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10 Online Scams and How Much They Could Cost You

— December 22, 2020

Most important to keep an eye on during the holiday season is fake shopping sites—these cost victims upward of $300 million last year.

First came unemployment benefit scams, then came Covid-19 vaccine scams, distance learning cyber threats, and also work-from-home cybersecurity challenges.

Needless to note, 2020 has been a year of trials and especially when it comes to protecting our information online. The holiday season will be no exception, thanks to a rise in online shopping and virtual festivities. 

Which is why the time is now to understand what Internet scams are lurking, what they can cost you, and how to avoid them. 

Last year alone, 467,361 online scam complaints were reported to the FBI, according to the bureau’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. The following are just a few of those types of online scams, listed from the least to most costly, according to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center Report. 

1. Unexpected Prize Scam

Most commonly conducted via social media, email, or video games, the unexpected prize scam preys on victims with an alert that they’ve won a prize and merely need a form of payment from them to process the transaction. It cost victims $48 million in 2019. 

2. Tech Support Scam

Ever received an unsolicited pop-up indicating your device needs new software to fix a virus or another cyber threat? That’s potentially a tech support scam, whereby the pop-up—or in some instances a person reaching out to you—will request a form of payment to correct a problem that doesn’t exist on your device. It cost victims $54 million last year. 

3. Malware & Ransomware Scams

Malware and ransomware are among the oldest online scam types, and they cost victims around $54 million last year. The Internet is their favorite avenue to get to victims by installing malicious software on your device that can trace your movements on the web, including payment methods. 

4. Overpayment Scams

Costing victims about $56 million last year, overpayment scams are conducted on online payment platforms. The formula? Someone pays you for a good or service but sends more money than requested, so they ask you to return it. But the initial transaction never clears, and you’ve lost that “overpaid” amount.

5. Phishing Scams

Phishing scams cost victims almost $58 million in 2019. These attacks can come through several avenues—social media channels, video game chats, email, and online payment platforms—and the intent is usually the same: They want your sensitive information and are impersonating a trustworthy source like a bank to get it. 

6. Social Media Impersonation

As the name indicates, social media impersonation scams are just that, whereby a scammer copies your online profile and requests money or sensitive information from friends in your network. It cost victims nearly $79 million last year. 

7. Hitman Scam

Common on video game platforms but also seen across the Internet, hitman scams are downright mean, as the scammer threatens its victims with injury or embarrassment until they’re paid. It cost victims $107 million in 2019.

8. Nigerian Letter Scam

Conducted most commonly via email and social media, the Nigerian letter scam cost victims $124 million last year. How it works? Scammers act as a family member or government official and request your help to access their money from a foreign bank account. They also offer you a percentage cut for your trouble—and they need your banking information to give it you. 

9. Fake Shopping Sites

Most important to keep an eye on during the holiday season is fake shopping sites—these cost victims upward of $300 million last year. They’re usually marketed via video gaming sites and across the Internet and look much like a legitimate website. Yet, they’re just as the name indicates—fake and steal your money at checkout. 

10. Romance & Confidence Scams

Romance and confidence scams cost victims a whopping $475 million in 2019. Commonly conducted via email and social media, this type of scam revolves around engaging in a romantic conversation and eventually relationship with victims, building so much trust with victims that they’ll lend money to the fake suitor when asked for it. (A few red flags include never wanting to meet offline and, of course, asking for money.)

For pointers on how to protect yourself from these online scams, reference Norton’s infographic below. 

Please include attribution to with this graphic.

10 common and costly online scams

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