The internet (World Wide Web) is surely among the top inventions of the 21st Century. Furthermore, it is probably the most revolutionary, society-altering, and lifestyle-changing technology out of everything we’ve invented so far. In fact, some would say that the internet (as a tool in and of itself) is up there with the inventions of electricity and machines. The internet allows us to communicate, interact, collaborate, and much more across previously unimaginable distances, no matter the time zone or the corner of the world involved. We’ve achieved unprecedented advancements and efficiency as a species thanks to the use of the internet in both every imaginable industry out there, as well as in our personal lives. As long as an unhindered connection to the internet is present, the life-changing experience we can take part in collectively via the internet, and thanks to the boffins and internet communities that continually build the internet, is undeniable. Of course, without us, that is the 4 billion-plus users that are online, the internet would not be what it is today.
On the other hand, to borrow from the adage, with great power (the internet in this case) comes great responsibility. Without sufficient responsibility, that great power also brings with it a dark side that is inevitable there. For instance, the internet is filled with dangerous and sophisticated cybercrime, malicious software, ill-intentioned individuals and groups, and a lot of other shady business that would surprise you. Social engineering, for instance, is a big problem moving on into 2022 and beyond, and as such cybercriminal, social engineering techniques like online scams are very dangerous and have caused enormous real-world damage to people and organizations alike.
Today’s internet is considered to have moved on from the basic, almost two-dimensional internet of yesteryear that is now known as internet 1.0. In an internet 2.0 space that we find ourselves in now, one that is much more interactive, multi-dimensional, and sophisticated, the dangers are greater and more multifaceted. Human error accounts for most cyber-incidents that we encounter today, which includes falling for online scams.
What is an online scam?
Online scams are just like scams in the real world, only that they are orchestrated through virtual channels on the internet. Simply put, online scams leverage popular platforms and services to trick people into giving over their credentials, or other sensitive information, as well as tricking users into paying for goods and services that will not be delivered. Scammers will exploit loopholes and use several schemes most often for financial benefit, other times to harvest some sort of information or even blackmail someone.
Online scams can range from CEO fraud to fraudulent urgent emails claiming an uncle has passed away and now the victim needs to claim the money, to romantic schemes that spark fake relationships. As long as a scammer is creative, the variations of online scams and the possibilities are practically endless.
Scammers can reach victims through a variety of digital channels such as personal or work email, an assortment of apps in various industries, fraudulent websites, even via fraudulent tech support. Some of these online scam schemes can be orchestrated long-term until a relationship is built with the victim and trust is established. In fact, there are entire organizations built around purely scamming people and profiting from that.
The statistics tell an insightful story about the breadth and impact of online scams. According to several consumer protection agencies around the world, online scams are causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage every year, with the U.S. having the largest number of reported frauds regularly. The past two years have seen a surge in online scams, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Social media scammers caused $770 million in losses in 2021, which was reported to the FTC. Over 100,000 users were targeted with social media scams in 2021, and that figure accounts for the 5% of people who do report scams. The other top scams were investment and romance scams.
How to stop an online scam from affecting you
Human error causes around 90% of all cyber-incidents. The remainder is direct cyberattacks caused by an external agent. So what can be done to combat human-error-related online scams and stop them from affecting you, your family, and your friends, for example? We can take a look at a number of FTC suggestions to combat online scams, which reads as follows;
- You must secure your social media by adjusting privacy settings, which means limiting who can see posts and information about you
- Opting out of all possible targeted advertising if possible
- Carefully consider where your emails come from and whether they are truly legitimate or not
- Do not rush to pay anything, especially if the payment method is via cryptocurrency (which cannot be returned to you), gift cards, or wire transfers
- Checking that the new app you have downloaded is well-reviewed by trusted review sites
- Setting up security features on your accounts and devices such as multi-factor authentication, strong passwords, and using a Virtual Private Network on your internet connection
- Installing anti-malware software that will scan for threats in the background of your systems
- Backing up important data on external drives
- Never trusting suspicious phone calls, SMS messages, or other forms of potential schemes
Online scams have ruined people’s lives, both on a financial and emotional level. There will always undoubtedly be individuals looking to extort and scam others for their benefit, not much can be done about that. However, what can be done is to report any suspicious scams or accounts to the FBI, the FTC, or the organization that deals with these schemes in your respective country of residence. If you notice that your money is missing, it is very important that you immediately get in touch with your bank about the issue. You can also get in touch with the service on which you were scammed, whether that be Facebook or a dating app.