How to protect yourself from fraud online

How to protect yourself from fraud online

Your ultimate guide in fraud prevention and detection from a polyglot fraud specialist, with a Master’s Degree in Knowing and Combating crime and extensive experience in fraud management.

Here it is. I bet, by the range of subjects approached on this blog, this type of content is the least you expected. But this is the reality of my day to day offline life. I work in a financial institution where I detect fraud and secure people’s money. Now, in this age of the internet and of all social media parallel universe we seem to create avatars or surrogates of our own selves and where we attempt to portray our ideal perfect lives, we are exposed to lots of illusions and deceits. We know that people photoshop, edit and post better, improved versions of themselves online, me included. Why do we do this? There is a myriad of reasons behind this, but maybe the most common ones revolve around the idea of being someone, of having achieved something in society and wanting to prove that to our peers, to whom we compare ourselves and whose profiles might push us to actually desire more. Competition. Ego. Perfectionism. Business.

This constant desire of being someone better and sharing that image of perfection online make us consume specific content. We need the clothes the people we admire have, we get inspiration on home decor, travel, health and lifestyle through influencers and our peers. We are made believe we need more, all the time. But this is an illusion. Let’s stop here and not commence judging or getting misunderstood with rational healthy competition when you aspire to a better life and a more positive decent lifestyle. This has nothing to do with the fact you post online, with the fact you search online for various pieces of information to create that which you desire to fill in something you believe it’s missing (whether that’s true or not). I, myself, do it in exactly the same way as you do it. I have social accounts, I follow people, I comment, I subscribe, I unsubscribe, I search, I get influenced and I buy. The reason I am writing about some ground basic needs, is because I find it to be rather a prerequisite to understand how scams and fraud are possible. Believe me, you may think, you will not fall for it, but the luring is so subtle that when it happens, you have no idea how it hit you. And I see this, on a day to day basis.

Now, that we got that out of the way, let me conclude on that very aspect. People like to be liked. People like beauty in all its forms. People want more. People need to showcase a certain degree of power in their lives. A lot of people require money for that. People are not that very keen on working because people most of the time get into jobs that are incompatible with their personalities and because of this, they end up hating working and always wishing to have a dream job related to their hobbies, or they want to play the lottery or they do betting or they wish to receive inheritances or they attempt to always think of shortcuts they can take to get money. We all have been there in one stage of our lives. So, we want money and we want it easy, fast and a lot of it.

This is where scammers and fraudsters start playing their part.

What is fraud and what is a scam? A fraud is a wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain. This can have as a target another person, a project, a group of people, an organisation, the government etc. It is usually done by someone onto someone else, without the other person knowing anything suspicious would have occurred.

A scam would be defined in the same way, with the only addition that the person being scammed is actually performing the actions dictated by the scammer, thus making it fall onto the victim entirely.

Examples: A fraud is when you check your bank account and you see transactions you do not recognise, retailers you have not dealt with before at all, or of which you have not heard and these happen without your knowledge of knowing you have disclosed consciously any type of information. A scam is when you go online and you buy an item online, you give your details, you pay for the item, you don’t check the company, the person or the website and you never have it delivered. You, yourself have put the money into fraudsters pockets because you were made believe it is a genuine person or website.

Most scams start with an approach through contact you weren’t expecting. Most scammers offer you exciting advantages to get your attention and to make you interested. They promise things like easy money, great bargains, inside knowledge or a caring relationship. Scams eventually lead to a request for money or personal information. Scammers ask you to do things like enter details on a website, answer questions in a survey or pay upfront for what they have promised.

You would be surprised to find out how many people fall for it. A lot of the times, fraud happens after a scam or during. You have already given a lot of your information, maybe even clicked on links and fraudsters rely on any piece of information to make up the puzzle of you and then either call you to defraud you, impersonating the bank, the police or a company you have dealings with, advising you that your account is under threat and you need to send your money to a safe account or they just steal your money, if they do not need any more actions from you.

You need to know that you are a potential target at all times. You have a digital footprint online and your social media and the information you post there is a piece of the puzzle that can be used against you. There are scammers who hack facebook, instagram, twitter, whatssup accounts and impersonate a family member or a friend and ask you for your help. They ask for money. They may ask for small sums or larger. Too many times, people do not double check the requests personally or over the phone with the person in question and they end up giving that money to the fraudsters. They may not realise it straight away. This makes it even hard to get your money back, as by the time you may notice, they would have already moved the money out of their accounts.

It’s important to be suspicious because scammers have ways of making their offers seem real. Scammers can convincingly imitate the logos and communication style of trusted companies. They are known to make fake websites, ID badges, letterheads and other materials to fool people into giving money or information. Just because the opportunity seems legitimate, doesn’t mean it is. Scammers can learn private details through computer hacking or by taking mail from your letterbox. They use this information to build your trust. If someone offering an opportunity knows a lot about you, it doesn’t mean the opportunity is real.

Scammers appeal to people’s emotions and are experienced at building trust to eventually exploit the relationship. A romance scam is when you develop a relationship online, you have never met the person in real life, this person may be living abroad and even though they might send you pictures or videos, these can be fake. Once again, social media is a parallel universe where everyone can be whoever they want to be. They can be perfect. They can be a male or a female and pretend to be the opposite sex to attract you, to lure you, to eventually exploit your trust and ask for your money. When you develop a relationship with someone over time online, it can be hurtful to think their interest in you may not be genuine. But if someone you met online eventually asks you to send or receive money, you must stop and think.

The internet and advances in digital communications have opened other ways for scammers to target you and steal your information. Chances are, you’ve come across the most common types of scams – the spam email from a Nigerian prince or reporting to be from your bank or government or the police.

So, you may think you won’t fall for it. This is so deeply rooted in our brains that we even refuse to be open to information about what can happen. Be aware, because fraudsters and scammers these days are extremely sophisticated and they use a multitude of ways to get your details, your personal information. With the rise of social media and the lack of education around cyber crime and online safety, topped up with human needs and ego prone to temptation in all sorts of directions, you have the perfect recipe for fraud targeting.

To protect yourself online, you need to know not just, what you must not do, but you need to understand why you must not do specific actions. A first step, would be to educate yourself. Ads you see online are there to catch your attention to buy something. Fraudsters use this technique too. They know you like specific things maybe based on your social media profile, on your posts and your likes. Fraudsters create fake instagram accounts where they sell beautiful cheap items that you so much want. Bargains. They seem so genuine and they have so many likes to their posts and even reviews. But if you take a closer look and check those people who liked the photos and the accounts that commented on the posts, you discover they are fake, they are bots.

Ingrid Nielsen, a famous youtuber has posted a video regarding spotting the real legitimate info behind some well known wellness trends. She was mentioning 3 questions you need to ask yourself when you read about something online. These are:

1.Who is behind the information? 2.What is the evidence? 3.What do other sources say?

I would advise to use these questions to fact check offers and huge bargains you see online that are there with the only purpose of stealing your money. So, in our example with the instagram account that sells, let’s say designer goodies. Who owns the instagram account? Is there a person or a business? Are you able to find the company online, doing your own searches, without clicking the link in bio? If, it’s a person, who is that person? You need to ask in DMs or in the photos’ comments. You should cross reference that with other social media accounts. Most of the times a fake instagram account would not be able to present a person behind the scenes and if there is something offered, it’s probably fake too, part of the scam. Who is that account following? Is it following hundreds or thousands of other accounts? Can you check if those accounts belong to real people, (not celebrities) bots or companies? If it only has few people or accounts they follow, think or question yourself, does it look too good to be true? If it does, it is too good to be true. That’s what fraudsters rely on.

Second question, what is the evidence? Can you ask the instagram admin to show you a video of different close ups of the item? Can then do that live, are you able to see the product? Does it look like the one in the pictures posted? Is there any way you can meet the person to check the product? Is there enough evidence for you to give your money in advance? If they ask for money up front, in always all cases, these turn up to be a scam.

Third question, what do other sources say? What do other people say about the products? Do these people really exist or are they bots? What other sources online about that instagram account say? This would apply to facebook marketplace and all other places where you buy bargain items and are asked to do a bank transfer, and are given a justification as to why they do not accept credit card or debit card payments. Do not pay for something just because you really want that item and it looks so good and it is so cheap.

A lot of fraud happens online also because people click on links with great bargains or interesting captivating ads or information or videos and it actually installs either a virus or malware into your computer, laptop or phone. So what can you do to protect yourself from this?

Do not click on any links in emails (especially when you get one out of the blue), in text messages or links that are sent through whatssup, facebook, instagram or other social media and appear to come from someone you do not know. Sometimes big companies are hacked and fraudsters use the hacked accounts to send links, that come from someone you know, and you click on it. Make sure you ask the person first, did you send me a link? Spotting if it’s a suspicious link should be easy enough as a lot of the times, it appears with numbers, letters, and there is no real name. But sometimes, a link of a company you deal with or have dealt with may pop up. Again, fraudsters can spoof the real website, just as they can spoof the phone number belonging to a specific company to make you think they are who they say they are. Fraudsters can also spoof your number and your bank or a utility or service provider you work with and call the bank or that company pretending to be you, stealing your money. This is a form of identity fraud where fraudsters gain access to the victim’s account. This can be for an online store account, bank account or even app login. Account takeovers as they are known are increasingly used for other means too, such as abusing promotions and coupons, extracting more user information, or cheating on gambling sites.

Have you heard of BOT attacks? In the context of fraud prevention, bots are used to automate and repeat the same attack with different data until it works. Bots can be used to attempt account take over, create multiple accounts (account farming) or process numerous stolen credit card numbers at checkout. Account farming is the fraudulent practice of creating and maintaining multiple accounts with a platform in order to resell them later. This is very popular with social media sites.

Identity theft is also big. Acquiring someone’s personal data such as credit card numbers, phone number, or other data points in order to impersonate for a number of actions: opening new accounts, applying for loans, purchasing goods, or posting fake ads and reviews.

Online fraud evolves at an alarming pace, so to keep up to date with common fraud trends it would be worthwhile to check your own bank account’s website and search for the security section. There, you would be informed about what happens currently and it is updated as fraud trends change or adapt to security updates in order to breach it, it is never stopping. Deception and false abusive links, emails, sms will probably spam us and it is important to be aware of its existence and prepare yourself against it in the future.

I will definitely be providing more insight and knowledge into the topic of fraud and fraud prevention and I hope you get informed properly about it, with the same diligence and seriousness as you would get financially literate.

May the light be with you! 🙂