenge so the money can be transferred. Notice that the process is like a cycle. There has to be something valuable or a huge amount of money, there must be a problem and finally you must be requested to send an advance fee to resolve the problem. This problem never ends like I already mentioned and it only ends when you realize that you are being scammed and eventually, the victim might have lost a lot of money in the process so this post is meant to educate and 8prepare you for such contingencies. While so many fingers point to Nigeria as a top player in this type of scam, it is not limited to Nigeria or Africa alone, countries like Russia, the US, Malaysia, China among others have also been in the spotlight.

IMPERSONATION

Social media impersonation scam (hijacked profile scam)

Social media presents a platform for communication with very few restrictions. It is actually difficult to find any person who does not belong to one social media or the other. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, snap chat and much more are some of the most popular social media that is home to several billions of active users including top celebrities and corporate organizations. What better place for scammers to scavenge for potential victims? Lately, there have been series of incidence on social media platforms where in most victims deny posting such comments or claim that their accounts have been hacked. In cases where these accounts have been hacked, most of the victims might have been contacted to pay a certain amount of money after which the scammers might still go ahead to release sensitive posts in the name of the victims. Have you tried searching for one of your favourite celebrities on any social media? I bet you would be confused as to which profile is actually real. With particular emphasis on Facebook which is currently the most popular social media network in the world, what better way to reach out to people than just sharing a post on a platform with over 2 billion people? How do scammers take advantage of this? Imagine a scenario where someone sends you a friend request, you accept it and afterwards nothing happens. The person then takes time to save your pictures, get your profile information that is visible or even get more from you via chat, get a list of your friends (most likely the very important ones from his/her personal observations) and afterwards, the person blocks you and this is where the impersonation begins. After creating an identical profile using all the information he already has about you, the next step is to send friend requests to all the friends on your list. Typically, they send generic messages to some of them telling them that you are in some kind of trouble and that you really need their help. Off course, you need money to get out of your current situation and this is how they loot your real friends of their money in your name. This can be very damaging and the same process goes when it involves a corporate organization as well wherein the person can impersonate a top official in an organization and scam the organization. I would like to conclude this section by reiterating the fact that we need to up our game as individuals to avoid being scammed. Imagine receiving a friend request from someone you already have as a friend! You should pause for a moment and ensure you even contact the person to find out if he/she is actually sending you the friend request. Now, when you do this, it might actually go a long way in saving a lot of damages as the person whose account is being impersonated will easily inform all his friends about the situation n ground before trying to find a solution to the problem.

Spamming

Certain keywords come into mind when we talk about spam.. Email messages, unknown senders, bulk. Putting this together, spamming is the act of sending unwanted messages to a number of persons at a time, possibly up to thousands, with the common purpose of advertising products to potential clients or impersonating a businessperson. Now, I have to point out that not every email that you did not ask for is a spam. Spamming can also be in the form of irritation by choosing an email address and sending the owner of that address multiple emails per second. Spam messages which are usually unsystematic and untargeted may be targeted to a group of people.

Spammers, for example, might acquire a new list of email addresses to which they can send several numbers of attractive offers. The identity thieves could utilize the email addresses to send messages that were duplicated email from sites like Amazon, eBay, PayPal, Yahoo, Apple which read thus:”your account has been blocked, visit this link to unlock it or your account will be suspended!” Sounds similar? It should as we have discussed something similar when I talked about phishing emails. Now you see why you should take your time to actually read through this post. Such message might prompt the receiver to visit the site and disclose their personal information like their social media login details, ATM cards information and lots more. With your knowledge on phishing emails and how to identify them, I am very confident that you wouldn’t have any problem identifying and discarding a spam.

Other forms of online fraud

Empty Victim’s Bank

Cybercriminals need a password, credit card or Social Security number before they can steal people’s identities or commit credit card fraud.They, therefore, send more phishing emails or distribute malware via email for them to obtain more sensitive data from your system. Some malware may install key-logging software which records usernames and passwords anytime you access accounts online. If one of those links is for a bank account, cybercriminals can speedily empty the account.

Make Online Purchase

If a hacker knows your passwords, your accounts could be compromised. With both hijacked user names and stolen passwords, the hacker could go online—at any time—to impersonate you digitally and use your credit accounts for illegal purchases.

CASE STUDIES

CASE 1:Some cyber criminals claims the name of a reputable company or a famous business man to scam people. Here, the scammer creates a fake social media accounts on a site like Facebook, naira land and claim to be providing services the individual or company they are impersonating does.

HOW TO IDENTIFY THEM: The scammers lacks credible online presence. You don’t expect the popular service provider to have 1-3 months old social media account. If the scammer passes this test, he can only use the bulk SMS platform to clone a service provider number and send some messages to you. They find it difficult to call you with the primary service provider phone number.

HOW TO AVOID THEM:

Request for the service provider details on popular and well recognized online forums. Create a thread on those forums to confirm the validity of the number that contacted you e.g., IS THIS XYZ SERVICES REAL PHONE NUMBER “23480XXXXXXXX, PLEASE CALL ME WITH YOUR ORIGINAL NUMBER”. Also, If the number is confirmed to be true, Then place a call instead of waiting for the person’s call.

CASE STUDY 2: (ESCROWSERVICES): A Seller may suggest a fake escrow site to the Buyer, to assure him/her that the service is safe. This action builds more trust and makes customer engage in the transaction without further argument.The scammer receives the money, and the buyer will never receive anything.

IDENTIFYING THEM: Fraudulent Sellers have multiple fake escrow sites. If a suspicious Buyer doubted the seller actions and rejected to use the particular site, the Seller may appreciate such Buyer for identifying the fake site and will further recommend a different fraudulent site.

HOW TO AVOID THEM:

Always use reliable escrow sites for your online transactions. Or be patient to search for trusted escrow platforms.
You recommend an Escrow platform , don’t use the Escrow platforms untrusted recommends to you

CASE STUDY 3:The fraudster pretends to be calling from one of the companies that have your money with them. An example includes bitcoins, e-currency sites, yourbank, etc.They primarily urge you to verify your number. Some scammers may notify you of an account issue and advised you to verify your account details. Don’t mind them; they only want to acquire your account number and PIN or password.

SOLUTION

No company will request such sensitive information and will ever call to confirm it by phone or email. Having mentioned escrow briefly in my case studies, it is very important for me to shed more light on what it means and why it is very important for you to ensure that all your transactions over the internet are done on reliable escrow platforms.

Other common internet scams

Scammers globally are coming up with new techniques every day. Now, this means that just because you didn’t fall victim to yesterday’s scammer does not mean you are safe from tomorrows. This evolution has given birth to series of possible ways which cannot be discussed in one post. However, I want to point out to the fact that whichever form it may take, it still boils down to your understanding of their mode of operation, the basic principle that surrounds how scamming works. Once you have this understanding, then it is very unlikely that you fall victim to any form of scam and this is what this post hopes to achieve. Other forms of scamming include:

Lottery winning scams; Boiler rooms or pump and dump; dating fraud; face-to-face fraud; job fraud; pharming; vishing fraud and much more.

How to avoid being scammed.

Some people believe that greed is a prerequisite to scamming. Well somehow that’s true especially with respect to some types of scams like the advance fee fraud. However, I also believe that scamming entails a lot of hard work from the scammers who take their time to draft messages or create softwares or websites as the case may be. Also, they are actually very smart and it is expected that for you to win this battle, you have to be two steps ahead. Looking at the analogy I used in the phishing scam, the scammer just sent a generic email to millions or people without any special details that your real bank or credit card company would send to you. Most times, they do not even know your bank or some other vital information that they are expected to know if they are actually real.

Now, this is how you detect that they are scammers. Notice that the most frequent and prominent forms of scamming first starts with you accessing the internet. Try as much as you can to always visit secured sites and if need be that you have to visit an unsecured site, it is important that you have a good internet security, ensure that your browser has been set to prevent automatic pop-ups, try as much as possible to contact appropriate authorities in cases of phishing emails and very importantly, most people fall victim to scammers (particularly advance fee fraud) because they refuse to share the information with others as they feel they want to make the money alone. Talking about secured sites and secured financial transactions online, one name often rings a bell and that’s escrow.

Escrow

What is escrow and how does it work? This is a million dollar question that anyone involved in financial transactions over the internet should get acquainted with. In clear terms, it simply has to do with the buyer, the seller and an intermediary or middleman who will have to mediate between the buyer and the seller. Technically, escrow is a third party that serves as an intermediary and regulates payment between two parties involved in a business deal.

How does it work?

The first step is that both parties must agree to the terms they have chosen to set for their transaction upon registering at escrow. Afterwards, the buyer releases the payment using an approved payment method to a secure escrow account. Once the payment is verified, the seller then receives a notification that the funds have been received and secured. Consequently, the seller is then expected to release the goods or services as indicated in the agreed terms with the buyer and submit the tracking information a well. This will enable the third party know when the buyer receives the goods and/or services. Once the buyer accepts the merchandise, the funds will then be released to the seller and everyone is happy. So many top sites e.g ebay.com, amazon.com, fiverr.com, upwork.com, localbitcoins.com, remitano.com Adopt this method. Our company will soon launch her own escrow site soon as well. Now, this is actually as simple as I just explained but the major challenge here is how then do we identify a fake escrow site? This has become imperative as most scammers have also evolved in their techniques and lately, people have been scammed using fake escrow sites.

To start with, always be in charge. Do not allow the seller to talk you into using a particular escrow service. You already know the real deal so you should be the one suggesting the payment platform and not the other way round. Once the seller or buyer (whichever the case may be) directs you to a particular escrow account, it is very important to scrutinize it properly. Having a website, in some cases even secured websites is not enough reason to affirm that a site is legitimate. There are other means of identifying a fake escrow site. Always watch out for copycat sites like Simple-Escrow.net, WhyEscrow.com and much more. Run away from super deals, these are deals that appear too good to be true like. Some of these scammers carry out auctions, selling products at very cheap prices just to get your attention and eventually demanding for payments afterwards in a fake escrow platform. This is actually part of the plan to get your attention and once you fall prey, getting you to make payment is just one step away. Always feel free to contact customer care, ask questions if you have little information about something, look out for something out of the ordinary, grammatical errors and much more.

In all, there is no doubt that there will always be victims of scamming but it is important not to be beaten twice. The essence of this post is to actually educate you on what the concept of scamming it, the various ways you can be a victim and how not to get scammed. Personally, when I receive funny calls or messages, I get more information using apps like true caller to get the name and some other information about the caller. Also, some sites have been dedicated to identifying scammers, their names, bank information, preferred generic phishing emails among others and one of such is http://tabbazportal.com/ . The site is committed not just to educate her readers but to also help them identify these perpetrators. The list keeps getting longer each day but we are committed to keeping you updated. We also aim to launch our escrow website soon.

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