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Would you physically hand over your car, your keys, your identity document and bank statements to a perfect stranger? No?   Then why do so with your personal or financial details via the internet?

Internet fraud has been around for just about as long as the Internet itself. Each year, cybercriminals create new inventive techniques and tactics designed to hoax their potential victims.

This article serves as an effort to promote awareness, detection and prevention of fraud and scams. A number of different types of fraud and scams can be identified. A few of these are explained below:


Phishing emails include fake notifications from banks, e-payment systems, email providers, social networks, online games, etc. The aim of these emails is to obtain a user’s confidential data (username, password, etc.). Bank phishing is one of the most common tactics aimed at gaining access to online bank accounts, or e-payment account details. Once malicious users obtain these details they will have access to an individual’s personal information. Phishers are skilled at creating authentic-looking emails which are disguised as endorsed emails from various organisations. In particular, they use organisations’ logos and copy the overall style of legitimate correspondence.

January 2

Phishing: social networks

Most internet users have an account on Facebook, Twitter, Orkut, LinkedIn, or any other popular social network sites. These users would be familiar with the official email notifications from these websites. However, fake notifications can look almost exactly the same. These fake emails are designed to obtain users’ personal data and gain access to their social network accounts.

Fake notifications about lottery winnings

These are emails that inform the user that they have allegedly won the lottery. The scammer ultimately wants to hoax users into getting some of their money by demanding payment in return for winnings being ‘transferred’.

419 emails, or Nigerian scam emails

This is an email requesting users to transfer money to a remote country, in return for the promise of high interest payments. The scammers will then request users’ account numbers allegedly in order to transfer their share of the money. However, instead of transferring money to the users’ accounts, the scammers withdraw funds from the accounts. Another variation of this scam occurs where the scammers may ask the individual to send some funds, allegedly for the purpose of paying for legal services or transportation. After the money is sent, they simply cut off all contact with the victim, who is left waiting for the promised millions in cash.

Pyramid schemes and easy money

In these schemes, potential victims are asked to invest a small sum of money in order to receive high returns later on. But in fact, victims typically don’t receive anything at all.

Top ten tips to keep you safe online:

  1. Protect your passwords and change them regularly. Change your passwords often, and never click the box that allows you to store passwords or credit card information online. Make passwords long and strong, combine capital and lowercase letters with numbers and symbols to create a more secure password. Separate passwords for every account help to thwart cybercriminals. Everyone can forget a password. Keep a list that’s stored in a safe, secure place away from your computer.
  2. Install anti-virus, anti-spyware and Internet firewall tools purchased from trusted retailers or suppliers. Having the latest security software, web browser, and operating system are the best defences against viruses, malware, and other online threats. Many software programs will automatically connect and update to defend against known risks. Turn on automatic updates if that’s an available option.
  3. Be wary of downloading free files, programs, software or screensavers and avoid unsolicited or provocative messages (e-mail, Internet pop-ups or phone messages).
  4. Never do online banking on any mobile device unless it has been virus protected.
  5. Ensure that you are in a secure environment when doing financial transactions online – look for the closed-lock or unbroken-key icons on your browser when entering credit card or other sensitive data.
  6. Protect your Internet connection – this is especially important if you are directly connected to the Internet for an extended period of time through a cable modem or digital subscriber line (DSL). Disconnect from the Internet when you’re finished.
  7. Verify your Internet connection by double-clicking on the closed-lock or unbroken key icon and read the certificate details to ensure that they are registered to your financial institution.
  8. Clear your cache when you visit websites – the website addresses are stored in the cache, or memory, of your computer. Make sure you clear the cache of your browser after visiting secure sites so that nobody else can view any confidential information you may have transmitted.
  9. Be cautious when using free wireless Internet connections in public places. While many are legitimate free WiFi networks made available by airports, resorts and coffee shops, some may be set up by criminals and using them could allow the fraudsters to access your personal information. Always check with the staff first to make sure you are connecting to their wireless network. Never do online banking in public places using the WiFi connection.
  10. Check your financial and credit card statements regularly.

A few words in conclusion:

Fraud will always exist and grows exponentially each year. It can be found everywhere across the spaces of the Internet: in email, on social networks, and on various and sundry websites. Over the years, cybercriminals have invented new tactics, but the scams are ultimately the same. There is no way to completely rid ourselves of these fraudulent activities. Only users themselves can guarantee their own protection in the virtual space. Stay safe!

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