We’re all used to the standard cyber scam scenario featuring some long-lost deceased relative, a Nigerian prince, or a mysterious PayPal transfer. But in recent years, the tactics for scamming people out of money and personal information have evolved into becoming much harder to detect.

In this post, we take a look at some of the most ingenuous internet scams and how to spot them.

Creative cyber scams

Scamming is a lucrative industry, which is why criminals are constantly developing new, smarter ways of duping their victims. But while the specific details may change, these are a few creative methods that we can learn to recognise and be vigilant of.

  • Advanced phishing emails
    The average phishing email has evolved from the crude, easy-to-spot fake message to a fully branded, highly detailed and credible-sounding email that some users can easily confuse with a genuine communication from a known sender – typically a bank or credit card company. In many cases, the only obvious clue would hide in the URLs within the message, and in the domain name of the email sender. A ‘spoofed’ email will disguise the actual email address by displaying a different sender. Some of these emails will even feature a customer service phone number, managed by a member of the scammers’ team who will try to trick you into disclosing your account details over the phone.
  • Email interception
    Organised scammers are increasingly able to intercept email conversations. They can replace a genuine email message with a fraudulent one, which at a first glance will appear to be from the original sender. But again, there will be clues in the details. An unexpected request to transfer money to a new bank account is always a red flag in the first place – especially if an email arrives outside of regular business hours! For any suspicious messages, it’s worth double-checking the sender details, as the scammer may have been able to set up a fake domain name that looks very similar to the real thing.
  • Wiretapping
    With the help of some basic equipment, a hacker can easily tap into a fibre-optic connection and access email traffic as well as capture passwords and financial data. The same risk applies for public wi-fi connections which are known for attracting malicious eavesdroppers. By placing themselves between the user and the public wi-fi hotspot, the hackers can see the data transmitted and hoover up any sensitive information that they can use for financial gain. Another form of wiretapping has also been known to be used by legitimate businesses, looking to extract additional information from its website visitors without them knowing it.
  • Help scams
    Some scammers don’t just cheat their way to your money, they also target you afterwards to offer their help to get you your money back. Using a fake identity, they email or call you claiming to be from a legal firm specialising in online fraud. In exchange for an upfront fee, they claim to be able to help you recover what you’ve lost – but once you pay them you are of course just left with an even bigger loss.
  • Romance scams
    Most of us have learnt to be wary of cold emails or Skype messages from people who claim to be interested in a relationship with us. However, not as many people are aware of scammers operating on genuine dating sites. Action Fraud recently reported that online romance fraud victims were conned out of £41 million in 2017, at a whopping average of £11,500 per person. Often the scammer will use several fake profiles and engage in online conversations with the victim for a long period of time, gradually building up trust. The typical scam will then turn into a request for money to help them arrange travel or to get them out of an emergency situation. As unromantic as it may sound, the modern online dating process requires you to do a great deal of due diligence and unbiased research.
  • Fake software
    We’re used to receiving emails and notifications from the software providers we know and trust. There’s normally nothing strange about receiving an email from Microsoft if you are an Office365 user, for example. But scammers can take advantage of that trust, by prompting you to ‘upgrade to the latest version’ of various software or ‘apply an urgent security patch’.
    A good email security package will pick up on malicious links in emails and browsers, but some of these messages are known to look so credible that people choose to ignore the security warning and download the file anyway.
  • Fake shopfronts
    An advanced cyber scam can often include an entire fake e-commerce website which will resemble a genuine online shop interface. This is where having an up-to-date antivirus package will be worth its weight in gold, as it will help you verify the authenticity and security of a website before submitting your payment details.

Why cyber scams are relevant to the business

As a business owner, it’s easy to dismiss some of these scam tactics as less relevant in the workplace – but it’s worth remembering that employees often tend to use their work laptops and phones to do many of their everyday tasks such as shopping, messaging, dating and using social media. Your staff members can be targeted by a wide range of scams, and inadvertently expose the rest of the business to security risks, so it’s worth coupling any security software with practical training on how to spot suspicious activities.

To learn more, check out our previous post on 7 ways of securing your business against security breaches and cyber scams.