Advancements in technology have created opportunities for people and businesses to connect, transact, and operate efficiently. Unfortunately, these advancements have also given online scammers more opportunities to steal personal and private information. Sophisticated phishing scams can be a threat to individuals and businesses alike, potentially jeopardizing sensitive data, financial security, and company reputations.
For businesses, the stakes are high when it comes to protecting sensitive data, especially if you collect and store customer information. Unauthorized access can result in unlawful transactions, loss of funds, and damage to the financial health of your company. This damage can go much further, as breakdown of trust in your business could lead to a diminished brand and steep decline in sales.
To keep your personal, business, and customer data safe, you’ll want to adopt tight security measures and establish best practices for your employees.
Common online scams
Online scams are evolving just as fast as technology, making it crucial for individuals and businesses to stay informed to protect themselves. Here are the most common types of scams you might encounter online.
Phishing emails and texts
Scammers usually send emails or text messages that appear to be from legitimate organizations, requesting you to provide personal information such as usernames, passwords, or credit card details.
Spoofing sites are fraudulent websites that mimic popular e-commerce sites, banking portals, or social media platforms with the intention of tricking you into sharing your credentials or making payments for products or services that do not exist.
Online shopping scams
Scammers may also try to trick you with enticing deals, counterfeit products, or fake online marketplaces to make purchases from fraudulent websites or sellers that never deliver what you ordered.
These types of online scams can include fake initial coin offerings (ICOs), Ponzi schemes, phishing attacks targeting cryptocurrency wallets or exchanges, and fraudulent investment opportunities that promise high returns but never pan out.
Warning signs of online scammers
With all the different types of online scams, it’s important to remain vigilant and stay aware of the red flags. Here’s what to look for so you can avoid falling victim to an online scam.
- Claiming to represent a trusted organization – Online scammers often impersonate banks, well-known companies, or trusted government agencies like the IRS. They use official logos, email templates, and even phone numbers to make their communication appear legitimate.
- Unofficial email accounts – Legitimate organizations always use official email accounts associated with their domain names. Be wary if you receive emails from services like Gmail, Outlook, or Yahoo.
- Threat of legal action – Scammers often create a sense of urgency and panic by threatening legal action if you don’t comply with their demands. Legitimate organizations don’t use aggressive tactics or threaten legal action via unsolicited communications.
- Unsolicited requests for sensitive info – Be cautious if you receive unsolicited emails, texts, or calls requesting sensitive information like your Social Security number, bank account details, or passwords. Legitimate organizations, especially your bank, will not request sensitive information randomly.
- Deal or offer that’s “too good to be true” – Scammers try to entice victims with offers or deals that seem lucrative or unrealistically generous. If the offer appears too good to be true, it probably is.
- Prize you just found out about – If you receive a notification claiming you won a prize or lottery that you never entered or heard of, you should be skeptical. This is a common tactic to trick you into sharing personal information.
- Require that you use an unusual payment option – Be careful if a seller or service provider insists on using unconventional payment methods like wire transfers, prepaid debit cards, or cryptocurrencies. Scammers prefer these methods because they are difficult to trace or recover.
- Spelling and grammar mistakes – Pay attention to the quality of the communication as scammers often make spelling and grammar mistakes in their emails, messages, or websites.
- Ask you to click a suspicious link or download an attachment – Online scammers may attempt to trick you into clicking on malicious links or downloading sketchy attachments, leading to malware infections or phishing attempts.
- No contact info on website – Be skeptical if a website lacks contact information or provides vague or incomplete details. Legitimate websites usually provide clear and easily accessible contact information.
How to tell if a website is legitimate
The increasing popularity of spoofing sites has made it difficult to tell which websites are real and which are scams. To prevent yourself from sharing private information with a spoofing site, here are some ways to tell if a site is legitimate.
- URL includes “https” and web address is spelled correctly – Make sure the website’s URL begins with “https” instead of “http.” The “s” means the website has an SSL certificate, which encrypts data transmitted between your browser and the site to enhance security. Also, pay attention to the spelling of the web address and watch out for common tricks, like replacing letters with numbers (e.g., replacing “O” with “0”).
- URL includes correct domain extension – Familiarize yourself with the domain extensions (.com, .net, and .org) used by the websites you trust. Online scammers may create spoofing sites with similar-looking URLs but different extensions. For example, they could create a spoofing site with your bank URL but use .net instead of .com.
- Home page doesn’t include excessive spelling and grammar errors – Legitimate websites maintain a certain level of professionalism. Excessive spelling and grammar errors may indicate a lack of credibility.
- Check the contact page for contact info – Most legitimate websites include a physical address, phone number, and email address. Verify the contact information by searching for it separately or cross-referencing it with other trusted sources.
- Check the brand’s social media – When businesses are legitimate, they often have a social media presence with a significant number of followers, user engagement, and consistent activity. Their website should feature links to these social media accounts.
- Look for reviews about the business – Check popular review platforms, forums, or social media sites to gauge the experiences of other users. Don’t rely solely on reviews, as scammers may fabricate positive reviews to appear legitimate.
Being able to identify scammers online is an essential skill in today’s digital landscape. By remaining vigilant, questioning suspicious communication, verifying the credibility of websites and platforms, and staying informed about common scam techniques, businesses can navigate the digital world with greater confidence and minimize the risk of jeopardizing sensitive data.