Avoid falling for online scams — cybersecurity experts weigh in on best practices

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Two-factor authentication can greatly improve your online security. (Photo: Getty)

No matter how tech savvy you are, online scams and phishing schemes are out there just waiting to trick you and plenty of others into giving away your personal information. Unfortunately some of these scams are pretty good — the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says they often appear to be coming from companies and businesses you trust. They also happen a lot. The FTC received more than 2.1 million fraud reports from people in 2020 alone, with online scams being the most common type of fraud they saw.

Of course, you're not doomed to fall for online scams and there are certain things you can do to protect yourself (like subscribing to a protection program like Malwarebytes). Here's what you need to know — and do — to stay safe online.

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Scammers have gotten pretty sophisticated lately. Don't fall for their tricks. (Photo: Getty)

What do online scams look like?

It depends. Online scams can come in many forms, including phishing emails and websites that aren't what they claim to be. The FTC says online scams can look like the following:

  • Emails that seem like they're from a company you know or trust.

  • Messages that tell a story to trick you into clicking a link or opening an attachment

When they're in the form of an email, these messages may say that they've noticed suspicious activity or login attempts, claim that there's some kind of issue with your account or payment information, ask you to confirm personal information, say you're eligible to register for a government refund, or offer a coupon for free stuff. Again, they often request that you follow a link or open an attachment to "fix" the situation.

Why do so many people fall for online scams?

Experts say it's because the scams are pretty good. "People generally find themselves falling for online scams, because the initial communication tends to look like it came from a person’s trusted organization like a bank, actual social network, or group of friends," Tom Kelly, president and chief executive officer of the consumer privacy platform IDX, tells Yahoo Life. "Scammers are getting more creative with their approach to victims — using your social media to get to know your likes, dislikes, etc. and using your contacts, friend lists, etc. to send fake emails posed as someone you know."

Online scams also "can be sophisticated in both the appeal and graphics" and are usually "designed with personalization derived from social engineering," tech and cybersecurity expert Chuck Brooks, president of Brooks Consulting International, tells Yahoo Life. Many scams also target older people who may be more trusting of what they see and read online, he says. "Phishing is the most common way to get them hooked," Brooks says. "All it takes is opening a malware-infected email or clicking on a link."

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Office worker data privacy and keeping personal information safe online.
If something feels off, don't click any links. (Photo: Getty)

How to protect yourself from online scams

For starters, awareness is crucial. "My biggest advice is to not click on anything that looks suspicious or feels off," Kelly says. "It’s also important to secure your accounts by turning off your privacy and location sharing options. Enabling features like two-factor authentication on all your accounts also helps add more security."

Brooks also suggests that you "be vigilant" and "use principles of cyber hygiene that enhance your awareness, such as checking the email sender’s validity and by considering every unknown sender a potential threat."

Another option to consider: Malwarebytes Premium. This software helps protect you from malware attacks, as well as online scams and phishing schemes designed to steal your sensitive information, including login information and credit card numbers. Malwarebytes Premium will also flag if you’re visiting a suspicious site. In addition, Malwarebytes Premium helps block sophisticated cyberthreats that other programs can miss, providing an effective way to help secure your devices and data.

Overall, Brooks recommends being mindful that online scams can and do happen. "Always be on guard for the phish as it is still the preferred tool used by cybercriminals," he says.

Try Malwarebytes Premium for 30 days free*

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