Internet scams and how to avoid them

Published 12:59 pm Monday, February 27, 2023

By GEORGE KAMEL

Ramsey Solutions

Online scammers have gotten so sneaky lately that it’s not just your elderly grandparents at risk—boomers, millennials and even Gen Z-ers can get taken advantage of if they’re not careful. That’s because these shady weirdos keep switching up their scamming tactics based on current events and our constantly changing digital culture.

But the good news is, if you keep your guard up and follow these tips, you’ll be way more likely to spot the scam and hold on to your hard-earned money. Here are five of the biggest internet scams to be aware of right now.

Crypto scams

Crypto continues to be a trendy thing for the people who enjoy the thrill (and anxiety) of losing money at any given moment. And much like gambling, it can be addictive—a fact that scammers take advantage of. Cryptocurrency scams can happen in all kinds of ways. Scammers might set up fake websites that look like popular crypto sites in an attempt to get innocent people to send them money. They might also prey on people’s fears of missing out on an investment with massive returns by creating a fake early investment opportunity and pitching it to people online.

Student loan scams

Scammers know people are desperate to get their loans forgiven, and they’ll often make fake forgiveness application sites in hopes of stealing people’s social security numbers, bank account info and cash. And because these people have absolutely no shame, these sites are often paired with urgent phone messages or emails trying to convince broke college grads it’s their last chance to apply.

Romance scams

Nothing can make you broke like the fluttery feelings of love—and with the growing popularity of online dating, this kind of scam is becoming more and more common. Someone creates a fake dating profile, reels in an unsuspecting victim, steals their heart with witty banter, and asks them to send money or buy them stuff due to some weird circumstance. This sucks because the poor scammee (that’s what I’m calling someone who was scammed—just go with it) loses out on cash and a chance at true love.

Online purchase scams

If you buy something online and it never shows up, you might be a victim of this type of scam. Scammers will often “sell” stuff on sites like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace, or set up fake online storefronts, take your money, then never deliver what you ordered. Don’t get me wrong, I love Facebook Marketplace as much as the next guy, but you have to be extra careful.

App scams

Scammers have figured out how to make almost identical copies of certain popular apps in order to get your money via in-app purchases. They’ll even create apps that steal your personal info once you download them. Triple-check that you’re getting the legit version of well-known apps, and think twice about downloading apps you’re unfamiliar with.

Also, beware of payment apps, like Zelle. Recently, there have been some situations where scammers claim to be the bank’s fraud department and call or text you to walk you through the problem. They’ll tell you to fix it by sending yourself money, but the money goes to their account instead, with little to no way of preventing it on your end.

OK, so we’ve talked through a few internet scams you need to be aware of. Now let’s talk about four keys to steering clear of them:

Update passwords

It’s a good idea to change passwords for important accounts (like email, social media, bank accounts, etc.) every 90 days. And make them hard to guess by using combinations of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters. Even better, make your password a phrase and switch up some of the letters and characters. For example, I might pick the phrase Dog Dad Life, but in password form that could be D0gDadL1fe!

Also, if you ever get notified about a data breach, that means your password could’ve been leaked and you should change it immediately to be safe. While you’re at it, set up two-factor authentication on every possible password—this creates an extra layer of security and makes it way harder for scammers and hackers to get your personal info.

Monitor email

Take a close look at the email subject line and sender before opening an email. And if you get an email from an address you’re unfamiliar with, don’t click on any links until you know more about where it came from—especially if you’re being told you won $2 million. Be extra cautious of people asking for personal information or anything money-related. When in doubt, mark it as spam.

Check your balance

Most banks will let you know if they see any suspicious activity in your account, but in case they miss anything, it’s still super important to log in every day to make sure there aren’t any weird charges. You’re in charge of your money, so think of yourself like your own personal armored guard with those aviator sunglasses. You can even pretend you have a cool van and everything.

Trust your gut

If something or someone online seems off to you, listen to that Spidey-Sense. That goes for websites, iPads you might’ve won, and potential spouses. When in doubt, don’t click on or agree to anything that seems suspicious. And if you’re having a hard time telling if something is a scam or not, have someone else weigh in. Better safe than sorry!

One of the biggest reasons it’s important to protect yourself against scams is because scammers can take this one step further by trying to steal your whole identity and use it for their own personal (and financial) gain. Check out this article for more tips on steering clear of sleazy situations like this.

George Kamel is a personal finance expert with a countercultural approach to money. He’s the host of The Fine Print podcast and The EntreLeadership Podcast on the Ramsey Network. Since 2013, George has served at Ramsey Solutions, where his goal is to help people spend less, save more, and avoid consumer traps so they can make the most of their money. Follow George on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook or find out more about him online at ramseysolutions.com/personalities.