Scam artists are getting smarter and smarter these days with tools like AI voice generation and ChatGPT. Learn what to watch out for online, on your phone, and out in the world this year.
Online Scams to Watch For in 2023
Online scams to watch for in 2023
Image: Nataliya Vaitkevich, Pexels
Video: Online scams to watch for in 2023
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Phishing has nothing to do with actual fish, but it does involve bait. And just like that band you followed in college, Phishing has been around for decades.
These scams are more closely associated with emails, but you may see them when logging into an account or in texts that send you a link to click.
Phishers cast a subject line in an email, for example, that prompts you to click. They can promise rewards like discounts or threaten you with bogus charges. But don't be fooled, that's the bait.
Once you click on the link and enter your your login information, you got got. Or . . . your information has.
The latest subject lines, at least in email phishing, may tell you about a phony invoice, promise a job opportunity or benefits, or even pose as fake phishing alerts!
How to avoid phishing scams
So how do you catch a slippery sucker like this? There are a few signs that point to phishing scams that can help.
- Look at the sender address. Does the URL match who the sender claims to be? If not, could be phishing.
- Read the message closely. Does it use a strange or generic greeting? And does the text in the email match others from the sender? If these don't add up, could be phishing.
- What does the email ask you to do? If there's a sense of urgency around logging in and you didn't request it, it could be phishing.
Unfortunately, the people behind phishing scams are masters at their sport and emails can have convincing logos, copy, and calls to action.
If you think you've fallen for a phishing scam or find something, um . . . phishy in your inbox, go to IdentityTheft.gov, forward it to this email, and report the attempt to the FTC.
You can also use identity theft protection software to protect yourself. Some of them will even help you get your identity back. Check out our top picks in our Best Identity Theft Protection Services review.
Image: Cottonbro Studio, Pexels
Online dating can lead you to the person of your dreams. There's a site or service out there for anyone, regardless of orientation, gender, or interests.
But because online dating opens so many doors, it's also a fertile ground for scammers. Romance scams can come in many forms. And it goes way farther than just the Tinder Swindler.
Chatbots can pose as suitors with AI-generated or stolen images. There are crypto dating scams. Even deep fake video has been used for romancing.
How to avoid romance scams
So how do you know your dating pool isn't full catfish? Thankfully, if you meet someone, there are a few signs that point to a classic romance scam.
- Things are moving fast. Scammers can be impatient. So the faster you get attached, the faster they get their payoff. They may drop the "L" bomb early into the relationship or be really smooth talkers thanks to AI programs like ChatGPT that can craft personal messages.
- Have they asked you for money or any information? Romance scammers have a little black book full of sad stories they can use to pull money from you. From legal fees to travel to medical expenses, it may not take long until your online romantic relationship becomes financial. Beware of anyone who asks for money before you really know them
- Have you met them in person? If they're coming up with convenient reasons not to meet up for a video call or in-person date, something may be wrong.
- Have you done your research on them? Reverse Google image search is your friend. Catfishing is a technique that uses stolen or falsified images as the face of a profile. Take a look at your match's pictures and see if they show up online anywhere else.
- Are they a little too into cryptocurrency? If your match asks you for money, especially cryptocurrency, that could be a huge red flag. Crypto is anonymous and they may even encourage you to invest in it for yourself only to take all of it.
Image: Alex Green, Pexels
This is where things get straight up evil. Thanks to new tech like Deep Fake and other AI-voice generating programs, scammers are able to recreate a loved one's voice and likeness with just a few clips.
Family scams come in different forms, but there are a couple out there in 2023 that are getting a lot of attention and both are downright despicable.
There's the grandparent scam and the kidnapping scam. Both prey on a victim's concern for a relative or loved one. One preys more on older folks while the other could target anyone.
In the grandparent scam, callers pose as a grandchild in the middle of an emergency. They're stranded abroad! They need medical bills paid! They're in legal trouble! And you're the only one who can help, Grandma.
In the kidnapping scam, a con posing as a kidnapper spoofs the phone number from a loved one. Sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers—anyone is fair game. Once you pick up the phone to answer a call from a familiar person, you're greeted with threats—even screaming and muffled noises in the background. The caller tells you that if you hang up, your loved one is in even more trouble.
Again, both of these scams prey on strong emotions and heighten that sense of urgency for the victim. It's "act now!" or your loved one is in deep danger.
How to avoid family scams
So say you get one of these phone calls, how can you tell if they're bogus?
- As for identifying information. I'm not talking social security numbers or addresses. Ask the person on the other line about favorite foods or memories you might have had together. Or make up a fake memory and see if they take the bait.
Remember that house I had on the beach? or What was that play you were in during middle school? Those specifics could be the key to catching them in a lie.
- Try texting the person from your contacts list with a code. You can text another contact during a phone call with a code word, family inside joke, or just a nonsense string of letters. Once that's sent, ask the poser to read back what that text says.
- If all else fails, hang up. This might be hard to do, especially when the person on the other line is lobbing threats at you. But if it's really an emergency and they really need ransom money, for example, they'll call back.
These particular scams are less common, but reports around both have been skyrocketing in headlines lately. And frankly, they're really scary.
If you do receive something like this, do your best to stay calm and try to contact the person the scammer is posing as.
While this only scratches the surface of the kind of scams out there, they all have a few things in common.
First, they grab you by your feelings. Your relative's in trouble, the love of your life needs help, you're overdue on a mysterious bill, you've won a trip of a lifetime! All of these hooks are meant to catch your attention, earn your trust, and take your money.
Next, they add a sense of urgency. If you don't send money now, You'll be in trouble. If you don't pay this bill now, we can take your home. If you don't seize the chance, this prize will pass you by!
And that's when you might lose your information or money.
Again, report anything suspect to the FTC. While the online world is full of amazing things, it's also swimming with sharks. Don't believe everything you see and guard your information closely.
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