Would you be able to recognize an online scam if you saw one? Most of us would like to think that we could identify a fraudster in our inbox, but unfortunately, that’s not always the case.
The truth is that scammers are getting smarter. Every time a scam is exposed, a new, more sophisticated one comes along, which means that web users have to constantly be on alert.
So how can we learn to spot them if they’re designed to be subtle and innocuous?
Many online frauds play on people’s emotions. This is recognizable in even the earliest of internet scams like the ‘Nigerian prince’ email scam, which hinged on a heartfelt plea to help a disenfranchised Nigerian royal regain his wealth. According to Psychology Today, the reason that online scams are still so successful is that they prey on our ‘emotional vulnerabilities.’
The people who are most likely to fall victim to online scams are those who are trusting, sympathetic, and usually don’t know any better. In short, they’re ‘easy targets.’ And unfortunately, all-too-often it’s seniors who fall prey because they simply aren’t familiar with the ins and outs of internet fraud.
However, it’s not just older folks who can be had by online scams. With these schemes getting smarter, almost anyone can be duped. All it takes is a momentary lapse in judgment or clicking a link out of pure habit.
Phishing or ‘data mining’ scams often come in the guise of emails or text messages. They will attempt to steal your private information like your bank account numbers, passwords, or Social Security details. Sometimes it’s easy to recognize them – like the ones with garbled text, poor grammar, and suspicious-looking links. But others are far more insidious because they pretend to come from sites and/or people you know and trust. Some phishers put a lot of effort into crafting an email that looks legitimate, down to logos and formatting.
Once you know how to identify phishing scams, you’ll be better equipped to recognize an attempt to scam you. But here’s where that article about ‘emotional vulnerabilities’ comes back in: many phishing scams will play on fear and uncertainty and will often attempt to force you into making a hasty decision.
Scams that require ‘immediate action’ can sometimes frighten people into making bad decisions. Things like hacked accounts, expired information, or compromised credit cards can make people jump to attention, subsequently making them more vulnerable to being scammed. It’s very human to have poor judgment when we’re scared… and unfortunately, that’s what many scammers rely on.
But it’s not the end of the world if you make a mistake. The important thing is that you educate yourself on the dangers of online fraud and familiarize yourself with the tricks of the trade. After that, you just need to stay sharp and alert—and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you suspect a scam.
To learn more about phishing scams, as well as many other online threats, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s online security web page at consumer.ftc.gov/topics/online-security