How Fraudsters Have Taken Advantage of the Internet
As soon as you go into business online you will become noticed - after all that is the whole purpose of being in business in the first place. Unfortunately, some of those who notice you will be fraudsters and they will target you whether you like it or not.
It is best to be aware that scum like this exist, and some of them are very clever. The methods they use to con people change with time so it's a good idea to keep up to date on the latest methods they use, and be aware all the time that they exist.
Fortunately, if you stay aware of this and take a cynical attitude to any attempts to get information of any kind from you have a very good chance of finding them a nuisance, rather than a danger to your financial and mental well being.
How fraudsters will target you
As soon as you put your email address or other contact details online you will be sent emails, and possibly get phone calls, from people whose main aim is to get hold of your financial details or get you to send them money. So, to help you avoid being stung here are some of the more common ways that they operate.
The dangers of social media
I have always believed that Facebook is the biggest danger to personal security in existence, particularly when they are hacked. In 2021 the personal details including full names, email addresses, telephone numbers, and other data of anywhere between 500 million and one and a half billion people (estimates vary as you would expect) were freely released onto the Dark Web for any fraudsters to use.
This gives them the ability to impersonate a huge number of people and so you can never be sure that people who contact you are really who they say they are.
Why pick on social media in particular?
Social media offers fraudsters the perfect platform to target potential victims with malicious intent. They can reach vast audiences with minimal effort, while using fake personas and fabricated trust networks to create an illusion of credibility.
Social media is a powerful tool for staying connected with friends and family, sharing ideas, and expanding your network in almost any niche. This has also made it a perfect place for fraudsters to meet their new friends, find their future victims, and even make their pitch look more convincing than it really is.
This article will explore how fraudsters have taken advantage of the internet, what that means for you as a business or consumer, and how you can protect yourself from social media-based scams going forward.
What Does Online Fraud Look Like?
Fraudsters have used virtually every type of online platform to find new victims. The types of scams have even evolved over time to include more complex schemes that capitalize on the benefits of each platform. In general, you can expect to see more scams using social media as a marketing tool in these categories:
- Romance Fraud: This is the most common type of fraud on social media, and it can take many forms. This can be something like what’s known as the “sweetheart scam,” where someone you meet online leads you to believe they’re in love with you and just needs a little help getting out of a country or situation they’re in.
- Business Opportunities: You can find business opportunities advertised on almost every social media platform. Whether it’s a pyramid scheme or a multi-level marketing (MLM) scheme, you should always be cautious about offers that promise a lot of money with very little work.
- Investment Scams: Investment fraud is also common on social media, particularly with peer-to-peer (P2P) lending. These schemes may promise high returns, but they often rely on creating fake trust networks, identity theft, and other illegal activities in order to pay back victims.
- Fake News: Social media has become a breeding ground for fake news, especially during election years. Political opinions are often outrageously biased, and many people believe they can get away with publishing misinformation because of their anonymity.
Why the Internet Is the Perfect Environment for Fraud
The best place to start in understanding Internet media fraud is by realizing that the internet is a place where anyone can go online and make themselves appear like whatever they want to be. There is nearly no oversight, no accountability, and no way to truly verify that the person on the other end is who they say they are. This makes it a perfect environment for fraudsters to exploit others for personal gain.
There are three primary factors that make online fraud possible:
- Volatility of online identity: An online identity exists only in the digital space, making it difficult to verify that you are actually communicating with the person you think you are. There are no laws requiring internet identity verification. This means you can easily create a false identity and be completely anonymous while doing so.
- Accessibility and affordability of digital platforms: The internet makes it possible to reach millions of people around the world at minimal cost. This makes it a convenient and cost-effective way to connect with potential victims. Again, it also makes it easy to create a fake presence on almost any platform.
- Lack of regulation and oversight: As mentioned above, oversight is virtually non-existent in the online environment. This makes it possible for fraudsters to take advantage of the internet and cause significant harm to innocent people.
The Biggest Scams on the Internet
There are several scams that have become commonplace online. The biggest scams on the Internet involve impersonation, malware, clickbait, and misleading content designed to trick people into sharing sensitive information. Dangers include:
- Impersonation - fraudsters often impersonate legitimate companies and organizations, including government agencies, banks, utility providers, and universities. They create fake social media accounts and use them to spread misinformation and malicious links, or solicit personal information from unsuspecting victims.
- Malware - Fraudsters often use emails to distribute malware, including viruses, worms, and ransomware. This malicious software can infect computers, steal sensitive data, and lock computers down until victims pay a ransom to unlock them.
- Fake News: Fake news is by far the largest scam on social media, and it has become particularly prevalent since the 2016 presidential election. This can range from something as innocuous as sharing a link to a completely made-up story on a blog. There are even some fake news websites that make money from ads on the site. The website owner, who might be located somewhere in the world, places fake news stories on the website and links to an article with a false source.
- Clickbait: Clickbait is another common scam on the Internet. Clickbait titles promise an enticing or interesting story. This is usually for a blog post, video, or picture that you might have seen on your feed. The title will usually have something to do with a current event, like the weather, politics, or even an athlete. The article itself doesn’t really have anything to do with the headline. It’s just an attempt to get you to click on to a website, which may contain a virus designed to steal your data.
- Fake Ads: Some fake ads on social media are completely made up or clickbait titles. Others attempt to scam you into making a purchase. They might claim that a product is available at a reduced rate or that it’s free when it’s not. They might even claim to be giving away free stuff, but they’re asking you to complete a survey or other task. The purpose is often to collect credit card details.
- Fake Profiles: Some fraudsters create fake profiles on social media to target potential victims. This could be a dating site, an online forum, or even a gaming platform. They might even create a false persona for a legitimate website. They may do this if they’re trying to take advantage of their followers. Or, they might just be looking for new victims.
- The 'undelivered parcel' scam: you get an email from a so-called delivery company telling you a parcel hasn't been delivered because the address was wrong, and asking for a small redirection charge. They just want your name, address and credit card details, so that they can empty your account.
How Fraudsters Use Social Media to Find Victims
Fraudsters often use social media to find their next victims. They don’t just target anyone who comes across their fake profiles. Instead, they use social media to find people who are like-minded, have similar interests, and might have a higher likelihood of being fooled or scammed.
They may target people who have posted negative comments about their business or product or who seem to be generally dissatisfied with the current state of things. They may also target people who are generally optimistic and hopeful, because they may be more likely to believe their false promises.
Fraudsters are always looking for a new victim. They can find them anywhere and often seek someone they believe they can easily swindle or take advantage of. Their goal is to create a false trust network and build a relationship that allows them to encourage the victim to make a bad decision.
How Fraudsters Use Social Media to Build Trust Before They Strike
It’s critical for anyone using the Internet to understand how to spot a potential fraud before it’s too late. This can be difficult, though, because these fraudsters are subtle and deceptive. They often don’t reveal their true intentions until the victim is too wrapped up in the false relationship to back out.
However, there are ways to spot these attempts at building trust so that you don’t get caught in an online scam. Here are a few signs to look for:
- They ask for too much too soon. If someone meets you online and is suddenly asking you to move in with them or send them money or claiming that they need help getting out of a foreign country, be wary. This is probably a scam.
- They don’t answer your questions. Remember that you know very little about this person. You likely don’t know their full name or what city they live in. You may even know nothing about their day-to-day life. If they aren’t willing to share even the most basic information, they may be hiding something.
- They want to meet you in person as soon as possible. It’s nice to have a pen pal, but you’ve probably never met this person in real life. If they’re pushing for a face-to-face meeting, it could be a sign that they’re trying to get you involved in the scam before you have time to back out.
- They don’t comment on other posts. When you find yourself hanging out with a new friend online, you’ll likely see that they’ve commented on other posts. This can be a great way to get to know them and to find out more about them. If they’re not commenting on anything, they may not be real.