17 Online Scams That Are Fooling Even Savvy Americans

Online scams are becoming increasingly common and clever. Even the most tech-savvy of Americans are at risk of falling victim to fraudster tactics. From spoofing to employment fraud, here are 17 scams you don’t want to be caught up in.

Robocalls and Scam Texts

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According to the Federal Communications Commission, unwanted robocalls and texts are the top consumer complaint. These calls and messages typically contain fraudulent offers or even threats to scare people into taking action, from companies pretending to be banks, delivery companies, or large retailers. It’s best not to answer calls or messages from unknown numbers, especially if you’re not expecting any, and do not give out personal information if you do.

Romance Scams

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Romance scams set out to exploit people on dating and social media sites and often involve a scammer manipulating those seeking love for their own financial gain. If you’re ever speaking to someone you don’t know online and they begin to ask for money, we advise that you cut off contact and report the scam to the relevant authorities, such as the FTC’s Report Fraud.

Spoofing

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Spoofing is when scammers disguise their contact details to mimic trusted sources. They may also alter email addresses or phone numbers ever so slightly to mislead recipients into believing that they’re communicating with legitimate contacts, such as their bank or phone company. Be wary and always verify the company’s official contact details.

Charity Scams

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A charity scam involves a fake organization or cause attempting to elicit donations. If you’re contacted by a charity that you don’t recognize, always do thorough research and verify the charity’s legitimacy before making a donation. Don’t let your kind intentions be exploited by fraudsters.

Online Purchase Scams

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These scams are common among people of all ages. Offers for fake or heavily discounted products are sent out through social media, email, text messages, or phone calls—but when you make a purchase, you either never receive your product or your card details are retained and re-used. It’s important to always verify the legitimacy of an online retailer before making a purchase.

Employment Scams

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The Better Business Bureau reports that an estimated $2 billion is lost annually to employment scams, affecting around 14 million people. These scams typically target individuals with fake job offers and then use people’s personal information for identity theft. Or, fraudsters will ask people to pay money for equipment for their “new job” and then disappear. Be sure to thoroughly vet potential employers and offers before providing any sensitive data, and never send money.

Phishing Scams

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Similar to spoofing scams, phishing scams involve convincing emails mimicking legitimate companies or contacts. These emails will typically urge people to take immediate action, asking a victim to provide information that often leads to data theft. Look out for signs of phishing and report any suspicious attempts.

Travel Scams

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If you ever spot a travel insurance offer or vacation package that looks too good to be true, it likely is. Fraudsters use social media and email to spread fake deals and lure in unsuspecting victims. Be sure to only purchase packages and insurance from reputable, well-known companies.

Fake Shopping Websites

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Fake shopping websites are created by scammers to look like genuine e-commerce stores, either one you recognize or a completely original brand. They’re designed to steal your money or financial information. ExpressVPN suggests looking out for URL red flags, pixelated images, typos and bad grammar, and too-good-to-be-true prices.

Advance Fee Schemes

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You’ve likely heard of the classic “Nigerian Prince” scam, but here’s a quick reminder. An advance fee scam is when you receive a request for an upfront payment with the promise of greater returns. Always be wary of these offers, as nine times out of ten, they are fake.

Scareware

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A scareware scam involves fake antivirus software alerts to encourage the victim to install malware. Scammers exploit people’s fear to push them into hasty decisions, urging them to take action to resolve a non-existent threat. It’s best to avoid unfamiliar software and pop-up alerts.

Economic Downturn Scams

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Due to current economic conditions, there’s been a rise in scams related to job postings and financial relief offers, preying on people’s financial insecurities. Keep your wits about you and be wary of potential fraud in seemingly legitimate opportunities.

ChatGPT and AI Risks

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The emergence of AI technologies like ChatGPT presents new risks. Fraudsters use AI to create convincing phishing communications or make false chatbot apps appearing to be AI to solicit personal information from victims. This is a relatively new scam, so it’s important to stay informed.

Sextortion Scams

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A sextortion scam is when someone threatens to release private or compromising information about another person, usually to solicit money or to get someone to follow their demands. THORN has shared a guide on what to do if you find yourself involved in a sextortion scam, but protecting your personal information and privacy online is critical.

Investment Scams

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Investment scams, typically involving cryptocurrencies and stocks, are becoming increasingly common. Scammers entice victims with the promise of high returns, but these investments often turn out to be non-existent or severely misrepresented. Fraudulent crypto schemes cost Americans $3.8 billion in 2022, as reported by NBC News. If someone you don’t know approaches you about an investment opportunity that sounds too good to be true, don’t take it.

Tech Support Scams

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Tech support scams trick individuals into believing their computer has a serious problem, like a virus or security breach. Scammers pose as tech support technicians from well-known companies and manipulate victims into paying for unnecessary services or granting remote access to their computers, leading to data theft. Be wary of unsolicited tech support calls or messages.

Lottery and Sweepstakes Scams

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Lottery and sweepstakes scams involve making victims believe they have won a large prize or amount of money, but to claim their winnings, they must pay an advance fee or provide sensitive personal information. Always remember that a legitimate lottery company will never require you to make a payment to claim winnings and that you can’t have won a prize for a competition you didn’t enter.

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