Online Safety: Spotting and Dealing with Online Scam

Are you able to spot the signs of a scam when you see them? This post explores the common ways scammers approach people, and how you can deal with them.

Scam Alert

Before we start, remember that scammers:

  • try to gain trust by claiming to be from a well-known business or impersonating a known contact
  • will suggest their own verification procedures, like going to websites they have created or calling numbers they provide to you.
  • know how to appeal to your emotions and press your buttons to get what they want.
  • create a sense of urgency to get you to make decisions without thinking.

Here are some of the ways scammers approach people, and how you can deal with them:

1. Phishing scam: Bank SMS

You receive a new SMS from your bank. After looking at it closely, you realise that although the previous SMS was real, the new SMS is a scam. It is very common nowadays, especially with the proliferation of Mobile Money services. Here are signs to detect a fake bank alert:

  • Check if the sender is your bank. This is the very first thing you have to verify. Master the address or name your bank use regularly to send messages to you. Scammers may use a similar name. Always make sure the new SMS proceeds previous ones.
  • With Mobile Money services, every new alert should show sender at the top of your message screen as MobileMoney or Orange Money, for example. Always master the name of your service provider.
    Most of these bank alert messages do not have reply tabs or options in the messaging app that can permit you to write a reply. Fake ones do.
  • Scammers can make messages look real. Even if you’ve previously received legitimate SMS messages from the same number, don’t assume all following messages are real. Scammers can ‘spoof’ real phone numbers or email addresses, to make it appear that they come from your actual bank or another legitimate contact.
  • It’s different in style from the first SMS. Scammers are likely to address SMS and ask you to log into your account, and provides links that could lead to potentially malicious websites. Know your bank web address.
  • It’s not secure. Legitimate sites containing sensitive information will use https not http, but don’t rely on this alone — some scam sites use https too. So make sure you browse bank websites or enter sensitive information on secure websites only.
  • It has a sense of urgency. Scams often try to create a sense of urgency. Don’t rush — take the time to think about what the message is telling you to do and consider whether it’s real.

2. Online shopping scam

There are countless fake or scam e-commerce sites and social media handles today. Knowing the real ones is very necessary. Here are ways to detect fake e-commerce sites or offers:

  • It’s not secure. When online shopping, always look for the https (not http) and the padlock icon in the address bar to ensure there’s a secure connection between you and the website. Don’t rely on this alone, as some scam websites use https too.
  • It has a sense of urgency. Scammers try to create a sense of urgency to encourage you to do something quickly. Don’t rush — take the time to do your research and consider whether a website is real.
  • The deal is too good to be true. The price might be enticing, but remember that scams often present offers that really are too good to be true. Be careful with too good offers.
  • It’s using a non-secure payment method. Think about how they’re asking you to pay. Scammers often ask you to pay by non-secure payment methods such as wire, bank or international funds transfers, money orders, pre-loaded gift cards, and cryptocurrency like Bitcoin. These methods are difficult to track and it’s rare to recover money sent this way. Always look for secure payment options such as PayPal or credit card, Mobile Money, etc.

3. Classified scam

Puppy

Scammers have the tendency to sell things that are generally in high demand and difficult to get. They take advantage of this and make offers to vulnerable people. Here are ways to detect classified online scams. We will use the case of a puppy as example:

  • There’s no evidence of the puppy. Puppy scammers often steal photos from legitimate breeders’ websites and post them on their own. Use image search services such as Google or TinEye to do a reverse-image search to find out if a picture has been posted elsewhere on the internet. Never trust photos alone — always ask to see the puppy in person and, if that’s not possible, ask for additional photos and videos.
  • It’s too good to be true. The price might be enticing, but remember that scams often present offers that really are too good to be true.
  • There are other up-front costs to consider. Puppy scammers often claim that they live or have moved interstate or overseas, so you’ll need to pay extra costs like transport, insurance or customs costs. Local pickup will usually not appear as an option.
  • The payment method is not secure. Think about how they’re asking you to pay. Scammers often ask you to pay by non-secure payment methods. It’s rare to recover money sent this way. Always look for secure payment options.

4. Email Scam

It is very common today to receive scam mails advertising very special offers. It is very recurrent even on social media.

A Scam Mail

Here are some ways to detect scam mails:

  • You can’t confirm who it’s from. Scammers often use email addresses that are similar to a real email address. Check that the sender’s email address is the real one. Companies or businesses generally do not use personal addresses to send messages to customers.
  • It has a sense of urgency. Scammers try to create a sense of urgency to encourage you to do something quickly without thinking it through or checking that it’s genuine. Don’t rush — take the time to consider and check whether an email is real.
  • Some things have changed. Business email compromise scammers will try to divert payments to their own bank accounts. Always verify changes to payment details directly with the recipient, using known and trusted contact details. Don’t use a payment method you do not previously use. If there is change in address, be sure to confirm from the source.

Take note: Know what to look for

It’s easier to spot a scam if you know what you are looking for. Remember to be careful if someone:

  • you don’t know contacts you out of the blue
  • you’ve never met in person asks for money
  • asks you to pay for something or to give them money through unusual payment methods such as gift cards, wire transfers or cryptocurrencies
  • asks you to pay for something in advance — especially through an unusual payment method
  • asks you for personal information, like your bank details or passwords, or access to your computer
  • pressures you into buying something or making a decision quickly
  • offers you something that sounds too good to be true — like an online shopping deal, a prize for winning a competition, an unclaimed inheritance or an invitation to invest in an ‘amazing’ scheme.

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Njofie Alain

Alain is a tech enthusiast who loves exploring digital tools and platforms. His extensive work in the digital field has set him apart as one of the top digital marketing experts in Cameroon and Africa. He has exceptional copywriting and web development skills. He is Co-Founder and COO of Afritech Academy and loves writing about interesting topics in tech.