top of page

How to Identify Scams and Stay Safe Online

Updated: Sep 28, 2023


Last night, I got a message about a job opportunity that immediately raised some red flags. Even though I had my suspicions, I decided to play along to see what their game was. They claimed to be in the crypto business and offered a salary of $800 a week—pretty tempting for someone fresh out of school, right? Plus, they provided training and had glowing reviews on their website. They even promised 40 training sessions per person. After completing the first session, they sent me $70 and then asked for $100 to continue the training.

The Allure of Easy Money

Who hasn't been tempted by the prospect of fast cash? Maybe you've bought a lottery ticket, hit the casino, or even pondered one of those "investments" that promise a fortune overnight. The internet is a playground for these kinds of schemes, each one swearing you'll be rolling in money in no time.

See, the hook is the idea that you can get something for nothing—or at least, very little effort. That's a tantalizing thought, especially if you're pinching pennies or just daydreaming about a life of luxury.

Let's bring some realism into this fantasy. There's no such thing as a free lunch. If someone's singing the song of easy money, you can bet there's a catch. Maybe they're trying to swindle you out of your hard-earned cash, or perhaps they want you to sign up for some service or product that you really don't need.

What makes online scams especially sneaky is how easy they are to set up. A scammer just needs a fake website and a bogus social media account to look legit. And with some clever tech tricks, they can zero in on you.

The Bait and Switch: A Classic Confidence Trick

The Bait and Switch tactic is a form of a confidence trick known as the "pigeon drop." In this scam, the con artist gains the victim's trust by first giving them something of value, often money. Once trust is established, the scammer manipulates the victim into reciprocating with something of even greater value.

How It Works

  1. Initial Contact: The scammer reaches out to you, often with a too-good-to-be-true offer.

  2. Trust Building: They send you a small amount of money or another enticing offer to build trust.

  3. The Switch: Once they feel they've earned your trust, they'll ask for something more significant in return—usually money, but it could also be personal information or access to your financial accounts.

The Psychological Trick

The idea is to exploit the human tendency to believe in reciprocity—the idea that if someone does something for you, you feel obligated to do something for them. This innate sense of obligation makes the victim more likely to comply with the scammer's larger request, often with dire consequences.

By understanding the mechanics and psychology behind the Bait and Switch tactic, you'll be better equipped to recognize it and protect yourself from falling victim to this classic scam.

Watch Out for These Red Flags: Your Quick Guide to Spotting Scams

  • Sky-High Salaries for Easy Work: If a job offer promises big bucks for minimal effort, that's a glaring red flag. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Additional Warning: An unsolicited offer that seems too good to be true.

  • Get Rich Quick: Any scheme promising instant wealth should make you pause. Real wealth takes time and effort to build.

Additional Warning: Receiving money or gifts with strings attached.

  • Cryptocurrency Involved: Scammers love the anonymity of crypto. If a job or investment asks for payment in cryptocurrency, proceed with caution.

Additional Warning: A rushed or pressured decision-making process.

  • No Credentials Needed: Real jobs want qualified people. If they're not asking for your resume or credentials, something's off.

Additional Warning: Requests for personal or financial information.

  • Investment Scams: Promises of high returns with no risk are classic signs of investment scams. These fraudsters might take your money and run or invest it in something worthless.

Additional Warning: Overemphasis on "guaranteed" or "risk-free" investments.

  • Work-from-Home Traps: While remote work is more common these days, be cautious of opportunities that promise big earnings from home but require upfront fees or purchases. Even worse, the "job" might be illegal or unethical.

Additional Warning: Unusual payment structures, like getting paid in gift cards or through wire transfers.

  • Paid Surveys: The idea of making money by taking surveys sounds easy, right? Be wary if you're asked for personal info or to pay a fee upfront. They might just be phishing for your data, or the survey might not even be real.

Additional Warning: Check for an overabundance of personal questions unrelated to the survey topic, as this could be a data mining operation.

So, the next time you stumble upon a "too good to be true" offer, remember these red flags. Your wallet will thank you.

Staying Safe: Be Skeptical

  • Avoid Shady Websites: If you have digital wallets or any kind of online assets, steer clear of websites that look sketchy. They could be fishing for your data.

  • Do Your Homework: Research the company. Look for reviews and check whether their domain is newly registered—a fresh domain could be a red flag.

  • Watch the Language: Bad grammar and spelling can often signal a scam.

  • Be Wary of Easy Money: If an offer sounds too good to pass up, it's probably best to pass it up.

  • Upfront Fees Are a No-Go: Be extra cautious of any offer asking you to pay upfront. That's a classic scam move.

  • Guard Your Personal Info: Never give out personal or financial information (bank or credit card details) to someone you don't know or trust or you haven't thoroughly vetted.

  • Unknown Senders = Red Flags: If an email or message comes out of the blue from someone you don't know, be suspicious.

  • Don't Return Payments from Unknown Sources: If you receive money from an unknown source, do not send money back or give access to your accounts.

  • When in Doubt, Opt-Out: If something doesn't feel right, it's better to be safe than sorry. Just walk away.

Remember, in the world of quick bucks and easy money, your best defense is a good offense. Be proactive, be skeptical, and keep these tips in mind to protect yourself.

Target: Who is Most at Risk of Online Scams?

Scammers frequently exploit the vulnerabilities of certain groups of people, often because they are easier to deceive or are in circumstances that make them more desperate for the promises the scam offers. Below are some groups commonly targeted:

  • The Elderly: Older adults are frequent targets, as they often have accumulated savings and might be more trusting or less tech-savvy.

  • Individuals with Disabilities: Those with disabilities may find themselves isolated, making them easier targets for scams. Their limited social circle may not offer enough guidance to steer them away from deception.

  • Financially Struggling Individuals: People going through financial hardship may be more susceptible to scams, often because they are desperately seeking ways to improve their financial situation.

  • Internet Novices: Those new to the digital world may lack the awareness or skepticism needed to spot scams, making them more prone to becoming victims.

  • The Uninformed: People unfamiliar with the various types of online scams may be easier to deceive simply because they're not aware of the tactics commonly used by scammers.

  • Niche Interest Groups: Scammers also target individuals interested in specific topics or products, leveraging their interest to sell fake or nonexistent items.

By understanding who is most at risk, we can better prepare and educate these groups to recognize and avoid scams.

Please share this information with those who are most at risk.

The Bottom Line?

Always trust your instincts and do your due diligence. If something feels off or too good to be true, it probably is. When in doubt, don't hesitate to consult with trusted sources or authorities. The world of online scams is unfortunately evolving, becoming more sophisticated by the day. Your best defense is to be vigilant, informed, and proactive.

Spread this message. Raise awareness.

About the Author

Luc Muhizi is a tech enthusiast with a keen interest in computer systems and their impact on our daily lives.

16 views3 comments


Oct 17, 2023

Scammers are everywhere


Oct 08, 2023

The get-rich-quick mentality is one of the reasons these scams are perpetuated.


Oct 04, 2023

I have been scammed several times

bottom of page