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5 hacks to avoid scam websites when surfing online

Here are five ways to avoid falling victim to scams and fraudulent websites while you’re online. 

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The internet has come a very long way since its public debut in 1983. More than half of the entire population of the world is now online and you can find everything from funny cat videos to luxury shopping to video game streaming with just a click. Unfortunately, there is a dark side to the infinite accessibility of the internet: scams

In 2020 alone, there were 50,176 reports of fraud worldwide according to the International Fraud Report, with most of the claims resulting from online shopping, followed by business imposters, travel and vacations, and then romance scams.

It seems like it would be simple enough to stay away from scammers, but many people don’t know how to spot potential threats when surfing the web. Here are five ways to avoid falling victim to scams and fraudulent websites while you’re online. 

1. Practice Good Computer Hygiene  

Keep your computer clutter-free, up-to-date, and make sure you have an ad-block or spam filter installed as well as a firewall or anti-virus software. This can help keep scareware scams–scams that use malware pop-ups and fake security alerts–at bay. 

Stop the Problem Before it Starts

Many online scams rely on baiting a user into clicking on a link or an ad that then takes them to a site where they will be asked to enter personal information. This strategy is called phishing, and sometimes even people who are internet literate fall for phishing scams because of the emotional strategies scammers use.

If a scareware ad makes someone think their computer is compromised they could be tricked into entering sensitive information if they think it will solve the issue. Getting rid of pop-ups and spam as well as having good anti-virus software can serve as the first line of defense against scams like this.

2. Vet Your Websites 

One of the best ways to keep safe on the internet is to use discretion before visiting just any website. Reputable search engines like Google can help sort content more reliably, and some aggregator and review sites can offer a more specific collection of vetted content.

Say, for example, you’re looking for the best legal Pennsylvania online casinos, you could go to a review site like scams.info and find a grouping of sites that have already been evaluated.

Take a Closer Look

When you’re visiting any website, always check the web address or the URL. Sometimes scammers may mimic popular websites, creating links to pages that are fraudulent where they may phish for your information.

They might even include the real URL within the web address for the fraudulent site to try and trick users but look closely. Make sure the URL is authentic and leads you where you actually want to go. 

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Image: Parade

3. Beware of Social Media

Scammers are becoming more tech-savvy, just like the rest of us, and they aren’t just using e-mail links and pop-ups anymore. In a report from Longevity Stanford, people who were contacted by scammers on social media sites were much more likely to unknowingly engage the scammer and be victimized

Scammers Appeal to Emotions

Social media scams work through high emotional investment. Fraudsters spend their time finding people who are socially isolated through dating apps, Facebook, Instagram, or similar sites and then build a relationship. After they have earned the person’s trust, they’ll ask for personal information or money.

To avoid falling prey to these kinds of scammers it’s important to know the tactics they use and to be wary when talking to people online. There’s nothing wrong with making friends or finding relationships on the internet, but to keep yourself safe from scams, watch out for red flags and know who you’re talking to.

4. Know Your Rules and Rights

Just like scareware, some online scams rely on fear to push users into engaging. Whether they are impersonating a major brand or a government body, many scammers take on the identity of an authority to try and frighten people into sending money or giving up personal details.

This can be especially effective with seniors and internet users who aren’t very knowledgeable.

Get Informed

If you get an unexpected e-mail from the IRS, a Facebook message from a local agency, or a website alert from your internet provider, look closely at the details for typos, mistakes, and falsehoods. There may be threats of repossession, legal action, or a refusal of service, but this is all designed to make you panic.

Stay calm and get familiar with the policies of the business you patronize and the authorities that govern your country, state, and city. For example, the IRS will never use email, texts, or social media to contact you–it says so on their website. 

5. So You’ve Been Scammed

We do everything we can to be safe online, but scams happen. Sometimes trusted websites and institutions get hacked or leak sensitive information. Sometimes we just miss the red flags and fall victim to phishing scams. Either way, dealing with the aftermath of a scam gone wrong doesn’t have to be the end of the world. 

Always Report a Scam

If you know when or where you encountered a fraud, whether they successfully scammed you or not, you should always report them. Many websites and internet outlets are making it easier for users to report scams and prevent fraud from reoccurring. The sooner you report, the sooner you can get help and shut down scam operations.

Not all Scams Stay Online

Scammers that phish for personal information often use those confidential details to gain trust or assert authority over the phone, gaining more information or taking an emotional approach to execute another con.

Vet your phone calls the same way you would your websites and don’t give out personal details to people you don’t know–even if they seem to be with a company or institution you recognize at first. 

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