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Top Scams That Continue to Circulate on the Web and Beyond

By Edited Sep 8, 2016 2 5
Credit: Geralt via Pixabay CC0 Public Domain https://pixabay.com/en/road-sign-attention-note-scam-464653/

The Internet has had a profound effect on global society and it also has dramatically changed the world as it once was, adding both tangible and intangible benefits. However, unfortunately, these benefits are countered by some drawbacks too. A notable one is Internet scams.

Generally, Internet scams play on emotions or try to fill some sort of tangible need, such as money or other item that holds value. People taken in by swindlers may be experiencing difficulties or vulnerabilities and may be more vulnerable to falling for a scam because often the schemes are so cleverly worded they offer a sense of hope. Other tactics scammers use is to instill fear, or create an aura of sensationalism where the unsuspecting victim is too curious not to fall for the scam.

There are many various types of scammers taking up residence on the Internet just waiting to snag someone into their trap. Here are a few of the more prominent scams that continue to circulate on the web and beyond:


Unfortunately, phishing has become a huge issue. These thieves, also known as “phishermen”, use a combination of social engineering tactics in order to lure their victims with their bait.  And the good ones are clever, very clever.

Fish hook
Credit: Derek Gavey via Flickr/CC by 2.0 https://www.flickr.com/photos/derekgavey/6020501642

A growing number of phisherman have perfected their techniques. Sometimes it's really hard to tell the difference between the scammer and the legitimate company. A good rule of thumb is to always directly contact the company first and not click any links received in email.

They like to invoke panic to make their victims take immediate action before they have a chance to think things through. Phishing primarily often in the form of email and contains links leading to fake websites (known as spoofing). These falsified websites are designed to look like the real deal.

The phishing bait is usually something useful, desirable or, most often, masquerades as a legitimate business. Companies such as eBay, various banks, Amazon and PayPal are frequent targets of phishermen and spoofed websites. This way victims think they are accessing legitimate businesses and enter information when requested. At this point, the thief gets access to important accounts which can be used for identity or financial theft.

[ Related Reading: Credit Card Fraud - Avoid the Phisherman ]

Nigerian Letter Scam

Also known as “419”, the Nigerian Letter scam has been circulating the Internet for some time, and falls under the “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” rule of thumb. The FBI describes this scam as:

"Nigerian letter frauds combine the threat of impersonation fraud with a variation of an advance fee scheme in which a letter mailed from Nigeria offers the recipient the "opportunity" to share in a percentage of millions of dollars that the author—a self-proclaimed government official—is trying to transfer illegally out of Nigeria." [1]

The scam promises you'll be paid for your services. Basically, scammers filter your money back to their country and you'll never get paid. The 419 scam often plays on emotions, begging for your help, but then asks for your bank account information so they can send the money, and/or ask for fees.

Unclaimed Property or Funds Scams

This scam is another oldie, but goodie. It resurfaced a few years back and continues to hit various states in the U.S. Known as the “unclaimed property” or “fund” scam, these schemers prey on their victims by telling them they have unclaimed valuable property. Instead, scammers are looking to pilfer personal information or steal money from you.

While it's possible the person contacting you might be legitimate (this happened to someone I know - the money was legitimate, however, I think the third party got a cut of it if memory serves), but chances are it is a scammer. Rather than trust a stranger soliticing you for information, do your own research. In the United States, this website is a good starting page: https://www.usa.gov/unclaimed-money and in Canada, http://www.bankofcanada.ca/unclaimed-balances/.

treasure chest
Credit: Robert Owen-Wahl via Pixabay CC0 Public Domain https://pixabay.com/en/bank-billionaire-bills-box-brown-1238321/

While unclaimed property is a legitimate possibility, scammers have jumped on the bandwagon to try to make people think they have a treasure chest just waiting for them. 

Job Scams

With the economic struggles people have been experiencing the last several years, scammers have concocted schemes to give people hope for work while their true intent is to steal from them. What the thieves want you to do is register to “work” for them and involves reselling or reshipping merchandise.

Applicants are asked for personal and/or sensitive information, which puts the applicant at risk for identity or financial theft. However, the scam kicks in when “employees” are sent checks which are for more money than the agreed upon salary. The victim is then instructed to mail the overpayment back to the “employer's'” bank. Problem is the check is no good, and not only is the victim left with no pay, but he or she has lost additional money as well through the overpayment and bank fees that accompany the fraudulent check.

Lottery Scams

This is an old favorite for scammers. Contact mostly comes through email notifying the recipient he or she has won a sum of money and often it will be from a foreign-based lottery. In these notifications, the standard adage about “too good to be true” also fits, especially if you do not recall entering a lottery. What scammers generally do is tell you to send personal information so you can receive winnings, or the fraudster will ask for a small sum of money as a means to access the big money. Don't believe them.

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Credit: Hermann Traub via Pixabay CC0 Public Domain https://pixabay.com/en/lotto-lottery-ticket-bill-profit-484782/

There are many other different types of Internet scams circulating. Other ones to watch out for are identity theft, auction fraud, credit card fraud, skimming, debt elimination, ponzi/pyramid, clickjacking (prominent on social networks) and various types of spam which request information. For more information on Internet scams, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) is a great resource to learn about the different types of scams and, also, where and how you can report them if you fall victim. 2



Jul 20, 2016 7:07am
A lot of the phishing emails I currently get are really, really poor. Misspelt words, often including the supposed company, poor grammar and very little attempt to make them look genuine, say by including company logos. They're so badly done that I really hope no-one is being fooled by them. It seems a lot of phishermen have gotten really lazy over the years.
Jul 21, 2016 12:47pm
They are so funny those poorly constructed ones. I too get a lot of those...and it always surprises me that they still try to use attachments in this day and age. I do still get a lot of clever ones too though. Thanks for reading and commenting!
Aug 8, 2016 3:02am
Thanks for this very informative piece. One of my worst habits was clicking links directly from my email instead of going to the site eg ebay or paypal. I've learned my lesson though (the hard way).
Aug 11, 2016 11:16am
Maria, I'm sorry to hear you've had a bad experience, some of those emails do look pretty convincing.Thanks for reading and commenting
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  1. "Common Fraud Schemes." U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). 31/05/2016 <Web >
  2. "Internet Crime Complaint Center." Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). 1/06/2016 <Web >

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