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(also con)

Scam definition

A scam is an umbrella term for any fraudulent activity designed to trick money, favors, or personal information out of victims. The scammer pretends to be someone the victim trusts to deflect suspicion and trick them into the desired action. As such, scams are a form of social engineering.

Real scam examples

  • Phishing scams: In an email or text message, the scammer poses as the victim’s acquaintance or service provider to get them to click on a malicious link or infected attachment.
  • Tech support scams: The scammer pretends to be an IT specialist investigating a “bug” (in reality a simple quirk of the operating system) and asks for the victim’s password to fix the problem remotely.
  • Online dating scams: The scammer makes the victim think they’re in an online relationship (whether on dating sites or social media) and asks them for gifts, favors, or money.
  • Advance fee fraud: The scammer convinces the victim to pay for a service that will never materialize, like a loan or a career opportunity.

Stopping a scam

  • Learn about common scams to recognize early warning signs, like misspelled words or sweeping generalizations.
  • Never give passwords remotely — real tech support staff can fix your account without logging in from external sources.
  • If in doubt, end communication — further contact only gives a skilled scammer more opportunities to establish trust or paper over any discrepancies.
  • Independently verify the source of the message — for example, contact the person or company using the information provided on their official website.
  • Check links and files before you click them. Scammers may pretend to be someone you trust to trick you into downloading malware.

Further reading

Ultimate digital security