The internet is at once a wonderful and scary place. On one hand, it has transformed how people interact, get information, and conduct transactions. But certain aspects of the Web, especially its anonymity, have also made it an excellent platform for scammers. How can you avoid becoming a victim of these criminals?
To help recognize and protect yourself from online scams:
Make Sure a Website is Legitimate
Say you get an email that prompts you to go to a site to get a great deal on something. Or you run across a website that encourages you to access information on other pages. Before you click on any link, and definitely before you send any money, take some time to look into the entity prompting you to do such things first.
Apart from any emails or other correspondence you may receive, look up the company elsewhere online. Analyze their proprietary online presence. Does their website look legitimate and professional? Are there any customer reviews you can check out? Does the company come up in a search as a scam?
Don’t Click on Iffy Links
In some cases, it’s obvious that a link is illegitimate; weird characters, misspellings, and the like. But sometimes there are Click Here buttons and shortened links that aren’t so immediately revealing. In this case, the cursor hover is your best friend.
Simply move your mouse over a link or button without clicking on it. By just moving the cursor to stop over the linked element, the actual full link should appear in a hover box.
If the address doesn’t match the link shown (apart from shortened links, which can be used to take the place of potentially long URLs), and especially if the address looks scammy, you should simply delete the email or close the webpage.
Recognize False Promises
A popular way for scammers to lure people in is with tempting email subjects and headlines. They could promise things like incredible discounts or free gifts to those who go to their site. Don’t let the appeal of such claims blind you to the likelihood of a scam.
Remember the saying, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Especially when it comes to marketing gimmicks. Read the fine print. Even if a headline seems to be shouting otherwise, odds are you will have to pay something, whether it’s your time, information, money or all three.
Take Your Time
Whether you’re looking at some free deal or an email claiming that your bank account has been compromised, the most important thing you can do in the beginning is stay calm. Many online scams succeed because they put a perceived time limit on their claims. This causes many victims to panic and follow through without thinking.
Take a deep breath, and really think about what you’re seeing. And take the time to go through the vetting techniques described above. Is that email really from your bank? Do you really think you’re going to win $1,000,000? Probably not. Don’t let those scammers psych you out.
Use Secure Payments
You’ve done your due diligence. If everything seems legitimate, you may decide to move forward with the deal that’s been proposed. The one last hurdle you may have with any deal where money is exchanged is to make sure that the transaction is secure and safe.
The only really secure way to send money is through a digital payment platform, like PayPal or Venmo. If the recipient requests cash, gift cards, or a wire transfer, know that those payment methods leave you vulnerable to scamming, with little to no recourse if they just take the money and run.
Check Your Info if You Think You’ve Already Been a Victim
With all the data hacks that have been going on with popular social media sites and banking and credit institutions, you would be right to worry that your information has already been compromised. One step you can take to verify your concerns is with an online public records search. Simply enter your name, city and state, and you can get access to your available public records information.
If everything looks fine, then you’re probably okay. This same search tool can be used periodically to help you stay on top of things. If something looks off at some point, you may have been the victim of a scam. But at least now you know, and can start to take the proper steps to fix your information and your reputation.