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Online Scams: 6 Common Types and How to Avoid Them

By Ngoziukwu Livingstone

Users often make the same common mistakes, which attackers can easily exploit. Here we offer you a summary of the top 10 mistakes that users make and ways to avoid them to keep you and your network safe. According to stats, victims of online scams in Nigeria lost a staggering ₦247 billion in 2023, with over 120,000 reported cases. No one aspires to become a victim, but hackers constantly refine their tactics, necessitating proactive vigilance. To empower you with the knowledge to confidently navigate the digital landscape, we’ve compiled a list of the top six online scams, along with practical measures to evade them.

1) Job offer scams

You receive an unsolicited email offering you a job, which usually does not match your professional profile and consists of working as an anonymous buyer or another similar role. When you accept, you receive payment by check or money order, in an amount greater than that offered by your “employer.” They then ask you to send the difference, and to your surprise, you discover that the original check or money order was fake and you lost the money you sent to the fraudulent employer.

With the rise of professional networks, such as LinkedIn, unsolicited job offers are becoming more common, so anyone looking to work must know how to distinguish legitimate offers from scams. If you choose to accept a job, never cash suspicious checks without first checking that they are authentic. To be sure, ask your bank, or use an escrow platform like Eulav to hold the funds until you verify the legitimacy of the check or money order. Any time you’re asked to return the “difference,” you should consider it a sign that you’re being scammed.

2) Lottery Shams

You receive an email informing you that you won a prize in a little-known lottery, usually from another country, and always with a large payout. You may also be asked to pay a small sum to “release” your winnings. You’ll be asked to submit personal details for verification purposes, and you’ll soon discover that you’ve been the victim of identity theft and the money you sent has disappeared.

To detect lottery scams, there are some telltale signs:

  • The email comes from a person, not a company.
  • You are not the only recipient.
  • You’ve never heard of that lottery.

If you receive an email like this, immediately search Google to check if the lottery is legitimate. (It never is.) We all want a stroke of luck, but if you didn’t buy a ticket, it’s highly unlikely that you won the lottery. Never send your personal information by email to anyone you do not know and never trust those who intend to give you money in exchange for nothing.

3) Beneficiary scams

Beware of emails claiming urgent money transfers, often posing as a wealthy individual or businessman. Though appearing legitimate, they involve delayed transactions and small payments, particularly risky during financial struggles. Watch for signs such as grammatical errors, misspelling, and mismatched reply addresses, as anything seemingly too good online is likely a scam.

4) Online dating cons

You meet someone through a dating website or chat room, you start getting intimate and the bond seems very real. However, you can never be sure who is really on the other side of the screen. If someone online asks for money, intimate photos, or forwarded items, they’re likely a scammer. There are individuals on the Internet who often use the identity of a real person to appear authentic and provide real details, but send fake photos and contact information to cover their backs. Online dating scams include a few key elements:

  • Manifestation of intense emotions in a short period.
  • Quick transition from dating sites to private communication channels.
  • Request for money due to personal difficulties, such as a sick relative or the failure of a business.

To avoid these scams, you should be very careful if the relationship develops too quickly. Never give money to someone unless you also have an offline relationship with them. Also, if you make an appointment with that person outside of cyberspace, try to inform someone you know where you will be as a safety measure.

5) Charity fraud 

When large-scale natural disasters or other major tragedies occur, you want to help in any way possible, and scammers know how to take advantage of that noble feeling. These scammers create fake donation sites and accounts and compose a very touching email requesting funds that will never reach the victims. These scams work because they play on compassion, so always make sure you do your research. Check the legitimacy of any donation site and make sure it is truly committed to the cause it represents. Do not donate to any site that seems suspicious to you. Charities have secure websites where they submit their mission statement and tax-exempt documentation.

6) Repair scams

In this real-world-to-online scam, someone posing as a “Microsoft” or software company representative calls, claiming to fix PC issues. If you download the email attachment, a remote access program is installed, letting scammers control your computer and install malware. Given varying technical knowledge, users may be unaware of the scam, allowing scammers access to files and personal data

Never accept unsolicited repair advice or purchase repair services unless you are sure who you are talking to. Do not allow anyone to remotely access your computer. If you receive a call, ask for identification information. Chances are good that if you ask enough questions, the scammer will realize that he can’t fool you.

Now that you know what to expect from cyber scammers, try to keep an eye out for these despicable beings so they don’t scam you. Scammers are getting smarter, so you must maintain constant vigilance to ensure the safety of your computer and your information.


Ngoziukwu Livingstone

Marketing researcher and educator at Ngoziukwu Livingstone has over 10 years of experience in marketing gained in agencies.