Online scams have been around almost as long as the Internet itself: indeed, some of the scams floating around the net today are 21st century versions of much older frauds. While some scams – such as the “Nigerian Prince” (or “419”)– are so well-known that they’ve become a comedy staple, new variations appear regularly, and even the most obvious snares will trap someone. 

Agent X comics – used with permission.

As in the “real” world, we are all also vulnerable to scams on the Internet – especially when we think we’re immune. So, it’s always a good idea to be aware of some of the most common scams, and follow some basic Internet safety rules.

We’re all aware that we should give out our personal information only on trusted, secure sites. However, it’s also worth checking to see that the site you’re on is the one you think it is: some scammers will set up “phishing” sites masquerading as your bank, internet provider, or computer company. They will then send you an e-mail, citing a “problem” with your account, asking you to click on a link which sends you directly to their fake site, where you will be required to fill in your password, payment details, and other private information. When in doubt, it’s best to go to the homepage of the site in a fresh browser window, and access your account from there. Better yet, call their customer service number to confirm what you’re seeing onscreen.

A similar fraud involves scammers assuming the name and logo of a nonprofit organization, and then either asking for donations, or even offering fake “grants”, to “phish” for the private information of anyone who fills in the online form. Our regular readers will already be aware that the Open Minds Foundation was the target of this sort of scam last spring, which we were able to neutralize almost immediately due to a couple quick-witted friends who reported it to us instantly.

More recently, the Facebook community was targeted by scammers who opened fake accounts with the names of real users, who then send new friend requests to that person’s “friends” list. As always, be sure that you’re talking to the person you think you’re talking to – especially when they ask for personal information or money. It’s better to ask your friend for some validation, or even suggest that any private information be shared directly over the “old fashioned” telephone, or even face to face, if possible. A real friend won’t mind a bit of security; only a scammer will act hurt.

All in all, it’s best to remember these basic rules of online safety:

  • Keep your personal information private – even when sending information to someone you trust, you never know who might be able to see it on the other side.
  • Keep your antivirus program updated – firewalls were invented for a reason!
  • Keep your privacy settings on the strongest setting possible – like locking a door, your online activity should be locked, too. And make sure your internet connection is secure!
  • Create strong passwords – and change them, regularly!
  • Make online purchases only from secure, trusted sites – and make sure to update your bookmarks to those sites frequently; popular sites can and have been hacked before!
  • Be careful what you post – generally, don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your dear aunt Martha – or the rest of the world – to see.
  • Be careful what you download – check for viruses and don’t download from unknown sources.
  • Be careful who you meet online – if you do meet, meet in a public place with friends – and ask to video conference first, to see that they are who they say they are.
  • Be careful where you browse – don’t browse sites lacking proper certification, and stay far, far away from the “Deep Web.”
  • Use a search engine that doesn’t store (and sell) your information –, for instance.
  • For secure email, use a program that doesn’t harvest your data – such as protonmail.

For more on online safety, check out our new online safety and cyberbullying section of our resources page.

Editor's Note: While we at OMF value all free expression of opinion, the views expressed by our contributing authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of OMF, its board members, or trustees.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Do you have a story about an online scam that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!