Recommended + Security & Privacy
Top 10 online scams: Watch out for these common red flags
Posted on January 3rd, 2020 by Kirk McElhearn
Scams aren’t new; they’ve been around for centuries, even millennia. They are used to bilk unsuspecting people, or to gain information or power.
Nigerian princes want to give you money; Russian women think you’re cute; investment professionals want to let you in on a hot stock; or you’ll make a fortune working at home.
With the rise of the Internet, these scams have become more prevalent, especially since scammers can send out millions of emails, casting a wide net in hopes of hooking a handful of people.
Here’s a list of the top 10 online scams and what they look like. If you’re aware of these scams, you’re a lot less likely to fall for them.
Phishing is by far the most common, and potentially the most dangerous scam. You receive an email telling you to log into an account — a bank account, your iCloud account, or some other account — and you end up giving your user name and password to cybercriminals. It’s important to know how to identify phishing attempts, so you can avoid getting hooked. And if you do get tricked, this episode of the Intego Mac Podcast will help you fix things.
Fake Antivirus Software
Fake antivirus software is a way of tricking you into installing software that sounds legitimate, but that really is just a Trojan horse that lets malicious users take control of your computer. The real risk is that this software might be able to record your credentials — user names and passwords — potentially accessing your accounts, even your bank account. Make sure that you only download security software from trusted companies, like Intego.
Text Message Scams
Text message scams are another type of phishing, but you may be less likely to react to them when they arrive in your Messages app than when they come via email. They can purport to come from Apple, or from your bank, or a service like PayPal. If you get a text message like this, don’t click the link. If you get one from your bank, don’t call the phone number; go to your bank’s website and find the correct number, then call them. If not, you may give up your bank account details to a scammer, and your balance may be quickly siphoned off.
Fake Software Updates
Fake software updates are proliferating. Many of them masquerade as Adobe Flash Player installers, because that software is updated so often. But there are others, including Microsoft Office updates. It’s important to know how to tell what’s legit and what’s not. As with fake antiviruses, these software updates can compromise your computer, allowing cybercriminals to access all your data.
Facebook Question and Answer Scams
Facebook question and answer scams. Sometimes on Facebook, people may randomly ask questions like, What was your first car?, or Who was your best friend as a child? If you’ve seen Apple’s security questions, you’ll notice that these are the same. Don’t ever answer them. If people can get one or two answers like this, they can get into your account claiming they’ve forgotten your password. We have an article about how to choose and answer security questions; it’s worth reading this, and especially watching the movie clip in the article, showing how scammers can use this information.
Typosquatting is a relatively new phenomenon. It involves tricky website URLs, such as a domain name ending with .om or .cm instead of .com, or a slightly misspelled domain name, such as amozon.com instead of amazon.com. We all make mistakes typing, so it’s important to be very careful when we enter a URL, because sites like this can deliver malware to your computer.
Online Tax Filing Scams
Online tax filing scams flourish at certain times of the year. They take advantage of the fact that many people pay their taxes at the last minute, and are perhaps stressed at having to pay out what may be a large sum of money. Make sure that you’re at the right website, not some typosquatter, when you file and/or pay your taxes. If you use an app to file your taxes, make sure it’s up to date. And file your taxes early, so you’re not in a hurry to get it done, and perhaps miss the signs of a bogus website.
Free Wi-Fi Scams
Free wi-fi scams are increasingly common, as we all need to use wi-fi when we’re not at home or at the office, and our phone contracts may not allow us to use enough data. Learn these tips to make sure your Mac—and your iPhone—is safe on public networks, remove Wi-Fi networks you no longer connect to from your Mac and iOS device, and use a VPN (like CyberGhost, Private Internet Access, or ZenMate) to stay secure.
Online Shopping Scams
Online shopping scams are another way to separate you from your money, generally while making you think you’re getting a bargain. They are very common around the holiday period, but can occur all year round. Sometimes you’ll encounter fake websites, other times you may get scammed by people offering to sell you something directly, rather than on, say, eBay or Amazon, so you can “save money.” Remember that these big e-commerce sites generally guarantee your transactions, so don’t try to shave a bit of money off your purchase and end up with nothing.
Caution! These Black Friday “deals” may be bad for your security
Online Dating Scams
Online dating scams. Here’s an email I got this morning: “Dear kirk, My name is Ann, and finally I decided to write to you. I’m from Russia, but now I live in the USA 🙂 I saw you photos on Facebook and can’t get you out from my head. You look cute and at the same time very sexy and smart, just like my type. Wanna talk to you, what about you?” I get a few of these every week. They are obviously bogus. But not all online dating scams are that blatant; some can be very subtle. Be aware that scammers work best by exploiting your heart, not your head.
With all these threats, you might think it’s best to lock your computer in a safe and never connect to the Internet. But we can’t do that, much of our life depends on Internet services. For this reason, it’s important to be vigilant, and always ask the question: is this too good to be true? If so, it’s probably a scam.
Fake News and Articles
While in some contexts the term fake news can refer to journalism with a political bias with which one may disagree, there are also literal fake news sites that impersonate real news sources. These fake news sites are often used in conjunction with spam to either deceptively advertise products or to try to convince victims to fall for scams. Check out our featured article detailing how you can tell apart legitimate and fraudulent articles online:
How else can I stay protected?
It’s crucial to take a layered approach to security, which should include using tools like a top-rated antivirus with real-time scanning, a two-way firewall, a robust backup solution, a disk cleanup utility to ensure you always have enough free space to install security updates, and parental control software to protect your kids. All of these, by the way, are included in Mac Premium Bundle X9; you can get a free trial here, no strings attached.
Of course, cybercriminals are always trying to find new ways to deceive, attack, or infect their victims. That’s why it’s important to stay up-to-date on all the latest developments in online safety.
How can I learn more?
Each week on the Intego Mac Podcast, Intego’s Mac security experts discuss the latest Apple news, security and privacy stories, and offer practical advice on getting the most out of your Apple devices. Be sure to follow the podcast to make sure you don’t miss any episodes.
You can also subscribe to our e-mail newsletter and keep an eye here on Mac Security Blog for the latest Apple security and privacy news. And don’t forget to follow Intego on your favorite social media channels: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.