Criminals use all sorts of tactics to steal your personal information and your money, but many of these schemes follow a few common patterns that you can look out for.
Fraud and cybercrime are on the rise in Ireland. A 2020 PwC Irish Economic Crime Survey found that more than half of respondents experienced fraud in the previous two years.
Here are 8 scams you need to know
Today’s criminals may be more sophisticated than they were 20 years ago, but their schemes still follow a few common themes.
Today’s schemes often try various tactics to gain access to your money or personal information, according to Ireland’s Competition and Consumer Protection Commission.
1. Criminals posing as your bank or a business associate
Con artists know they need to get people to trust them, so they often adopt the identities of legitimate institutions to gain access to your personal information.
A criminal may pose as a representative from your bank or a business you regularly work with and ask you to confirm a few account details. However, this is just a ploy to get your personal information. The actual organization you work with would most likely already have these details and wouldn’t need to ask you for them.
Be wary of anyone who asks for your personal information and passwords, especially if you’ve already given them that information. If you’re not sure, contact the organization yourself to ask if they truly reached out to you to confirm this information.
2. Public Wi-Fi spies
Free Wi-Fi is certainly convenient, but you can never be certain that your internet activity isn’t being watched by nefarious parties.
Public Wi-Fi networks can be set up and monitored by criminals who are looking for the personal information of others using the network. They can capture passwords, payment details and even read your personal messages without you realizing it.
Avoid doing sensitive online work on public Wi-Fi networks like checking bank accounts, making purchases or installing updates. Instead, wait until you’re on a secure network, or use a VPN to protect your data.
3. Fake links in messages
Even the most official-looking emails can contain links to harmful malware or phony web pages that steal your personal information.
This practice is known as phishing, and it’s a very popular scam tactic. Essentially, a con artist poses as a reputable company and sends you an email with a link to click on. However, the link may install malicious software on your computer or take you to a fake login screen to capture your personal information.
Fraudsters have also expanded the scam to phone calls and text messages, referred to as vishing and smishing, respectively.
4. Sketchy investment opportunities
Scammers can come up with some sweet-sounding investment opportunities, but they're probably too good to be true.
Be sure to do your homework before agreeing to any kind of investment. Confirm that the entity is registered with the Central Bank of Ireland or European Central Bank before you do business with them.
Be wary of anyone who is pressuring you to make a quick decision without thinking it through, even if they offer you their “insurance protection.”
Investment scams involving crypto-currencies are the latest trend. Always purchase your investments - digital or otherwise - from reputable entities.
5. Phony websites
Nowadays it’s not too difficult to create a website to buy and sell items online. Unfortunately, scammers know this and are creating official-looking websites to con people out of their money and even their identities.
Some of these knock-off websites look very convincing but are actually fronts for criminals.
Protect yourself by always visiting online stores directly instead of clicking on links. Type the web address into your browser, watch for spelling mistakes and stick to reputable retailers.
If you need to log in, check the web address. The URL should change from “http” to “https” and a closed padlock symbol should appear, which tells you that the site is secure.
6. Remote access fraud
It’s not surprising that criminals are finding ways to exploit remote workers by posing as friendly IT workers.
Fraudsters will call or message workers to request remote access to their computers to do upgrades or fix a problem. Unfortunately, they’re really trying to access the device and all the sensitive info that’s on it.
If someone reaches out to you unprompted to take access to your computer remotely, reach out to your manager or IT department to confirm that it’s legitimate. A few extra phone calls or emails could save you a serious headache.
7. Ransomware attacks
Especially aggressive cybercriminals will hold your computer or personal accounts hostage until you pay them a ransom.
Ransomeware is a form of malware that encrypts your device so it’s useless. Criminals will then contact you and demand ransom to decrypt your device.
The tactic has been used on major corporations and private individuals with remarkable success. Ransomeware gangs have taken control of U.S. oil pipeline infrastructure, meat suppliers, chemical distributors, governments, financial institutions, and schools.
Recently, a gang of Russian hackers was arrested for their ransomware schemes, Reuters reported.
Defend yourself and your company against ransomware by maintaining strong backups that are stored on a separate device. Make sure your devices are updated with the latest security measures and always use caution when clicking on links or entering personal information.
8. Strange payment methods
It’s fair to assume we’re all familiar with how online purchases work, but scammers may tell you to pay them in some unusual ways.
Red flags include asking you to pay with a gift card or a money transfer service. Online transactions are usually pretty straightforward and should only be done on trusted, encrypted websites.
Another thing to be aware of: Criminals who need help moving stolen money.
According to The Bank of Ireland, young people are often targeted to become money mules for criminals. A conman will approach a student who needs some extra cash with an easy way to make some money. They’ll transfer money to their mule’s bank account and have the mule transfer it to another account, keeping some of the sum as their “payment.”