Nigerian Scams, Romance Scams: They Still Work!
With the constant barrage of news articles about cyberattacks that use extremely sophisticated malware (like the TeslaCrypt malware/ransomware that hit the Internet in early 2015) or employ complex hacking skills, it’s easy to forget that the web is still full of fraudsters that scam in the “old school” way: through unsophisticated, basic attacks.
These scams rely heavily on “social engineering,” a method hackers use that revolves around manipulating and tricking people. There are two reasons this type of scam is still incredibly popular. First, it works. If it didn’t, hackers wouldn’t continue investing the time and effort to pull them off. Second, basic scams are popular among fraudsters who aren’t technically savvy enough to operate botnets (networks of infected computers), create a Phishing page, or hack corporate networks. Many fraudsters rely on their good English and social engineering skills to scam victims rather than relying on technology.
Since basic scams are still so popular, we thought we’d alert you to three types you may encounter. After all, if you know what to watch out for, you can save yourself from becoming one of the next victims.
Nigerian Scams / 419 Scam
The most popular scenario used in these 419 scams is probably the one involving a Nigerian prince who is seeking help moving his money outside of the country.
“Get $8 million for helping me transfer money!” Sounds appealing, right? One of the reasons Nigerian scams are effective is because they play on a common weakness: greed. Once people get the chance to “get rich quick,” especially through a scheme that seems to be just one small hurdle away from being complete, they are often more than willing to depart from some money they currently have. Check out this sample 419 scam email that includes warnings on what to watch out for.
Romance scams are incredibly simplistic. Here’s how they work: First, the fraudster creates a fake account at an online dating service. Then, he or she contacts victims (individuals looking for love) directly, and begins developing a virtual relationship. Once the fraudster has made the victim feel something for the person at the other end of the screen, an opportunity is created and seized. At that point, the fraudster asks the victim for money, for whatever reason, such as to purchase a ticket to fly out and meet the victim. The fraudster then disappears with the money.
One well-known story of a romance scam involves a man named Paul and a woman named Selena. Over a period of months, Paul was scammed into paying out roughly $200,000 that he believed was going to help Selena with a brain injury, and also aid an African village. Check out this video about Paul and other victims of romance scams.
Stranded Traveler Scam
“I’m writing with tears in my eyes.” According to this ABC News report on Abandoned Traveler scams, that’s often the opening line used in these scam emails. Abandoned Traveler scams are a bit more sophisticated than other, more basic scams because they require that the fraudster first gain access to the victim’s email account through a silent hack or other attack method. Once the email account is breached, the fraudster reviews the emails and determines who the victim’s best friends are. Check out the top 10 things in your email that put you at risk.
After the fraudster has determined who the victim’s closest friends are, he or she sends an email to those friends pretending to be the actual account holder, stating that he is stuck in a foreign city and that his wallet was stolen, and asking friends to help him by wiring money to him through Western Union. Of course, all wired money ends up in the fraudster’s pocket. As Western Union and the like do not support “chargebacks” (getting back money that was involved in a fraudulent transfer), once such transfers are made, the money’s gone for good.
These are just three of many other types of basic scams that are out there, and the variety of these scams is staggering. The internet is filled with threats, many that are sophisticated and many others that are not. Naturally, the media focuses on the latest, more sophisticated threats, making it easy to forget that there are other dangers out there that can be just as damaging. Thankfully, protecting yourself from social engineering is straight-forward: get familiar with the various types of scams and what to watch out for. Doing so can make the difference between a deleted email and substantial money loss.
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Take Control of Your Online Security
Perhaps now more than ever, it’s crucial to take a hands-on approach regarding your privacy and the security of your personal data and online accounts (Gmail, Facebook, Dropbox, etc.). Fortunately, you can use a number of freely available tools to help better protect your personal information. Here are a few suggestions:
- Get an antivirus solution for both your PC and phone. Check out these recommendations for the Best Free PC Antivirus Software and Top 5 Android Security Apps.
- Never reuse the same password across multiple online accounts, and always make sure you use strong passwords that include letters, numbers, and at least one symbol. To keep track of your passwords and keep them safe and secure, use a password manager like LastPass or PasswordBox.
- Use two-factor authentication on all of your accounts to enhance security.
- Get LogDog, a free anti-hacking app. It protects your personal data and valuable accounts (Gmail, Facebook, Yahoo and more) and alerts you to any suspicious activity so you can take control of your account before a hacker does.The service can be used across all devices and OS’s, so you’re always being protected. Here’s the Android and iOS links for you to check out.