Online scams – How to Spot One

From emails requesting a small investment with the promise of a much larger payout down the road to pre-
approved credit offers that give thieves an easy means to steal your identity, online scams are an unfortunate and ever present risk of our wired world.

Cons and scams have been around since the eighteenth century. In the 1890’s Spanish Prisoner con letters
supposedly written by US prisoners held in Spain during the Spanish-American War lured mail recipients with the
promise of receiving a hidden stateside stash of money with only a small upfront investment.
These same types of fraudulent acts still flourish, but have now taken on a different form.

Internet scams took off with the development of ecommerce in the nineties. Fake names on internet orders gave way to credit card-
generator applications and hacked merchant sites, and eventually moved on to mass identity theft.

Whether you are internet savvy or not online scams target people regardless of age, background or income level
across Australia. It is not about being naive or gullible. Many online frauds, including identity theft, can happen
when you least expect it. As the internet continues to be an integral part of our lives, online scams will continue to
morph and grow. Below are a few of the more common online scams and how to protect yourself from them.

Email Scams

Phishing –Lifewire.com describes phishing as the modern day “sting” con, enticing or frightening individuals to go
to a fake website. The email may even claim the victim’s account was hacked and require identity verification
through clicking on a link that turns out to be for a fake website.
Unexpected Money Scams – Inheritance scams promising a sizable payout. Nigerian scams and
reclaim/reimbursement scams have one thing in common: the victim’s payment of up-front funds to allegedly
receive a larger sum later.
Sweepstakes and Lottery email scams – Often beginning with the word “Congratulations!” these scams then
promise valuable prizes just for the payment of a small processing fee (which may actually amount to thousands of
Pre-Approved credit of ers After payment of advance fees, scam credit offers promise access to huge sums of
credit. However, these days, banks rarely offer preapproved credit, especially when it requires upfront payments.
Sold Item Payment Scams – A thief responds to a for sale listing and then offers more than the asking price, perhaps
to cover vague “international fees”. The ruse is to get the victim to deliver the item and reimburse the overpaid
amount. The catch is that, while the payment may appear to be a legitimate money order or cashiers’ cheque, it is
fake. Victims who deliver the merchandise and refund the overpayment end up losing both the item sold and the
money used to reimburse the overpayment.
Career opportunity scams – Job seekers receive an email offering a job as a financial representative after posting a
resume on an employment site. The job seems straightforward: accepting payments domestically on behalf of an
overseas company and compensation in the form of a percentage commission on each transaction. After providing
personal data to allegedly enable payments, identity theft and/or monetary theft ensue, leaving the victim with bank
fines and breached personal data, plus no job.
Chain emails – Offering ways to get rich quick, these are really pyramid schemes. Victims receive an email asking
that they send a small amount of money to a name at the top of a list. They are also told to add their name to the
bottom, with the promise of a huge payout when it is their turn.
Email Hacking – Using an individual’s e-mail account and contacts list, scammers send messages to contacts
claiming, for example, they need money for an emergency.


How to avoid an email scam?

Carefully check the source of unexpected e-mails, including URLs and the sender’s email address. If the sender of
an email is unknown, Scamwatch suggests researching the internet before opening the message.
Evaluate the content and style of the email. A generic rather than personal greeting, names of nonexistent
organisations, poor grammar and spelling and overly official/forced language may all be signs of a scam email,
according to Scamwatch.

Never open any attachments or click on any links in suspicious emails; Lifewire.com points out that a legitimate
link address should start with https:// (Phishing fakes only have http:// (no “s”)).
Do not reply to suspicious emails, especially ones requesting you to send money or financial data.
Dating and Romance Scams

Unfortunately, fraud even rears its ugly head in the realm of romance. Scamwatch suggests, the emotion tied up in
dating and relationships may make being taken in by a con artist who plays on emotional triggers more likely.
When using a dating website, trust your gut instincts that something just does not seem right about a potential date.
Some things to keep in mind when looking for romance online include:
Respondents wanting to chat privately
Declarations of strong emotions soon after meeting online
Requests for money or for personal data
A social media profile that conflicts with their online statements
Requests for intimate photos
Poorly written messages despite claims of being educated
Refusals to Skype
Always keep all communications within the dating site. Compare a contact’s social media profile with other
information about them found on the internet. Use image search services to see if their images match. Report any
scams to the sites where contact was made with the individual. If financial information was provided to them,
inform all financial institutions of the potential threat.
Fake Anti-Virus Software

Beyond being annoying, those pop-ups stating “Your computer is infected! Click here to fix the problem!” may
damage computers and lead to credit card charges. Some deploy ransomware, disabling the computer with a virus
until a fee for a fix is paid. Often, the warning pop-ups look very authentic. Purchasing legitimate anti-virus
software is the best way to recognize this scam.
How to report an online scam?

Online scams are crimes and should be reported to law enforcement authorities. After changing passwords and
contacting financial institutions, victims should take steps to preserve evidence. Saving all emails and receipts for
financial transactions involved in the suspected scams may help police better investigate the crime.
The Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network (ACORN) provides victims with a secure way to report
online scams and other cybercrimes that may be in breach of Australian law.
If you have been a victim of an online scam, a criminal lawyer may be able to help. Contact one of our experts
today find out how.