Have you ever bought something on sale because you didn’t want to miss out on a deal but ended up with buyer’s remorse after the thrill wore off? You likely realized that you purchased an item you don’t need and otherwise wouldn’t have bought without the sale. These deals are designed using scarcity, a psychological trigger that gets you to react quickly, so it’s not surprising that it’s a widely used tactic. This simple principle, however, also works for scammers. So it’s important to be proactive when interacting with various messages online.
For example, when you receive a seemingly trustworthy email from a company letting you know you’re running out of time to make a payment. Before you know it, you’ve responded, putting your bank information in the hands of online scammers.
It’s not your fault you became a victim of online scams.
It doesn’t just happen to the most vulnerable people. Scammers are savvy, master manipulators. Years of telephone scams trained them for the online world and gave them an idea of what works and what doesn’t. Which emotions do they have to appeal to? What stories do they have to spin?
The internet and countless technological advances allow for the manipulation of software, emails, photos and even videos. How are people supposed to distinguish what is real and what isn’t? It’s not just elderly or less tech-savvy people who need to be careful. Everyone should look out for online scams and question their online correspondence. Here are four questions you should ask yourself before each online encounter.
1. Did you ask for help?
You see a pop-up on a website: It’s a messenger, and it looks like an IT company is writing to you, offering their help. Or you receive an email from a company offering their help for free.
Just like in real life, if one of your friends offers you help, your instinct is to thank them and even to help them in return whenever you get the chance. If someone online offers you help, especially if it’s for free, you think to yourself: What could go wrong? Once you accept, they could ask you to return the favor, and you could feel obligated to comply. But keep in mind that you didn’t ask for help, and therefore, you owe them nothing. Not even a click on a link or an email answer.
2. Is the offer valid just because other people support it?
If the man in the stock image with his thumbs up could download the software without any issues, you can do it too, right?
Before you go to a new restaurant, you check the reviews to find out about the customer service and food quality. After all, if other people have tried and liked it, it must be fine. But reviews and awards can be faked. Were the reviews all written in the same style and by users with similar names? This could be a hint that something is wrong with it. Also, just because a website layout seems legit doesn’t mean it is. When receiving phishing emails from a seemingly trusted source, you should never give them your bank information or passwords. Call or message the company directly and find out about the legitimacy of the email first.
3. Why are they asking seemingly innocuous questions?
A false sense of security tends to make people all the more vulnerable. This is also true for online encounters. Answering a few simple questions may not seem dangerous. We feel as though we are in control the entire time. But it’s still possible to be lured into a deal you might not want or, in the worst case, be convinced to disclose confidential data. Even a simple question like how your day is going could lead to a scam.
4. Why are they trying to be my friend?
Familiarity is key. Some fraudsters call older adults and try to convince them that they are relatives who urgently need money. If it’s family, it can’t be wrong, right? Many people are aware of this type of scam nowadays, but many other scams work similarly: Scammers know how to smooth-talk you. They aren’t comic book villains, but smart people who can make themselves appear likable. They agree with you and subtly look for similarities with you. Stay vigilant, and don’t let them lull you.
Falling for these types of scams isn’t anything to be ashamed of. Make sure to look out for these tactics whenever you receive an email, a private message on social media or even a pop-up on a website. And certainly, never share confidential data like passwords, bank details or – in the case of remote desktop software – never grant anyone you don’t personally know and trust access to your device. The key to online safety is awareness and caution.