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What is a scam? And how to avoid becoming a victim

Scams like spam, spoofing, and phishing, are designed by criminals to steal your money, logins, and identity. Here’s how to tell if you’re getting scammed.

Zen Bahar

Zen Bahar

What is a scam? And how to avoid becoming a victim

How does a scam work?

Scams can work in a multitude of ways, but most boil down to stealing money, property, or information. With people spending more time online, criminals have sharpened their tactics. Here are some common scams you should know about.

Different types of scams

Vishing, phishing, pension scams, gift card scams, and crypto fraud are stealing millions from victims each year. Here are 9 common scams you should know about.

Phishing and vishing

Phishing scammers send victims infected links within emails. Once clicked, these links can download spyware onto your device or take you to a fake version of a website. The criminals sending the phishing email might pretend to be from a bank, company, or authority to coax information from you. According to a report by Check Point Research, 52% of all phishing attempts in the first three months of 2022 impersonated LinkedIn.

Vishing scams use phone calls and Voice over IP (VoIP) technology such as Skype and similar platforms. In vishing attacks, scammers pretend to be calling from legitimate companies, banks, or government institutions, or they may pretend to be someone you know.

A real human being may be at the other end of the line, or you might simply receive a voicemail from a spoofed number asking you to call back. Once you do, you’ll hear a robot asking you to enter your details to take you through to an assistant. In reality, you’ll be sending your details straight to a hacker.

Pension scams

US and UK pension scams could steal your pension savings or burden you with a huge tax bill. A pension scammer might contact you out of the blue, either over the phone, by text, or by email. They might:

  • Claim to know about loopholes that can help you get more than the usual 24% of your pension tax-free.
  • Offer a “loan,” “savings advance,” or “cash back,” from your pension.
  • Suggest you put all of your money in a single investment as opposed to spreading it across different schemes. This makes it easier for them to steal a lump sum from you.
  • Say that they’ll help you access your pension before the age of 55. This is only legal if you’re seriously unwell or have a certain type of scheme.
  • Pressure you into making a decision quickly.
  • Only have a mobile phone number or a PO box address as contact details.

Note: If you want to take your pension early, check if there are any penalties. If you have a workplace pension, you might need your employer’s agreement.

Bogus tech support

This bogus tech support scam deserves a mention even though it's categorized under “vishing.”

  • Tech support scams play on our obedience to authority and are so easy to execute that even Apple fell for hackers posing as police.
  • In a bogus tech support scam, a criminal will call a victim and claim to be a customer support agent from a bank, company, or authority.
  • They might tell you that your computer has been infected with several viruses and that they need your password to gain remote access. Once inside, the scammer could install a keylogger onto your device that records every click and keystroke.
  • They could also inform you that your bank account has been used for fraud and that you need to recite your debit card details.

Note: Scammers are now using spoofing methods in port-out scams that mimic legitimate phone numbers. So stay vigilant and remember that companies will never ask for sensitive information over the phone.

Doxxing

Doxxing scammers use computer scams to steal your private information and release it online. It could be your photos, home address, debit card details, place of work, or other private documents. Doxxers may sell pieces of your identity to fraudsters or use them to harass you. They’re able to steal this information from data leaks, by hacking your device, or by stalking you on social media.

Spam

Billions of spam emails are sent every day. Whether it’s a “Sale Now On” or a “Google security alert” scam, or a Google Docs scam message, 94% of spam is contaminated with malware that could steal your details and crash your device.

Spam messages and emails usually contain links that when clicked on, direct you to malicious websites, or install malware onto your device. Your email address or phone number could have been stolen from a company data leak or from a “free” service you signed up for. If you’re concerned, ring the company directly instead of clicking on links within spam.

Advance-fee fraud

Advance-fee scams are when fraudsters convince victims to pay for services that never materialize. Think career opportunity scams, loan scams, clairvoyant scams, or even VPN scams. Before you pay an advance fee, Google the company online first and read reviews about it on independent review websites.

Online dating scams

Your new match could be a con artist, so beware of online dating scams. Online dating scammers will try to establish a relationship as quickly as possible, to gain trust. These scammers may make plans to meet in person but never show up. They might also suddenly propose marriage to enforce the idea that they’re devoted to you.

What is a catfish? Well, the goal of the catfish is usually to coax money from you. So steer clear of anyone on dating apps who needs money from you to solve a problem.

Postal scams

Messages and emails asking you to “reschedule your parcel delivery” were all too common during the pandemic. With many of us surviving via online orders of groceries and other essentials, scammers had fresh targets everywhere.

Never click on links within postal messages or emails. Head to the postal website and enquire there. You should also check the sender's address. Slight misspellings are a big giveaway that you’re being scammed.

Crypto scams

The Federal Trade Commission reports that cryptocurrency scammers have stolen more than $1 billion since 2021. Fake websites and apps as well as pump-and-dump schemes are common ways scammers steal cryptocurrency.

  • Fake websites and apps. Fake cryptocurrency wallet apps can leak your details to scammers. Trading platforms with weak security and privacy can also be hacked and mined for information.
  • Pump-and-dump schemes. Stop and think before you invest in coins or tokens that are suddenly hyped. Fraudsters will make people rush to invest in a coin, drive up the price, and then sell their holdings. Needless to say, this causes a crash, and the asset’s value sharply declines.

How to tell if someone is scamming you

There are 5 ways to tell that you're being scammed. Follow these rules if you’re suspicious of an email, text message, phone call, or letter.

They ask for personal information

Companies and authorities have strict privacy policies in place that prohibit them from asking customers for sensitive information. This includes full phone numbers, bank account details, and logins.

The sender address is weird

If you’ve received a PayPal scam email that is misspelled as “PayPal,” it's probably a scammer. Legitimate companies won’t misspell their name, and this small but powerful giveaway could save you a lot of aggravation.

They prey on your emotions

A professional organization won’t use strange manipulation tactics. It won’t pressure or frighten customers, and it certainly won’t ask you to take immediate action without also contacting you through other channels.

They contact you unexpectedly

Sudden contact about an urgent issue should never be taken at face value. Call the company directly using a number you’re sure is legitimate. And remember not to divulge any confidential information on the phone just to be on the safe side.

Things seem too good to be true

As the old saying goes, if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is. Try not to fall for ridiculously big discounts, gift card scams, or prize giveaways of newly released products. Malvertising could direct you to a false website that is designed to steal any information you input.

How to protect yourself from scammers

Follow these three tips to help protect yourself from scams.

Reduce your online footprint

Try to give as little information about yourself as possible. Use a burner email address for casual signups and online shopping accounts.

Imagine all of the websites you’ve created accounts on and the times you’ve signed up for a free service. Your name, phone number, and email address are all over the internet. Whether your information is leaked from company databases or criminals behind websites, you’re not being as private as you think.

Use your banking app

If a scammer does use your card details to make purchases, your banking app will alert you. Keep an eye on your outgoings by downloading your bank's mobile app. Scammers often take small amounts of money over a longer period.

Use a password manager and a VPN

Your passwords can be stolen from your device, so store them in a password manager. For instance, if your device is infected with spyware or a keylogger, scammers could steal your passwords. Encrypted password managers like NordPass lock your passwords in a secure vault that only you can access. It can also infill them online, saving you from having to memorize them.

A VPN is one of the most useful tools to reduce your online footprint and help stop your information from circling the internet. NordVPN will encrypt your online activity and keep your information private and secure online. With added Threat Protection, now you can even avoid malware and malicious websites. You can use the NordVPN app on laptops, smartphones, tablets, and PCs.

Online security starts with a click.

Stay safe with the world’s leading VPN


Zen Bahar
Zen Bahar Zen Bahar
Zen likes to use her cybersecurity knowledge to help protect the privacy and freedom of others, otherwise, you can find her playing with paints in her studio in London.