The internet is an interesting – and useful – place. It’s also the perfect breeding ground for tricksters, criminals and con artists. To protect yourself online just takes a bit of forethought.
We spoke to Rob Pope, Director of CERT NZ (New Zealand’s Computer Emergency Response Team) for his top tips for spotting (and therefore avoiding) an online scammer.
“At CERT NZ it’s our job to help people with all sorts of online issues, including online scams,” says Rob. “Even if you’re not sure if something’s dodgy, you can fill in a report on our website and the CERT NZ team can help you out.”
Online scammer red flags
Scammers are very, very clever, and can make their stories seem totally plausible. They’re also great at understanding people, and will use every trick in the book to wind unsuspecting internet citizens around their fingers. Here are some of the things Rob says you should keep in mind.
- They’ve contacted you unexpectedly. Lots of scams start with an approach you weren’t expecting. “If someone contacts you out of the blue – probably by email, or on social media, it pays to think, ‘Is this for real?’” advises Rob.
- They tell you about something really worrying – or too good to be true. Scammers play on emotions – offering an amazing opportunity, or warning you of something devastating. Easy money, loved ones in danger, a caring relationship, or your personal information has been leaked – try pausing your initial emotional reaction, and check into it first. Sometimes all it takes is a quick Google search or a phone call to find out the truth.
- They asked you to do something, or to give them information or money. One thing you can be sure of, scammers will always end up asking you for something. That might be entering details on a website, answering questions in a survey, or paying upfront for something. Again, pause to verify their story – call their company direct, look into their social media account or run a Google search.
- “Just like with your health, prevention is often better than cure,” says Rob. “Doing a handful of simple security measures today will mean you’re safer in the future!” These steps include:
- Making sure you don’t share too much personal information online
- Having your privacy settings on social media up to date
- Choosing unique passwords for each of your accounts
- Turning on two-factor authentication for your online accounts
If you’re not sure where or how to start, there are handy guides on the CERT NZ website.
Some common tricks
Rob says scammers are constantly ahead of the game, looking for angles that could get them some money – or data. Here are some of the more common cons he’s seen.
A scammer might ask you to:
- Pay in advance for a prize, holiday, large pay-out or exciting advantage
- Give them remote access to your computer
- Enter details into a website you’ve been directed to
- Invest money in a scheme
- Pay an invoice
- Answer a survey or quiz
- Enter your credit card details, account number or PIN
- Pay to recover money lost in a scam
- Take a job where you receive money, keep a portion and send the rest
- Let them fix an error on your computer
Be online, but be on guard
While it seems uncomfortable to be constantly looking for scam artists online, the reality is that they’re more common than you may think. Rob says the answer is not to avoid the internet altogether – there are amazing communities to join, great connections to be made, and useful information to access.
The habit we should all be getting into, says Rob, is to do our research.
“Sometimes, all it takes is a bit of digging – click onto people’s social media profiles, google their names or call businesses directly. Remember the old saying: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!” !”.
If you have come across an online scam – report it to CERT NZ.