There wouldn't be billions people online every moment of every day if everyone was getting scammed all the time.
Online security is, in many ways, better than ever, as are the sites designed to attract our attention. But exploits and the crooks that want to exploit us still exist, enjoying advanced malware-as-service models proven to steal our data, time and money. And with the awesome number of people online, scams only need to work a tiny percentage of the time to make the bad guys rich.
We're sure you're savvy enough to avoid most trouble. But for everyone else you know, here are 5 common scams to look out for.
This scam, which F-Secure Labs has been tracking for over 5 years, prospers because it offers incredible returns -- to the scammer. "It estimated it would cost $5,900 (£3,860) to buy a ransomware kit that could return up to $90,000 in one month of operation," the BBC reports.
It works like this. You suddenly get a message saying that your files are being held and you need to pay a ransom to release them. Sometimes the scam pretends to be from a police organization to make them extra scary:
Anonymous cyber-currencies like bitcoin have made the scam even more appealing.
"That's what really enabled the ransomware problem to explode," our Mikko Hypponen said. "Once the criminals were able to collect their ransom without getting caught, nothing was stopping them."
They really do take your files and they generally will give them back. Ironically, their reputation matters since people will stop paying if they hear it won't work.
Mikko recommends four ways to defend yourself from this -- and almost every scam:
Always backup your important files.
Ensure software is up-to-date.
Be suspicious of message attachments and links in email.
Always run updated comprehensive security software.
He adds, "Don't pay money to these clowns unless you absolutely have to."
2. Technical support scams.
"In a recent twist, scam artists are using the phone to try to break into your computer," reports the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. "They call, claiming to be computer techs associated with well-known companies like Microsoft. They say that they’ve detected viruses or other malware on your computer to trick you into giving them remote access or paying for software you don’t need."
Never give anyone who calls you unsolicited your private information or access to your computer. As a matter a fact, don't do that even if the call is solicited. If you feel the call may actually important, ask who they are calling from and then contact the organization directly.
For more tips visit the FTC site.
3. Facebook freebies.
Free iPad! Free vacation! Free gift card!
If it's free, it's on Facebook and it comes from someone you do not know or trust directly, assume it's a scam. At best it's a waste of your time, at worst it could end up costing you money.
Unfortunately, there are only two things you can do to avoid these scams. Don't follow people who share crap like this on Facebook and don't click on things that seem too good to be true.
"There is no way a company can afford to give every Facebook user a $25.00, $50.00 or $100.00 gift card," Facecrooks, a site that monitors these scams, reminds you. "A little common sense here tells you that something is way off base."
So be suspicious of everything on Facebook. Even friends asking for money.
4. Loan scams.
Scammers are smart. They know that the more a person is in financial need, the more desperate she or he becomes. For this reason, loans of various kinds -- especially mortgages that are in foreclosure -- are often lures for a scam.
Once they have your attention, they may use a variety of tactics to dupe you, the FTC explains. They may demand a fee to renegotiate your loans for lower payments or to do an "audit" of what you're paying. It may even go far enough that they'll ask you directly or trick you into signing over your house to ease the pressure from your creditors.
There are many warning signs to look out for. Keep in mind that if you're ever in doubt, the best step is to back off and seek advice. You can also tell the person you're going to get a second opinion on this from a lawyer. If the person you're dealing with insists that you not or freaks out in any other way, it's a good sign you're being taken.
5. Money mule scams.
These scams are a variation on the 419 scams where a foreign prince asks you to hold money for him. All you have to do is wire him some first. But in this case you may actually get the money and be used as a tool of organized crime.
A money mule illegally transfers money for someone in exchange for some of the take. Many law-abiding people get drawn into this crime while searching for jobs or romance, which is why your should stick to legitimate sites if you're seeking either of those things. Greed and the lure lottery winnings and inheritances is also used as a lure for potential victims.
Trust is the most important thing on the internet. Anyone who trusts you too quickly with offers of money or love is probably scamming you.
[Image by epSos .de | Flickr]