Whether you’re an individual, a small business, or a corporate giant, online scams may affect you. Scams are often designed to target those who are vulnerable in one way or another. Whether that’s vulnerability in finance, emotions, age, or security. Attackers will target those that they know they can penetrate.
In 2019 alone, Scam Watch has reported a $14.8 million loss, with over 36,000 reports. Here are a few scam statistics from 2018 (beware, they’re quite scary):
- Over 50% of email traffic was reported as spam and filtered as junk mail
- Mobile phone and smart device scams had risen by around 25% since the previous year
- Fake apps were being downloaded millions of times (the most popular being downloaded 20 million times)
- 63% of respondents to the Experian 2018 Global Fraud and Identity Report experienced more fraud online than ever before
Below are some of the online scams to watch out for in 2019. As well as detailing what the scams are, I’ve tried to include some helpful hints and tips in order to avoid being scammed in the first place. Many scams have key features that can be easy to spot if you know what you’re looking for.
The main thing to remember is, if you’re not sure about something online, question it, research it, or avoid it. Don’t let curiosity get the better of you if you’re not 100% confident you know what you’re doing or looking at. The beauty of the internet is that there’s so much information available, and plenty of people sharing their experiences, you may be able to avoid something that someone else has already been caught out with.
1 | Google My Business
Google My Business is a way to make your business listing stand out in a Google search result. For example, if you search for ‘bakery near me’, Google will display a list of businesses that match those search terms. If the business in question has a Google My Business listing, important information like the business’ telephone number, opening hours, and location will appear.
This information is displayed on all devices. Most importantly, if you’re using a mobile device, you can call the business directly from your phone to get in contact with them. Google My Business is designed for informative purposes, but also to make life easier. If customers can easily connect with a business, see their reviews, when they’re open, and information that they want and need, they’re more likely to shop.
Unfortunately, though, Google My Business is affected by an online scam in 2019. Business owners are receiving telephone calls from operators claiming to be Google. Google My Business is a free service; it’s entirely manageable by the user. However, these scammers are inviting people to pay a sum of money in order to create a Google My Business listing, or optimise a current listing.
This would never happen, and Google would not call you under ‘normal’ circumstances. The only reason you may receive a call from a representative at Google would be if you’re using Google AdWords. Even then, it’s a rare occurrence. Small businesses are getting caught in this scam because it’s probably tempting to boost a business listing, increase SEO, and hopefully pick up new customers. The important thing to remember is not to pay any form of money to someone claiming to be Google on the telephone – as much as they may charm you.
2 | Nigerian Inheritance
This scam has been around for quite sometime. In fact, I’d be surprised if you haven’t heard of it until now. However, it’s still very prevalent and is still catching people out. This scam comes in the form of email, and you could potentially receive this kind of email multiple times throughout your online activity.
The emails come from senders claiming that the receiver has won or inherited a large sum of money. They’ll often say that you would not have heard of this family member for some (unknown) reason, however, they want you to have this lump sum – tempting!
The catch is that you just need to pay a small transaction fee to authorise the transfer of money to release it. They’ll want you to fill out some paperwork in order to obtain your bank details to process the authorisation. Once the scammers have received your personal details, your bank details, and your money, you won’t hear from them again.
As well as this scam being an attack directly to individuals, the effects don’t stop there. Scammers will often obtain your personal details in order to sell them onto other scammers. They make their money by taking yours, and selling your information onto others (personal data comes at a high cost).
3 | Mobile App Fraud
Although the iTunes app store and Google Play store make every effort to stop or get rid of fraudulent apps, some do still exist. These apps are designed to scam users and steal their personal data. Scammers will often design apps to replicate the same software that mobile banking and payment apps use.
Once the victim has downloaded the app, they’ll most likely get asked to fill out a profile which contains personal information. Information often consists of the user’s name, date of birth, address, and bank details. However, some apps have even gone as far as asking victims to link their social media accounts and other payment accounts like PayPal.
The problem with fake and fraudulent apps is that they can be very hard to distinguish. They’re designed to look like other apps, and to appear professional and legitimate. Scammers may be able to steal money and data fast, but they take their time in creating scams to be effective as possible – more effort, better results.
These apps often offer services like money transfers, money conversions, debt transfers, and electronic payments. My advice here would be to only download an app from a reputable company. If you use a mobile banking app, there’s no harm in popping into your bank and getting them to verify it’s authenticity.
4 | Fake Prizes
There are lots of online competitions to take part in. Some competitions you don’t even need to partake in order to win a prize (or so you think). Fake prize wins are flooding the internet thick and fast, and they’re not slowing down in 2019.
There are several different forms of these fake prizes that are plaguing the online community. Some invade your internet browser by forcing pop-ups saying that you’ve won a prize or have been selected to test and keep a product. Product testing scams are possibly more tempting given that there are genuine companies that offer actual product testing.
The most common scam at the moment in 2019 is to test and keep an iPhone X. You’ll just need to pay a small fee of £10 or £25 to test the product and provide some feedback, after which you can keep the item. However, the product will never actually reach your person in order to test it; instead, you’ll be giving up your personal data and bank details to someone who will steal your money and sell your details onto other scammers.
Other online prize scams encourage you to purchase a small item from them, such as a gaming headset, in order to win a larger prize like a gaming laptop. Again, entering these prize draws means purchasing something initially (which you won’t receive), and never winning a ‘prize’.
Furthermore, adware has started posing as Google, claiming that you have won a prize. Although this is a slightly different approach to obtaining your details, it’s still a scam, and one to be wary of. Adware essentially ‘takes over’ your internet browser until you click on it, inviting scammers and hackers access to your desktop, mobile, and even your internet router.
5 | Weight Loss Scam
Playing on the emotions of it’s victims, weight loss and diet scams are extremely common. They’re probably the most ‘effective’ scams too, given the amount of people wanting to lose weight or find a quick fix diet. In the U.S., the most common New Year’s resolution was to lose weight or get in shape. You’ve probably come across some of these familiar terms and quotes when searching for weight loss products:
Clinically proven to aid in weight loss
Backed by Scientists
These are tempting words in order to lure people in. Although weight loss scams aren’t designed to steal your personal data or bank details, they are designed to hook desperate victims into subscription based ‘products’, or one off purchases that actually do nothing at all. You’ve probably seen the large amount of weight loss or diet pills available? These are very often just placebos, or not actually clinically proven to do anything to aid weight loss.
Weight loss scams often use some key factors to ‘advertise’ their products. Things to look out for include:
- Statistics and percentages (not actually backed up)
- Scientific studies (often not related to the product)
- Exaggerated language (to entice you in)
- Money-back guarantee (check the small print)
I’m not saying that all weight loss or diet pill products are a farce, however, the internet is currently plagued with fake products and programmes. It’s really important to do your research about the product and company in question. There’s no harm in contacting the manufacturer directly, looking for real customer testimonials, or even seeking advice from your GP or pharmacy.
6 | Vishing
Vishing, also known as Voice Phishing, is the act of using a telephone or voice device to obtain personal or banking details. Vishing scammers often make use of IVR (interactive voice response) software to scam their victims. Automated messages can often make people feel more vulnerable, as there’s a more ‘official’ tone to the nature of the messages.
Often in a Vishing scam, people answer their mobile telephones to receive a recorded robotic message. Messages can range from reason to reason, but most are contacting their victims to inform them that they are calling from their bank and need to obtain updated details. Due to the advanced technological world we live in, users can input their bank account details into these pre-recorded messages for scammers to obtain.
Some messages may even redirect your call to an ’employee’ who works for the ‘bank’. Of course, these ’employees’ aren’t actually from your bank, they’re in on the scam and are designed to pose as a professional to make the whole thing seem legitimate.
Much like tax refunds from the HMRC, your bank will never telephone you unless you have contacted them first. If someone is claiming to be calling from your bank, terminate the call and contact your bank to verify the validity.
7 | Disaster Relief Emails
This scam really pulls at the heartstrings of it’s victims, which can often be more harmful due to the emotional nature of the scam. According to CAF UK Giving 2018, £10.3 billion was given to charity. When disasters strike, or charities urge people to donate, people often dig deep into their pockets to try and help.
Victims will often receive a lengthy email that discuses in detail the disaster or heart wrenching story. Emails will plead for donations in order to help others, and may even provide a link to click on where you can enter your bank account or credit card details.
If you do want to donate to a good cause or a disaster relief charity, go directly to their website. These companies will never ask you to follow an email link, so if you receive an email with a link, it’s likely that it’s fraudulent and will end in you becoming a victim of a scam.