Even if you have the best antivirus software and a cyber recovery service backing you up, one small mistake online can have catastrophic consequences. On a personal level, there are romance scams, phishing emails, fake marketplace listings, and a host of other attack vectors designed to separate you from your savings or lure you into dangerous circumstances. In the business world, you may be targeted in social engineering attacks that leverage human error to gain access to your company’s systems.
As unsettling as this sounds, you can evade such attacks by understanding the red flags that indicate a scam. We’ve covered seven of the most important ones below:
1. You feel pressured
Pressure can come in many forms, but it’s common to most online scams because when you’re under pressure, you’re less likely to think clearly. In phishing scams, the pressure usually comes instantly. For example, an email claiming that a large sum of money has been taken from your bank account. If you panic and click the link in the email, you may unwittingly enter your login details into a phishing site.
2. You feel guilty or emotional
Romance scammers also apply pressure. They just take their time about it, lulling you into a false sense of security before suddenly needing your help (aka money) weeks or months into the online relationship.
This takes that pressure to another level because it brings in guilt and other strong emotions. Not only are they pushing you with urgency, but they’re leveraging the feelings you’ve developed for them to reduce your ability to make rational decisions. If you feel this happening, talk to a counselor, a real-life loved one, or a law enforcement officer before doing anything.
3. A wrong number wants to get friendly
There once was a time when you could have funny conversations or even strike up friendships with people who called or messaged you by accident. Nowadays, however, if a wrong number tries to make friends, it’s almost certainly the start of a scam. Chat at your own risk, but if they start offering investment advice, block them.
4. There’s a check involved
The main thing to look out for is someone you’ve never met before wanting you to cash a check and then send part of the money somewhere and keep some yourself. The check will bounce after a couple of days, and you’ll be left in the red.
5. An old friend starts messaging you
A common tactic among hackers is to gain access to social media accounts so they can scam the unsuspecting friends of the person they hacked. So, be wary if someone starts messaging you out of the blue, offering investment tips, or asking for help signing into their account.
6. They refuse to appear in person
This red flag pops up most commonly with romance scams and marketplace scams. If someone wants to buy an item from you but won’t pick it up in person, that could be the start of a scam whereby they trick you into sending the item with a fake payment confirmation. In the world of online dating, it can mean you’re being catfished.
7. New numbers and money requests
People break phones and get new numbers all the time. However, if you get a message from a loved one saying they broke their phone, this is their new number, and can you send them money, always find a way to check with them through a trusted channel first.
Keep these red flags in mind as you explore the digital world, and you’ll be well-placed to protect yourself online.