The top online scams keep working for one simple reason: they prey on people’s hopes and needs. Some will promise you riches, others will offer the solution to an ongoing problem you might have.
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Internet scams have been around for years, but they are always changing and becoming more sophisticated. If you suspect something might be a scam, the Citizens Advice website recommends using common sense. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Here are four tips on how to avoid the top online scams.
1. Don’t fall for the “it’s free” scam
As one of the top online scams, this type of scam offers you a free product, gift or offer. But – and here’s the catch – to get the freebie you have to do something.
This usually means either sharing personal information or entering your credit card details. They will tell your card will never be charged but, of course, this isn’t true. In some cases, you might be agreeing to monthly charges that are hard to cancel.
Or, if you’re signing up to receive a product, the product never arrives or is nothing like the one you were promised. When in doubt, remember, you can’t win a lottery or a competition you haven’t entered and you should never have to share your financial information to receive something free.
A new form of this scam involves Bitcoin and cryptocurrency. Essentially, you receive an offer to open an account with a virtual wallet or company to invest in cryptocurrency. As a “thank you”, they’ll add some Bitcoin to your account. Of course, you then need to enter your credit card or bank account information to verify the account, giving the scammers access to your money.
2. Make sure you’re on the right website
Fake websites are becoming more and more common. This is one of the top online scams because the websites look legitimate and can easily trick you. Essentially, they are fake copies of real websites. It could be your favourite clothing brand, a travel agency or even a government site.
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They look very similar to the real thing and usually, you can only tell the difference because the URL is similar but not identical to the original site. For example, all government websites should have a ‘.gov.uk’ address. If the website you’re on ends with anything else (even .org) chances are it’s a copycat site.
Copycat sites are created for different reasons. Some are trying to steal your credit card information, while others offer very large (and unrealistic) discounts on products you will never receive after paying for them.
3. Don’t click on links you don’t recognise
Phishing has been a top online scam for a long time. It’s also one of the hardest to detect because it can take many forms. In this scam, you receive a link within an email, SMS or Facebook message. These links can come with all kinds of messages: “update your antivirus by clicking here”, “verify your information”, “you have a message from your bank (click here to read it)”, and more.
When you click on the link, you’re either redirected to a fake website, asked to enter your login/password or urged to install something, which is likely to be malware or spyware that can steal private information.
4. Don’t trust that “you’ve been pre-approved”
Personal loan scams lure consumers who need money and are searching for a loan online. If you’ve been searching for loans and then suddenly receive an email offering you a pre-approved loan, you should be suspicious. In order to get that loan, you have to pay a handling/processing fee upfront. Once you pay, the loan never materialises.
An easy way to identify these scams is the old “if it sounds too good to be true…” approach. Loan scams guarantee approval even before you enter any information, pressure you to act immediately, and often request payment in an unusual way, such as through Western Union or prepaid debit cards. These are all red flags and you should walk away if you encounter them.
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