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Online Scams - Guide to Recognizing and Avoiding Internet Scams


June 10, 2024

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Online Scams - Guide to Recognizing and
Avoiding Internet Scams

The current cybersecurity landscape is more complex than ever. While people are growing wary

of the latest online scams, using smart cyber technologies to secure their data against malicious users, online scammers are getting smarter by the day.

With the rise of remote activities, growing concerns around the AI evolution, deepfakes, and hyper-realistic malicious websites, we're facing a critical question: Is there a way to spot and prevent online scams?

In short, yes. At Bitdefender, our number one concern is cybersecurity, so we always strive to be one step ahead of scam websites and bad actors. That's why we've put together this all-in-one guide to help you prevent, spot, and avoid internet scams, covering topics like:

  • What are online scams
  • How cybercriminals operate
  • Common types of online scams to watch out for
  • Tips on recognizing online scams before you fall victim

Online Scams 101: What Are They & How to Avoid Scams

What are online scams? In simple terms, online scams are fraudulent schemes that deceive individuals or organizations to gain access to sensitive information or money. These scams have evolved over the years, making it difficult to spot and avoid them. The most common online scams involve phishing attacks or fraudulent calls that aim to steal money or someone's personal information.

Nowadays, scammers are operating with even more sophisticated technology to reach their targets. Some of these include the use of AI in generating deepfakes for identity theft purposes or enrolling on dating platforms (AKA romance scammers) under false pretenses.

How do online scams work?

Online scams exploit human emotions, like trust, to deceive victims into giving up personal information or money. Here is a breakdown of how online scams generally work:

  • Scammers claim to be a familiar entity or a reputable business to gain the victim's trust through platforms such as emails, social media, SMS, or dating apps.
  • Then, they trick the victim into giving up personal information such as login credentials, financial details (like credit card numbers), their address, or other personal details.
  • Once the victim has provided the information, the cybercriminal uses it for malicious purposes such as identity theft or financial fraud.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, individuals reported losing $10 billion to scams in 2023 (the highest level of losses ever recorded by the FTC). Unfortunately, this trend doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon, especially as people are looking for ways to cope with financial instability.

How to prevent falling victim to an online scam

  • Use a free threat-detection tool like Scamio, an AI-powered chatbot, to analyze messages, images, links, or other potential online scams through the lens of Bitdefender’s powerful model. Find Scamio on Whatsapp, Messenger, or through the web app.
  • Treat emails, texts, or calls from unknown sources should with caution. Always be skeptical of the sender and verify the legitimacy before responding or clicking any links.
  • Stay informed about the latest scams and educate those around you, including family members who may be less tech-savvy. One common safety practice includes setting a 'password' or 'safe word' that only you and your close ones know.
  • Install a strong VPN, firewall, and reputable antivirus software, such as Bitdefender, which offers powerful solutions to detect and mitigate threats in real-time.
  • Use a password manager to create and store complex credentials. Avoid reusing passwords across different sites.
  • Ensure all your software, including your operating system and web browsers, is up to date to protect against vulnerabilities.
  • Change your router’s default password and enable WPA3 encryption to protect your Wi-fi network.

7 Types of Online Scams to Watch Out For

Online scams are becoming more prevalent and advanced every day, so the first step toward combatting such cyber threats is to learn how to spot them. Scams take many forms, having evolved from bad actors trying to install malware on your devices, to state-of-the-art scamming impersonations.

1. Phishing scams

Phishing is one of the most common and dangerous types of online scams. It involves sending deceptive messages, usually via email, that appear to come from legitimate sources. These messages contain malicious links or attachments that can compromise your personal data when clicked.

A phishing email usually includes these elements:

  • A deceptive sender (the email appears to come from a trusted source)
  • Urgent language (scammers create a sense of urgency to prompt immediate action)
  • Suspicious links (mismatched URLs, poor spelling, non-HTTPS links)
  • Generic greetings (instead of personalizing, the email uses generic terms like “Dear Customer”)

2. Identity theft

Identity theft occurs when someone unlawfully obtains and uses your personal information, such as your name, social security number, or bank account details, to commit fraud. Scammers use various methods to steal this sensitive information, including:

  • Phishing emails
  • Exploiting or causing data breaches in companies that don't keep their customer's information secure
  • Leveraging poor credential management (AKA when you don't set a strong password to protect personal details or repeat it on multiple websites)
  • Capturing card information through devices attached to ATMs or point-of-sale terminals.

If you suspect your identity has been stolen or that you've fallen victim to identity theft, notify your bank and credit card companies immediately.

P.S.: To keep your personal information secure at all times, consider investing in an identity theft protection solution. We'll alert you in case of any identity threats, so you can always keep you safe.

3. Online shopping scams

With the convenience of e-commerce, online shopping scams have unfortunately become more common. These scams work by using fraudulent websites or sellers to trick customers into purchasing products or services that either:

  • Don’t exist
  • Are of significantly lower quality than advertised

Moreover, some scammers use fake websites to steal financial information when you're typing in your payment details to complete the online payment. Usually, they create professional-looking websites that mimic legitimate retailers. These sites often offer too-good-to-be-true deals or resemble popular eCommerce platforms (such as the Amazon impersonation cases) to lure in shoppers. Fake sellers can also exist on legitimate platforms like eBay or Amazon.

Another way scammers operate is to simplify disappear after receiving a payment, leaving you empty-handed.

4. "Free gift" and lottery scams

These scams trick victims into believing they have won a lottery or prize. The catch? Victims must first pay a fee or provide personal information to claim their winnings. Of course, the winnings never materialize, and the victim is left out of pocket or has their identity stolen.

Here’s a closer look at how these scams operate and how you can avoid falling victim:

  • Scammers contact you via email, text, social media, or phone, claiming that you've won a lottery or a free gift.
  • They often notify you about a fee and ask you to send money for processing, shipping, or taxes before you can claim your prize.
  • You may be asked to provide personal or financial information to "verify" your identity, which can then be used for identity theft.

Legitimate lotteries never ask for payment upfront. If you didn’t enter a contest, you likely didn’t win anything. But even if you did, look for signs of phishing, such as spoofed email addresses or phone numbers. Use security software like Bitdefender to scan and block suspicious communications.

5. Romance scams through online dating apps

Romance scams exploit the victim’s emotions by creating fake profiles on dating apps or social networking sites. Scammers build a relationship with the victim and eventually ask for money, often claiming it’s for an emergency.

Scammers often spend time building a connection and gaining your trust. Only after establishing a relationship they fabricate stories to manipulate your emotions.

Keep a healthy dose of skepticism when navigating your favorite dating app, as these scams are more common than they may appear. The Federal Trade Commission reported that social media scams accounted for $2.7 billion in registered losses since 2021, more than any other contact form.

6. Tech support scams

Scammers pose as tech support representatives from reputable companies, claiming your computer has a virus or technical issue. They then persuade you to grant them remote access or pay for unnecessary services.

Scammers may call you, claiming to be from a reputable tech company, and say there’s a problem with your computer. You might even encounter pop-up messages on your computer indicating a virus infection and instructing you to call a specific number for support.

Scammers will ask you to install software such as TeamViewer, giving them remote access to your computer. They can then install malware or steal sensitive information and demand payment for their “services,” often through untraceable methods.

Remember: Bitdefender will never ask you for remote access to your computer, payments through unconventional methods like gift cards, or unsolicited personal information.

7. Bank account scams

Scams targeting bank accounts are increasingly sophisticated and varied. Here are some common types:

  • Account takeover (Criminals gain unauthorized access to your account by obtaining your login credentials through phishing or data breaches)
  • Check fraud (Scammers manipulate checks either by altering details or creating counterfeit checks)
  • Wire fraud (Fraudsters deceive victims into transferring large sums of money to their accounts, often using phishing tactics like a fake email or impersonation)

Your Personal or Financial Information Matters. Why Not Keep It Secure?

Online scams are becoming more and more sophisticated, preying on unsuspecting individuals like yourself, to compromise their sensitive data. But you don’t have to be a victim.

Every click, every login, and every online transaction can be a potential vulnerability if not properly safeguarded. Tech support scams, phishing attacks, and malware are just a few of the numerous threats ever-present online.

How Bitdefender detects and prevents online scams:

  • Leveraging artificial intelligence, we identify patterns and anomalies that signal potential threats.
  • We continuously monitor application behavior to spot malicious activity before it can cause you harm
  • Our advanced algorithms identify and block phishing attempts and fraudulent websites. We prevent unauthorized encryption of data with an added layer of defense.

Your data matters. Keep it secure with Bitdefender – the global leader in cybersecurity.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How do online scams work?

Online scams work by deceiving individuals into providing personal or financial information or by tricking them into sending money directly. Scammers use various tactics such as phishing emails, fake websites, or social engineering to prey on their victims' trust and vulnerability. Once they gain access to sensitive information, they can commit fraud, identity theft, or other malicious activities.

What are online scams often called?

Online scams are often referred to as phishing schemes, fraud, internet scams, or cyber scams. These terms collectively cover a wide range of deceptive activities aimed at exploiting individuals and organizations.

Who falls for online scams the most?

While anyone can fall victim to online scams, the National Cybersecurity Alliance (NCA) indicates that individuals from Generation Z, are more susceptible to falling for internet scams compared to Baby Boomers.

What are some scammer websites?

Scammer websites can take many forms, such as fake e-commerce sites, fraudulent banking portals, and counterfeit tech support pages. Examples include:

  • Fake financial institutions asking for login credentials
  • False product vendors promising significant discounts on items but never delivering
  • Fake tech support sites offering services in exchange for remote access to your computer

Can a scammer track you?

Yes, scammers can track you through various means such as phishing attacks, malware, and remote access tools. By gaining access to your devices, they can monitor your activities, steal personal data, and track your location. Always be cautious about the links you click and the software you install.

What are the red flags of a scammer?

Common red flags of a scammer include:

  • Unsolicited communication asking for personal or financial information.
  • Generic greetings like "Dear Customer" instead of using your name.
  • Urgent or threatening language, pressuring you to act quickly.
  • Suspicious links or attachments in emails.
  • Requests for payment through unconventional methods like gift cards or wire transfers.
  • Poor grammar and spelling errors in messages.

What happens if I accidentally answer a spam call?

If you accidentally answer a spam call, the best course of action is to hang up immediately. Do not provide any personal information. Scammers may try to use social engineering to extract data from you. Additionally, report it to your phone carrier. If you believe you have given out sensitive information, monitor your accounts closely for any unusual activity and get in touch with your bank to freeze the account




The meaning of Bitdefender’s mascot, the Dacian Draco, a symbol that depicts a mythical animal with a wolf’s head and a dragon’s body, is “to watch” and to “guard with a sharp eye.”

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