A scammer’s playbook: how to spot an online scam

The world is becoming an increasingly digital place. A fact even more pertinent now in a post-coronavirus world, where online transactions and, indeed, the amount of time individuals spend online is likely to increase significantly.

With the prevalence of social media scammers have become even more brazen in their attempts, but social media giant Facebook has been upping the ante in recent times to improve the digital literacy of its users. One of the key regions Facebook has been targeting with these initiatives has been Asia, where the internet population is growing faster than anywhere else in the world.

In Sri Lanka, there have been several warnings issued regarding scams involving online shopping, where bogus websites and mobile applications steal personal information. While there have also been several media reports about mobile-based cash transfer scams where attempts have been made to extort individuals. Scammers have also looked to offer safe havens for individuals to invest their money in the guise of prominent banks.

Online scams, of course, have been part and parcel of internet culture almost as long as its been around. However for many of us, spotting online scams has become easier the more frequently we’ve been exposed to them. However this has led scammers to over the years become increasingly sophisticated.

As such, when newer users are exposed to them, spotting them can prove quite tricky. But fret not, there are always tell-tale signs that let you know if you’re close to being duped.

Fake websites

Setting up fake websites of banks and e-commerce services in an attempt to get unwitting netizens to hand over their personal information, is one of the most common online scams.
This is usually done via email, where a scammer may send an email that looks official, with a link that takes you to a fake log-in page of a reputed website.

Spotting these attempts is a simple as keeping an eye out for spelling errors in the email or website; if the sender’s email address doesn’t seem to have an official company email address (businesses never use common email clients); or if the email is asking you for confidential details – companies, and banks especially, will never request such information.

Meanwhile on Facebook, it’s also important to never trust the social media pages of large organisations that are unverified.

If it’s too good to be true, it usually is.

Some of the most common scams involve unknown individuals sending private messages to strangers in an attempt to gain their trust and solicit money. This can happen through various guises, the most frequent of which are:
• Fake job offers
• Offering of loans at favourable interest rates
• Romantic advances in the guise of a widow or divorcee
• Collecting fake lottery winnings

It’s important to always ask yourself if the offer is too good to be true.

Don’t let fear drive you

While many of these methods aim to exploit the naivety and sympathy of individuals, some of the more nefarious scams will target a generally more potent emotion – fear.

This is mainly done through official-looking emails and notifications that warn of possible hacking attempts and request individuals reset the passwords of their websites and accounts. The key to recognising many of these attempts is to look for possible grammatical errors in the message, or see if the sender’s email address looks suspicious.

The prevalence of fear-based scams have increased exponentially in the time of COVID-19, with scammers keenly aware of the uncertainty and paranoia permeating through society.

But even with such innovative tactics, spotting a potential online scam is not difficult once you know what to look for. For more tips on how to spot online scams follow the links below:


This is part of Facebook’s We Think Digital Program which provides resources to build a global community of responsible digital citizens equipped with skills for a digital world.


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