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Using a computer is endlessly beneficial, but it comes with its own set of perils. The online environment is rife with identity and financial scams that most likely everyone has encountered at some point in their lives.
And, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), computer scams are becoming more costly.
In a report that details consumer losses due to fraud, the FTC found that online scams accounted for $2.3 billion of the total $5.8 billion in consumer losses in 2021. Imposter scams were the most commonly reported category, followed by prizes, sweepstakes, internet services and business or job opportunities, according to the FTC.
Previous reports released by the FTC indicate younger adults more frequently fall victim to costly computer scams, however when older individuals lose money in fraud cases, they more frequently lose more than younger victims.
All of it is important to remember as a computer user vulnerable to an increasingly array of online predators. And it’s important to be able to recognize the scams for what they are. Here are some of the most common.
Phishing email scams. These are all too common. At their most basic level, phishing scams use messages through email that try to get the user to provide sensitive data — like bank account numbers, social security numbers or login credentials. Some phishing scams redirect users to fake websites to gather the data, and then use that data to fraudulently breach that user’s accounts. Phishing scams are almost always accompanied with some sense of urgency to make the user believe something is wrong with one of their accounts and it can only be corrected with their login.
Nigerian scams. One of the older scams around, the Nigerian scam — which has even been satirized — involves a story from a seemingly wealthy but desperate Nigerian person who needs assistance accessing a large sum of money. The scam includes the promise of a large financial reward for the user if they agree to pay smaller fees up front.
Bank or credit card scam. Offers for loans or credit cards, for users who have already been pre-approved, are common ways that scammers start collecting small, fraudulent “processing fees.” Experts advise users to enroll in free credit monitoring services to keep an eye on their credit as these types of scams continue to increase in frequency.
Fake antivirus software. Since most computer users are aware of the dangers associated with online viruses, scammers are cashing in on fake antivirus software offers. The messages generally claim the user has already been infected with a virus and the only way to rectify the infection is to download antivirus software. The links associated with the fake software could actually contain a virus, so it’s important to avoid clicking it. And never provide payment information.
Lottery scam. This scam plays on everyone’s wish to one day win a large sum of money, but collecting comes with a catch. In order to cash in, users need to pay small fees. Avoid engaging with this scam altogether, even if the potential seems incredibly dreamy.
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