Online scam: what is it, what are the consequences and how to protect yourself?

Every day, many Ukrainians become victims of online scam, and the activity of criminals is constantly growing. In this article, we’ll look at what types of online scam exist, how to avoid becoming a victim of such schemes, and what to do if criminals have lured your money. We will also tell you what threatens those who dare to make money from online scam.

The most common types of online scam

There are a lot of fraudulent schemes that allow you to get money from gullible Internet users. Let’s try to analyse the most common ones and briefly describe how fraudsters make money.

Scam when buying goods online

This type of scam is directly related to a person’s natural desire to buy a good product that the seller sells much cheaper than the market price. It is especially common in online community groups such as flea markets, buy and sell, OLX, etc.

Let’s look at the example of student Yevhen, whose laptop, which he needed for his studies and work, broke down. The guy had 9000 UAH, but this money is not enough to buy a new high-quality computer in a store. Eugene decided to look for a laptop on OLX and saw an advert by a certain Oleg, who was selling a high-quality model for 8500 UAH.

At first, the student was puzzled by such a low price, but Oleg dispelled his doubts, explaining that his daughter had been using the laptop for a couple of months and then demanded to buy a more modern one. And so that good equipment does not gather dust and stand idle, Oleg gives it away for a symbolic sum. Even the fact that Oleg asked for a full prepayment did not stop the calm Eugene, explaining that “he likes Zhenya as a person, but there are a lot of people willing to pay that kind of money”. As soon as Yevhen transferred the money, Oleg blocked his phone number. The seller’s OLX page also disappeared.

Another type of scam involves fictitious online stores. It is quite difficult to distinguish the latter from the real ones, because they offer a large number of products. But in reality, things are not so rosy: most items are out of stock. Such “sellers” set prices that are lower than market prices, but not by much, so that the user does not suspect anything wrong.

The scam scheme goes something like this: when a trusting person places an order, the attacker contacts them and finds a good reason to ask for a full or partial prepayment. After receiving the money, the fraudsters leave the victim without the goods.

In both cases, the perpetrators are experienced manipulators who are well versed in psychology and know how to “push” the victim. The best thing you can do is never pay upfront to sellers with whom you have not yet cooperated and cancel orders if they require a prepayment. Those who value their reputation always have a postpaid option.

Representatives of OLX have developed a checklist designed to reduce the number of victims affected by fraudsters. Here’s what they recommend checking:

  • The price – it should not be too low. Very tempting offers are often the work of fraudsters.
  • Photos – preferably, they should be taken directly by the seller. Take the time to check the photos in Google photo search.
  • Product description – if there is no description or some of the information provided is clearly taken out of context, it is better to refuse the purchase.

Bank card scam in online shopping

It’s not always customers who fall victim to online scam. Many sellers of goods also suffer from the actions of criminals on classifieds websites: they are fraudulently asked for the necessary bank card details and then charged. To better understand this, consider the following example.

Iryna decided to sell branded items that she doesn’t wear on one of the classifieds sites. The same day she posted an ad with photos and prices, she received a message from Lyudmila. The potential client really liked Irina’s clothes and said she was ready to buy all the items if the seller gave her a small discount. Irina gladly agreed: she already had a little experience of such sales, and she had to wait for buyers for a very long time.

Lyudmila promised to transfer the money in the evening and asked card number. But soon she called back and said that something had gone wrong and she needed more information, including the card’s expiry date and CVV code, to make the payment. Irina really needed the money as she was going on holiday and Lyudmila seemed trustworthy, so she did not suspect any malice. The result was sad – the money disappeared from Irina’s bank card. At the same time, Lyudmila stopped contacting her.

We would like to warn you once again: never provide any additional information about your bank card to third parties – just provide its number. Also, do not perform any ATM transactions upon request. The same applies to providing fraudsters with data from Internet messages.

Scam offers of online earnings or assistance in repaying an MFI debt

Pensioners who lack a pension, high school students, students, mothers on maternity leave, people who have lost their jobs – those who are in dire need of quick additional income. At the same time, earnings should be quite simple and not take much time and effort. Most people want to make money online by doing some simple work (posting reviews and advertising links, typing, etc.). And of course, this is what scammers take advantage of.

Daria is a young mother raising a two-year-old. In the last couple of months, things have become easier with the baby, and she started thinking about additional income: money can never be too much. Most of the ads for remote work said that certain skills and abilities were required, which Daria did not have. She had almost given up on the idea of a part-time job, but then she received a message from Karina, who introduced herself as a young mother who was combining maternity leave with self-development and a well-paid job. Karina’s Instagram showed a beautiful life.

So when Karina offered Daria a job promoting some cosmetic products, she gladly accepted. But in order to start working and earning money, she had to pay for her studies. The amount was small – 800 UAH – so Daria was not alarmed and, relishing the prospects and good earnings, transferred it to Karina, after which she was instantly blacklisted.

Fraudsters offering work on the Internet are looking for victims, massively sending their “favourable offers” to people who seem to be the most naive and vulnerable. Although fewer people suffer from such actions than from scam in the field of online commerce, there are still more than enough victims.

Another common type of scam is aimed at “helping” people driven to despair by large debts to banks or MFIs. For a number of reasons, the debt cannot be repaid, interest is growing, and the debtor is constantly receiving calls demanding money back.

And then there is the “helper” who posts on social media, introducing himself as an “economic lawyer” or “mediator”. This person (or a group of people) offers to help make the loan terms more favourable for the debtor or even guarantees that they can get rid of the obligations to the MFI. However, you will have to pay a certain amount for this. After receiving the advance, the fraudsters block the negligent borrower or change their contact details.

How can you protect yourself from such “employers” and “assistants”? It is quite simple: always ask for additional information, arrange a meeting at the company’s office, ask for product samples, etc. Your persistence and interest will frighten most criminals and they will start looking for a more gullible victim.

Scam through ransomware and fake websites

The spread of computer viruses is a serious problem. The most dangerous of them are encryptors that, once infected, destroy all data on your gadget. To get back normal access to information, attackers demand money for unlocking. That’s why we don’t recommend installing unlicensed software and skimping on antivirus software.

Another way to commit scam is to create fake websites to steal a person’s personal data (login and password). Most often, they are stolen through mass mailings on behalf of banks, well-known brands, etc. The link offered to a potential victim is very similar to the link of an online sales platform, but with minimal changes. Once the transition is completed, fraudsters gain access to the person’s funds.

Liability for scam

Thus, scam is the taking of another’s property or the acquisition of rights to property by fraud or breach of trust.

Such illegal actions are subject to criminal liability in the form of a fine, community or correctional labour, probationary supervision or imprisonment for up to 3 years.

Scam committed repeatedly, or by prior conspiracy of a group of persons, or which caused significant damage to the victim, is punishable by, inter alia, restriction of liberty for up to 5 years or imprisonment for up to 3 years.

The law also provides for liability for scam committed during martial law or a state of emergency that caused significant damage to the victim in the form of a fine or imprisonment for a term of 3 to 5 years.

Scam committed on a large scale or through illegal transactions with the use of electronic computers is punishable by imprisonment for a term of 3 to 8 years.

In the case of scam committed on an especially large scale or by an organised group, the participants face imprisonment from 5 to 12 years with confiscation of property.

As you can see, the sanctions for this kind of illegal activity are quite severe, but let’s be honest – it is quite difficult to bring the perpetrators to justice, but still possible.

What should you do if you become a victim of an online scam?

The worst thing you can do is to admit that you have been defrauded and do nothing to punish the perpetrators. This will only strengthen their belief in their own impunity. You need to act, even if the amount of damage is small.

What do we recommend? If you have been defrauded while shopping online, block your cards and report the fraud to your bank. You should also contact the cyber police via the feedback form.

Did you get scammed by a lookalike website? Be sure to report it to Google.

Is the online store scamming you? Write a complaint to the seller’s address. If the complaint is ignored, contact the police. Don’t think that online store owners are beyond the reach of justice: the site is hosted, which means that its owners’ passport data is available.

Всі поради