Red Flags to Identify an Internet Scam

Man With Mask And Hood Using Computer, Internet Security Concept
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It seems that you can’t turn around without encountering some kind of internet scam these days. Scammers are duping people with increased efficiency, Their tactics and methods have evolved and become more and more refined.

Scammers are constantly learning from their mistakes. If a particular tactic or method yields them rewards then they keep it and try to improve on it, if it doesn’t they throw it out and focus on what works. After many years of this iterative process, a few strong scams emerge.

As long as enough people fall for these scams, the scammers will stay in business and the cycle continues.

Even with all the highly-refined scams out there, there remain some common elements amongst them that should cause mental red flags to pop up and help you recognize a scam in progress.

The Language Isn’t Quite Right

Given the global nature of the internet, scams can come from any corner of the world.

Luckily for potential scam victims, one of the biggest clues that you’re about to get scammed is the fact that whoever is trying to scam you doesn’t have a strong command of the language of the country they are attempting to scam you in.

They may have believable letterhead and their perfectly crafted scam email may look extremely credible but their poor use of grammar destroys the illusion and hopefully tips you off that something is wrong because you know that a large bank with a strong reputation would not have basic grammar issues in an email it sent to thousands of its customers.

If the language is off in any way, you should be on alert and look for other red flags that might confirm your suspicions. 

They Need to 'Confirm' Some Personal Information

Scammers need your personal information and they will say or do just about anything to get it. If they just asked for it then you would likely instantly say no. Scammers know this fact and will often use other methods to elicit the information.

In order to bypass your mental defense mechanisms, scammers will often tell you that they already have your information and just need you to “confirm” it for them. In reality, this is just a roundabout way of obtaining the information they want from you through deception.

They might also tell you something that they know is incorrect in order for you to provide them with the correct information. What they are really doing is just giving you a made up piece of information so that you will give them the real information.

For example, the scammer might state that you are John Doe with a social security number of 123-45-6789 and you, knowing that while you are John Doe, that your social security number is not what they said it was, might be tempted to correct them, thus providing them with your real social security number.

The Deal Seems Too Good to Be True

A PlayStation 4 for $50? An iPad for $20? If the deal sounds just way too good to be true, then it’s probably a scam. Do your homework, Google words and phrases used in the ad and see if they pop up associated with known scams. Many scammers simply cut and paste what works into their scams so, chances are, a scam buster site likely has the verbiage they used on file somewhere so you can check to see if it’s a scam or not.

They Tell You to Hurry up!!! Don’t Miss Out!!

Scammers will often use the psychological principle known as the "Scarcity Principle" to their advantage using words such as “don’t miss out” and “only a few left” to try and rush you into a decision that you would normally not make if given time to think it over. Their hope is that you will throw logic out the window and act quickly before you realize what they are doing.

Scare Tactics

Fear is another powerful motivator. Scammers may make both overt and/or veiled threats that they are going to turn you in or that you will be sued for not complying with their requests. A variant of one of the more famous scams called the Ammyy Scam tries to scare users by telling them that their computer is causing problems for others or is attacking other computers.

Don't let scammers bully you into making a bad decision. Google the elements of the threat, including the wording they use, you'll probably find out that it's a scam that someone has seen and reported before.

Short Links or Other Link Oddities

Many scams will use short links to hide the intended destination URL where the scammers want to send victims. Learn more about the Dangers of Short Links in our article on the subject.

Also, if the URL is overly long and has strange characters in it, it may also indicate a scam or a link to malware that is attempting to use URL encoding to hide the true destination.

For more information about scammer tactics and how to be on the lookout for them. Check out our article: How to Scam-proof Your Brain. And if you end up getting scammed, read what you should do next in our article Help! I've Been Scammed Online.