Be it an email hack, a phishing scam, a Nigerian money order or a product that sounds just too good to be true, there are dozens of ways you can get scammed online. At best, you lose $20 on a product that doesn't exist. At worst? All your financial data gets hacked and your electronic device becomes infected with malware.
To avoid any situation similar to these, here are a few red flags to stay alert for in order to keep your business and personal property safe:
Payment required without clarity. If you're interested in checking out a product for your business or personal enjoyment and up-front payment is required before you can get any real information, it's likely a scam. No product photos, reviews or a number to call to talk to an actual human being? Give it a pass—it's likely a phishing scam.
Required downloads. One of the top ways online scammers can get you is by asking you to download something, and then infecting your hard drive with malware and stealing your information. If you're being asked to download something from a source you can't find information on, or if your anti-malware software (because you have that, right?) is giving you an alert, back away slowly.
Jargon. Be wary of jargon you don't understand. Reputable companies aim for customer clarity. Fraudsters aim to confuse and trick. If you're feeling confused or pressured with the information presented, leave it be.
Too-good-to-be-true promises. "For as little as $20, you can be making up to $1,000 a day!" Sound familiar? Perhaps. Sound true? Not so much. If a product or "tool" is making lofty promises, they're likely empty, or an attempt to snag your banking information.
Now that you're aware of some red flags, here are a handful of tips to help you avoid falling prey:
Google "<company name> scam". This is one of the easiest ways to catch a scam artist, and those who have fallen prey are taking to the web to warn others. Always do your due diligence by searching this simple phrase on Google for safety.
Look for a working number. No working phone number? It's likely a scam. And if there is a number, make sure someone actually answers your call—don't settle for an automated message.
Look for an address. Legit businesses have an address, yes? After you locate the address, Google it to see what comes up.
Trust your gut. Something in your belly giving you stay-away signals? Listen to them! As intellectually driven as you may be, sometimes intuition wins, so pay attention.
Find more fraud prevention tips, strategies and trends in Housecall's Cyber Crime series.