Even the savviest internet user can be tricked by someone online or may not know how to avoid internet scams. Rather than doing the hard work of hacking into systems or stealing information, scammers rely far more on human nature and human error and most of their tricks play on your emotions, including fear, curiosity, or even romance.

There is one common goal: getting your money.

Knowing this type of deception is out there can make the internet feel like a scary place, but you can keep yourself safe online by knowing the warning signs of a scam. Learn how to avoid internet scams and fraud with these guidelines.

Woman uses a laptop at a coffee shop

Don’t send money

The end goal of a scam is usually financial. So, if someone (especially someone you don’t know) is asking you to send money, that’s a red flag. Scammers may try to get you to send them money in sneaky ways, like claiming you’ll have to pay taxes upfront to claim a monetary prize. To avoid falling into a scammer’s hands, you should never pay a fee to claim a prize, take a job offer, or to pay a ransom.

If an online romantic interest begins to ask for money and you’ve never met them in person, it’s a good idea to cut off contact. Be especially skeptical if someone asks you to pay with a gift card, wire transfer, or cryptocurrency. Those payment methods can be untraceable, which means the scammer can get away and you will never see that money again.

Ignore people you don’t know

While the internet can be a social place, take steps to protect yourself from people you don’t know. Don’t open an email from an unknown or untrusted source, and never download an attachment from a company or person you don’t know. Keep an eye out for smishing attempts, the SMS messaging version of a phishing attack. Never send your personal information through email or over text. Hang up on robocalls and be wary of unsolicited phone calls. Take action to protect yourself first — it’s easier to apologize later than to undo a scam in action.

When it comes to online dating and social media, it’s a good idea to be cautious. Remember that you may have no idea who really is on the other side of the screen. Be extra careful with romantic interests that you meet online and watch out for red flags, like someone who professes love too quickly or plans to visit, but always cancels last minute due to an emergency.

Spam email in an inbox

Understand how institutions contact you

Reputable organizations will not contact you over email, text, or anywhere else online, nor will they ask for your personal and private information for payment. Take the IRS for example. They do not, “initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages or social media channels to request personal or financial information.” The same thing goes for financial institutions and other places you may have accounts that use personal information. If someone is contacting you out of the blue demanding your personal information or payment, hang up and call the phone number of the institution on their official website to verify.

Resist the rush

Scammers will try to rush you and trap you into taking action too quickly. They will try to make you fearful (the IRS needs payment right now or a family member is in trouble) or curious about an opportunity you might miss. It’s a good idea to take a step back, do some research, and ask questions before you take any action. Consult with friends and family. It’s important to get the facts before you act.

Man checks his watch while he uses his computer

 

Do some research

Spammers are great at faking emails and phone calls to make them seem legitimate. Let’s say your bank sent you an email that you’re skeptical of, but it looks real. Take the time to look up their phone number on the website (don’t use the one in the email you just received) and speak with a representative. Ask them if the email you received is official communication. A little research can go a long way in protecting yourself from scams. If you’ve been contacted by the IRS and think it seems odd, a simple Google search can be helpful to see if anyone else has been contacted in a similar way. You can also check out Snopes.com on for information as to whether or not an email, phone call, social media or text message is an online scam.

Other tips

With these tips in mind, you can recognize and avoid all the different types of internet scams you may run into online. If you do think you have unwittingly been tricked by a scam, report it to the Federal Trade Commission here.

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