The internet has done many great things for society: it has improved freedom of speech, facilitated democracy, helped us to stay in touch with our social connections and brought us countless videos of funny monkeys – and it is just getting started. There is a dark side to the internet too though, in the form of those badly worded (and scarily alien) scammers and spammers who send us offers of Viagra or drugs for miracle six-pack abs. There are the adverts that pop up where beautiful women and men who we have never heard of are offering us sex in our area, and there are deals on eBay and every other site that seem just a bit too good to be true. Then there is the phishing scams, where we get an email from PayPal or our bank but that seems to be oddly out of character for them. Anything that can facilitate communication for good, can also be a tool to be exploited and there are plenty of people and ‘bots’ that offer to do just this.
As you have seen there are a vast range of different types of scams to be found on websites and right inside your inbox so it is tricky to describe them all. However unfortunately for the spammers and scammers there are a few mistakes that they seem to universally make. Here then are some tell tale signs of an internet fraud:
Bad grammar: Almost all scams are made up of very bad English. There are many reasons for this – often because the scammers are foreign, or because they are clearly unable to get actual jobs. When you receive scams in your inbox the grammar is often bad in order to get around your spam blockers. In yet other situations the text is actually written by a programme that is used to churn out hundreds of emails or to ‘spin’ articles so they do not have to write them or pay for them. This demonstrates a basic lack of business nous whereby a little investment in a writer or some time to write the articles themselves would mean their scams actually worked. But then that is why they are resorting to these measures…
Often this can result in very disturbing writing that is uncomfortable to read, or that is oddly formal. Immediately abandon this. Meanwhile if it is an e-mail that claims to be from PayPal for example then look out for minor spelling mistakes which will tell you it is not. Some of the computer generated spam we get in our inbox is completely nonsensical and sounds almost like a strange alien poetry – leading some conspiracy theorists to even claim that it actually is alien in origin! If it does not sound right, do not believe it – a real company will use a team of writers and proof readers.
They are too formal: If your e-mail says ‘Dear esteemed customer’ or ‘Dear most highly valued recipient’ then it is a scam. When was the last time your bank addressed you as ‘most generous and kind sir?’. They just do not, and normally this is scam of the highest order where the next line will read ‘please let me transfer my million dollars into your account, I am an middle Eastern princess’. This is what is called ‘laundering’ and it will get you into trouble and leave you penniless. It is a shame in a way really that scammers should be more polite than the real companies in most cases. Perhaps we called all stand to learn something here?
You never contact them: This is true of postal scams too. You know, like when you have won a competition because you were entered automatically. Quite simply if you never entered a competition then you haven’t won, and if you never e-mailed the prince of Arabia then he’s not emailing you. You have to be in it to win it – if you won it and you weren’t in it, they are scammers.
They ask for your password: If it is a large company like PayPal then they will operate with the policy that they never ask you for your password. Thus you should never trust anyone who asks for your password.
The address is slightly wrong: This is another sign of a phishing scam along with asking for your password. When you get there you should always check the address to ensure it is the same as the link you clicked on. Most legitimate sites will now have a padlock image or colouring in the address bar when you visit them to reflect authenticity.
The images are wrong: Finally you might also notice that the images are low quality and have a lot of noise. Again this is a sign that a company hasn’t put the time and money into their site which suggests it is not a legitimate business, or that the logos are fake and copied. Finally you might also notice that some of the text is in image form and not text. Again regard this with suspicion.
The comments are disabled: If you are on a website and there is a comment box that does not work when you try and use it then this is a simple marketing ploy to create false recommendations. Again this is a sign that you should not trust the site.
There is a long strip of text with bold letters: Okay so this is not scamming as such, but it is very heavy handed marketing used by most people hoping to get rich quickly on the internet probably selling e-books. If the text reads (across about 5,000 words) ‘Hey YOU, tired of feeling weak and getting picked on? I was just like YOU only a year ago but now I’m COVERED IN MUSCLE and completely RICH. Read on to learn how I turned my life around.’ Then it is obviously hyperbole and they’ll probably offer you an e-book at the end of it for $100. Buy a book off of someone who respects you enough to be honest and not prey on your insecurities.
It sounds too good to be true: Finally, ask yourself if what you are reading is real. So this bodybuilding supplement claims to give you 18” arms in a month. Surely if this was true then more people would know about it? Likewise when it tells you how Hugh Jackman cheated to get his muscle – does that sound likely? Choose who you should believe. Finally if you have ‘won a million dollars’ without entering or someone wants to ‘transfer a billion dollars into your account’ then think about how likely this is. Not very.
If you spot anything out of the ordinary then you should look for contact details and call the site to be sure (or email to avoid unreasonable phone charges). Look for reviews online, and better yet look for the same service from a trusted site you know and have dealt with before.