Spotting fraudsters, scammers, and identity thieves online

Online identity thief

Consider this: In 2021, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received 2.8 million fraud reports from consumers. Of the losses those consumers reported, more than $2.3 billion were tied to imposter scams—nearly twice as much as in 2020.

How did this happen? Unfortunately, the number of cybercriminals out there attempting to steal people’s personal information seems to be growing.

  • It’s happening on social media when a fraudster pretends to be someone you know.
  • It’s happening on websites when a hacker redirects you to an unsafe link.
  • It’s even happening via email when someone poses as a company you do business with and asks for your account information.

Aside from the monetary losses caused by online scams, falling victim also has the potential to damage your credit score, hurt your chances of getting a loan, and put you on a long road to regaining financial security.

That’s why it’s so important to be on the lookout and protect yourself from the scams, fraud, and identity theft that commonly occurs online.

Scammers, phishers, and fraudsters, oh my!

While we can’t dispute that technology has made life easier, sometimes it puts us in danger, too. In today’s digital world, we’ve become so accustomed to conducting business online that we may forget there are people out there who are up to no good. These cybercriminals are creating fake websites, sending fraudulent emails, and crafting other online scams to trick people into sharing their personal information or handing over money.

Identity thieves commit fraud using information we know is sensitive and should be kept secure, like our Social Security numbers, credit card information, and other personal financial data. But did you know that even basic information that seems benign can pose a threat to our security? Identity thieves and fraudsters can steal or take advantage of you with as little as your name or email address.

What are the most popular types of online scams?

Online scams can vary widely and take many forms. They can occur via email or text message, when browsing the web or shopping online, and over social media. Here are some of the most commonly reported online scams:

What is Phishing?

Phishers take on the persona of someone you trust, such as a friend or co-worker, and ask you to share information or click a link via email, social media, or messaging apps. That link is often malicious, taking you to an unsecure and unsafe site.

Fake websites and “form-jacking.”

There’s an astounding number of websites posing as your favorite brands or retailers. These fake sites try to scam you with unreal deals and trick you into making purchases. There are also fraudsters using what’s known as form-jacking, a new cyber threat that steals your credit card information. It happens when a legitimate website is hacked and you’re unknowingly redirected to a different—and malicious—URL.

Fake antivirus software.

If you’re browsing online and suddenly see a suspicious pop-up, chances are it’s a scam. Fake antivirus software ads and pop-ups try to tempt you to download their free software; when you do, that software infects your computer with a virus, malware, ransomware, or other cyber threats.

Get-rich-quick scams.

It’s easy to be enticed by promises to make quick and easy money, and more and more cybercriminals are using this scheme to take advantage of unsuspecting people. Claims that you can make big bucks fast are simply tactics to get you to hand over personal and financial information or make an ill-advised investment.

Tech support scams.

Over the phone and via email, tech support impersonators are contacting people to tell them their devices are infected. They may prompt you to download an app that allows them to control your device remotely, which allows them to download actual viruses or malware. Then they ask for payment to fix it.

How can I spot an online scam?

There are a number of things you can do to identify an online scam and protect yourself from falling prey to fraudsters.

When it comes to phishing attempts, the best way to spot a scam is to take your time reviewing the email or message. Look for inaccurate information and inconsistencies, like misspelled names, poor grammar, or links that look like they don’t lead where they should.

Scam websites aren’t too hard to spot when you know what to look for. They often have similar (but not identical) URLs to the brand they claim to be, but many have spelling errors or other inaccuracies. If you spot an out-of-this-world deal, you may end up being shipped fake merchandise or, worse, get nothing in return.

Being on alert for form-jacking can be more difficult. Make it a practice to double-check the URL every time you enter a page where you’re going to input your credit card information. It requires a close eye because scammers will often vary the URL slightly by adding or omitting a single letter or number.  

If you receive a virus pop-up, only trust its warning if you can be assured it came from your antivirus program or provider. Be cautious when you’re presented with flashy pop-ups or requests to take immediate action. A real antivirus program will usually take care of threats in the background and only notify you when the issue has been resolved. And if you don’t have virus protection, get it now.

Avoiding a get-rich-quick scam often comes down to common sense. If you’re considering a side hustle or online gig, watch out for ads that say you need little to no experience, claim you can get started in minutes, or ask you to make an upfront investment. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

When you’re interacting with tech support, know that most of the organizations you do business with—including your bank—will never call you and prompt you to share personal information. If an issue occurs and it requires resolution, they may send you an email requesting that you call them. In this case, go to their website and use the customer support phone number that you know is reliable.  

What is the best protection against online scams?

When it comes to ensuring your financial security and protecting yourself against identity theft, fraud, or online scams, the best thing you can do is take steps to prevent it from happening.

Be alert. Chances are, if something feels fishy about an email you receive or a website you visit, it may be false. Review the message carefully for tell-tale signs like misspellings or other inaccurate information.

Click with care. Use caution before you click on any link. If you’re asked to click a link to log in (for example, to your online bank account), avoid the link in the email and instead navigate directly to the trusted site to access your account.

Review your bank and credit card statements regularly. Know your statement cycles and review each statement closely for any suspicious activity. If you spot a charge you didn’t make, it could be an indicator that your information was stolen online.

Create secure passwords for your accounts. Use long, complex, and unique passwords and vary your passwords from account to account.

Review your credit reports annually. You can get a free credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies annually.

There are also habits you can practice on a daily basis to help protect your identity and lower the risk of a cybercriminal getting a hold of your information.

  • Secure your SSN and PII. Keep your Social Security Number (SSN) and other Personally Identifiable Information (PII) in a safe spot. Don’t carry your social security card in your wallet; be careful where you write your personal information down.
  • Don’t respond to unsolicited requests. Never share your personal information by phone, mail, email, or on websites without being certain the request is valid and from a verified source. This includes providing your name, birth date, SSN, and bank account numbers.
  • Safeguard against “oversharing” on social. Would-be criminals can use social media to learn about you, your interests, and your habits. That information could help them figure out your passwords and answers to security questions for your online accounts.
  • Watch out for “shoulder surfers.” Whenever you’re entering your PIN or a password, shield the keypad or keyboard to prevent others from eyeing your credentials.
  • Check your security and settings. Many of the mobile apps and websites that you use keep a record of your personal information. Keep data safe on your devices by checking your app permissions and reviewing your security and privacy settings.
  • Install antivirus software. Ensure you keep the antivirus software on your computers up-to-date and pay attention to any legitimate warnings or alerts you receive.

Marine Credit Union offers many tools to help you regularly monitor your account activity, including our free Marine Mobile App, e-alerts, and e-statements.

What should I do if I fall for a scam?

If you become a victim of a scam and your personal information is compromised, you have the right to:

  • Create an FTC Identity Theft Report
  • Place a one-year fraud alert on your credit report
  • Place a seven-year extended fraud alert on your credit report
  • Get free copies of your credit report
  • Get fraudulent information removed (or “blocked”) from your credit report
  • Dispute fraudulent or inaccurate information on your credit report
  • Stop creditors and debt collectors from reporting fraudulent accounts
  • Get copies of documents related to the identity theft
  • Stop a debt collector from contacting you

Concerned your identity has been stolen?

Did you share your information with the wrong person online? If you’re worried you’ve been targeted by an online scam or concerned your personal information has been compromised, act right away!

Contact the FTC.

IdentityTheft.gov is the federal government’s one-stop resource for identity theft victims.

Contact Marine CU.

Report any suspicious activity, identity theft, or fraud issues that could affect your accounts to your local Marine Credit Union branch office.

Consider filing a police report.

If you know the person who committed the crime, you may want to alert authorities and file a police report.

Frequently Asked Questions about Scams, Fraud, and Identity Theft

What is an online scam?

Online scams are types of fraud committed by cybercriminals on the Internet. There are many types of online scams, and they can take place over email, on social media, on fake websites, via text message on your mobile phone, and more.

What are 5 types of online scams?

Some of the most popular types of online scams include:

  • Phishing. Phishing occurs when someone takes on the identity of someone you trust and asks you to share personal information or click a malicious link.
  • Fake websites and “form-jacking.” Fake websites try to trick you into making purchases. Form-jacking is a new cyberthreat that steals your credit card information when you’re making a purchase online and you’re unknowingly redirected to a malicious URL.
  • Fake antivirus software. Fake antivirus pop-ups ask you to download software that will infect your computer with a virus, malware, ransomware, or other cyber threats.
  • Get rich quick scams. Claims that you can make big bucks fast are tactics to get you to hand over personal and financial information or make an ill-advised investment.
  • Tech support scams. Tech support impersonators contact you with false tech issues and prompt you to download an app that allows them to control your device remotely.

What red flags should I look for to spot a scam?

It’s not always easy to spot a scam, but there are many red flags to watch for:

  • Take your time reviewing an email or message that may be phishing. Look for inaccurate information, inconsistencies, or links that look like they don’t lead where they should.
  • Watch for scam websites that may have similar (but not identical) URLs to the brand they claim to be, spelling errors, or other inaccuracies.
  • Be on alert for form-jacking by double-checking the URL when you enter a page where you’re going to input your credit card information.
  • Be cautious when you’re presented with antivirus pop-ups or requests to take immediate action. Never install software from these pop-ups.
  • Avoid get-rich-quick scams with common sense. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Know that if a tech issue occurs, companies are unlikely to call you. When you encounter an issue, you should call them using the customer support phone number on their website. 

What is identity theft?

Identity theft is a serious crime. An identity thief takes your personal or financial information and uses it by posing as you or performing financial transactions in your name without your knowledge. For example, an ID thief may charge items to your bank account or open a credit card or other fraudulent account in your name.

How does someone steal your identity online?

Identity thieves or scammers can steal your identity by getting their hands on your personal financial information when you’re conducting business online. Thieves may obtain your account numbers, passwords, Social Security numbers, and other confidential information, then use that information to pose as you or perform financial transactions in your name without your knowledge.

How can I check to see if someone is using my Social Security number?

If you think your Social Security information has been stolen, it’s important to act quickly. The best way to check if someone may be using your SSN is to check your credit report. You can do this online through AnnualCreditReport.com or by contacting each of the three reporting agencies. When you have your credit report, review it for anything out of the ordinary. If you spot something suspicious, someone may be fraudulently using your information.

What should I do if I fall victim to a scam or think my identity has been stolen?

IdentityTheft.gov is the federal government’s one-stop resource for identity theft victims. The site provides checklists, sample letters, and contact information to guide you through the ID theft recovery process.

Making Your Financial Security a Top Priority

At Marine Credit Union, your financial security is our top priority. We’re here to help protect you from fraud and identity theft through:

Education. We offer members free financial education courses through GreenPath, a financial wellness nonprofit.

Awareness. When threats occur, we notify members via our official social media channels and with colored banners at the top of our corporate website.

Security. Consumer accounts at Marine Credit Union are federally insured up to $250,000 through the National Credit Union Association.

Questions about the security of your account? Contact us for ID theft support.

Think your information may have been compromised? You can report fraud, scams, or suspicious activities at ReportFraud.ftc.gov

Learn more about Identity Theft and Security and how Marine Credit Union can help you protect yourself from fraud.

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