New Internet Scams: A Guide for 2021
58 percent of gamers and 42 percent of people who use peer-to-peer payment apps have been scammed in some way
In today’s digital age, much of what is valuable to us hides behind passwords and usernames. While we might feel like our accounts are secure behind our screens, there are hackers and scammers who are eager to access our information. We conducted research into how about familiar American adults are with new types of internet scams – here are some of the key findings:
- Of those who use peer-to-peer payment apps, 42 percent have experienced some form of scamming activity. The most common peer-to-peer payment app scam occurred amongst users who paid for something and did not receive the product or service.
- About 1 in 3 people who use cryptocurrency experienced some form of scamming activity. Many lost money when putting their crypto into a bad exchange.
- Of those very familiar with online gaming, more than half have become victims of gaming scams, often more than once.
Although internet scams are very common, there are steps you can take to protect yourself.
Table of Contents
- New Types of Internet Scams
- How to Avoid New Types of Internet Scams
- What To Do if You Think You’re Being Scammed
New Types of Internet Scams
There are a few key types of new internet scams we’re seeing: peer-to-peer payment scams, cryptocurrency scams and gaming scams.
Peer-To-Peer Payment App Scams
Peer-to-peer payments allow users to transfer funds between two people using websites or mobile apps. Popular peer-to-peer payment apps include Venmo, Zelle, PayPal and Cash App. Scamming can occur across all peer-to-peer payment platforms. Users can be especially susceptible to scammers because if they authorize payments or money transfers, it’s their responsibility to ensure that the transaction is legitimate.
Scamming activity amongst peer-to-peer payment app users is significant. According to our research, 42 percent of peer-to-peer payment users experienced some form of scamming activity while using the apps. The most common scams involved paying for a product or service they did not end up receiving.
|Which of these situations has happened to you when using peer-to-peer payment apps? Select all that apply.|
|I paid for something and did not receive the product/service.||23%|
|I sent money to the wrong person and never got the money back.||14%|
|Scammers asked for my payment authentication codes for a transaction.||13%|
|I clicked a text/email with fake customer support information.||13%|
|I was sent a payment that was later reversed because the original funds were stolen.||12%|
|None of the above||58%|
As long as you are aware of the warning signs of peer-to-peer payment app scams, you can use the apps and safely enjoy the convenience they provide. Here are some common scams on a few popular peer-to-peer payment apps:
- Cash App: Scammers often impersonate Cash App support members or service representatives who require sign-in codes or PINs. However, the app’s service line is automated, so if you’re talking to a human who asks for a sign-in code, they are a fraudster. Last year, a landlord from Raleigh, North Carolina learned that lesson the hard way after a fake service representative scammed him of $24,000, promising to help him transfer his Cash App money into his bank account.1
Also, if you get a notification indicating you won money and, in order to receive your reward, need to provide your login information, download an app, or send a “test” payment, it’s a scam. Sometimes, Cash App will offer sweepstakes on its official Twitter account, but it will never ask you for login information or require a payment for entry.2
- Zelle: According to Zelle’s website, common scams on this payment app include advertisements of enticing offerings such as puppies or concert tickets. If you’ve paid for services or products and haven’t received what you paid for, you should report the loss to your financial institution immediately.3
- PayPal: Of those who lost money on peer-to-peer payment apps, the vast majority, or 64 percent, lost it on PayPal. That’s likely because PayPal, which also owns Venmo, is one of the most popular peer-to-peer payment apps.
PayPal users are often scammed when they receive phishing emails that appear to be from PayPal, asking to verify their login information. Typically, these emails include links that mirror the real PayPal website.4 You should never verify your login information via email or give away your login information to strangers, even if the emails and links look legitimate.
|Which peer-to-peer payment app(s) did you lose money on?|
TIP: Never give anyone your Cash App sign-in code or PIN. If someone is asking for it, they’re a fraudster. Never give away your PayPal or Venmo information to strangers and don’t verify your login information via email.
Cryptocurrency Investment Scams
Cryptocurrency (“crypto” for short) is an unregulated, global, and digital currency that takes the form of “coins” or tokens. A few examples of cryptocurrencies are Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Litecoin. While investors of crypto appreciate a global currency that isn’t regulated, by that same token, crypto investors are more susceptible to scams and fraud.
We’re still learning about the different ways fraudsters are taking advantage of crypto exchanges. But we know that crypto scams are climbing as usership grows. In 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice seized more than $24 million worth of virtual currency on behalf of the Brazillian government after a massive crypto fraud scheme. Scammers defrauded more than $200 million from tens of thousands of Brazilians.5
Our most recent data shows that 32 percent of Americans currently own or previously owned cryptocurrency. That number is likely to increase. According to our research, 14.7 million Americans intend to purchase crypto in the next year. Of those who have used crypto, 33 percent have experienced some form of scamming-related activity.
|Which of these situations has happened to you when using cryptocurrencies? Select all that apply.|
|I’ve had my cryptocurrency stolen when I put it in a bad exchange||19%|
|I’ve lost cryptocurrency when the creators left with my money||15%|
|I’ve lost cryptocurrency in a cyberattack||13%|
|I’ve lost cryptocurrency in giveaway scams||12%|
|None of the above||67%|
Preventing Crypto Scams
So how do you stay protected from cryptocurrency scams if you’re an investor or a soon-to-be investor? As with most scams, be wary of any unsolicited questions or calls about your investments and never give away your account information. According to the Federal Trade Commission, if the following happens to you, it’s likely a scam:
- If someone asks you to pay upfront in crypto for the right to enter into a crypto pyramid scheme or a program that rewards you for actively recruiting others
- If crypto “investors” offer unsolicited services that include growing your accounts so long as you give them account access
- If you are offered a job that includes recruiting cryptocurrency investors, or selling, converting, and mining cryptocurrency
- If you are asked to pay for a good or service using only cryptocurrency6
Storing your cryptocurrency safely is also important. Earlier this year, we put together a guide for the safest way to store Bitcoin in cryptocurrency wallets like a paper wallet, hot wallets, digital wallets, cold storage, and other options.
Gaming threats are becoming increasingly common because scammers have plenty of opportunities to earn money off their unsuspecting victims. According to our study, of those familiar with online gaming, 58 percent have been scammed in some way; many were hacked in more than one way.
|Which of these situations has happened to you while online gaming? Select all that apply.|
|I’ve had my account hacked, but I never gave out my login information||29%|
|I've had virtual items (weapons, skins, tokens, etc) stolen from my gaming profile||25%|
|I’ve clicked on a phishing link to a fake site that promised in-game accessories or upgrades||24%|
|I’ve lost my gaming account when I gave out my login information||14%|
|None of the above||42%|
In-game currency theft, account information hacking, and phishing can occur through gaming platforms. If you’re a gamer, here are some scams to look out for:
- Fortnite scams: Most Fortnite scams involve V-bucks, the game’s virtual in-game currency. One common scam encourages users to click on ads in exchange for V-bucks; however, these ads could lead to malware. Don’t click on any of these ads. Any site that advertises free V-bucks could contain malware,7 and clicking on malicious links can lead to identity theft.
- Hacked Xbox accounts: According to NordVPN, your gaming account is at high risk of being hacked if you have a weak password. Hackers hold a host of databases full of common passwords, and they might try them on your account when performing brute force attacks. Scammers might have an interest in hacking into your Xbox account so they can:
- Listen to your gaming conversations and read your chats
- Reuse your login details to break into other accounts
- Use your details in phishing scams to get even more personal information out of you
- Sell your personally identifiable information on the dark web
- Use your payment details to purchase virtual currencies, send them to the attacker's account, then resell them on the gaming platform or the dark web
- Use your account to launder money8
Some online dating users end up getting their identities stolen instead of their hearts. In 2020, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received about 30,000 reports of romance scams that totaled a record $304 million in losses. That’s up about 50 percent from 2019.9 These types of scams often involve dating apps or virtual relationships in which scammers ask for money from unsuspecting suitors.
Here are a few tips for safe online dating:
- Beware if the person says they are living or traveling outside the U.S. The FTC has found that people will often say they are working on an oil rig, serving in the military, or working as a doctor with an international organization, fraudulently.
- The FTC also found that many romance scammers ask for money to pay for plane tickets, travel expenses, surgery or other medical expenses, customs fees, gambling debts, visas, or other official travel documents.
- Beware if the person’s online photos don’t match up with their other online profiles.
- If you do an online image search and find that the person’s photo appears under several different names, the person is likely a scammer, especially if their profile disappears a few days after you start talking with them. Here’s how to do a Google image search of the person you’re dating on Chrome:
- Open your Chrome browser.
- Go to the website with the picture you want to use.
- Right-click the picture.
- Click Search Google For Image.10
With the heightened emergence of remote work and e-commerce, more internet scams have come out of the woodwork, which you can read about further in our guide to COVID-19 cybercrime and scams.
One common theme is that scammers are more likely to hide behind screens than to talk to people over the phone. Malicious links, which often come in the form of spoofing or phishing, are proving their prevalence despite efforts to squelch them. Clicking on a malicious link can have major consequences that lead to malware, which is why it’s so important to maintain our digital security. Here are some forms of malicious links to look out for:
- Fake antivirus software: At some point in time, you’re likely to see emails, ads, and popups that say your computer has been infected with a virus. While you might be tempted to click on the links, many of which probably look legitimate, don’t do it. They likely contain malware that can compromise the security of your devices and your identity. To protect your computer from fake antivirus software, see our list of the best antivirus software.
- Spoofing: This scam is common because it works all too often. Spoofing is when a scammer, disguised as a familiar business, individual, or institution, contacts the victim and persuades them to click a link or purchase a fake product.
Spoofing often happens over email, if the scammer has a list of legitimate email addresses. Victims might receive an email that involves links to websites that look like familiar businesses. Often, these fake websites offer luxury clothing or products at very low prices. If you’re asked to pre-order something, wire money, or otherwise send money in an unusual way, don’t do it; it’s likely a scam.11
- Phishing: Phishing occurs when the scammer sends unsolicited text messages, emails and phone calls from what is purportedly a legitimate company, requesting personal, financial information and/or login information. The scammer then hacks your computer using malware and steals your information.
- Ransomware: Ransomware occurs when a malicious actor demands money or some other form of ransom in exchange for the decryption of your device. Recently, ransomware incidents have increased among government entities and critical infrastructure organizations.12 To protect yourself from this type of scam, read our article on how to prevent ransomware.
How to Avoid New Types of Internet Scams
The best way to protect ourselves from fraudsters lurking on the other ends of our screens is to remain aware of the new ways scammers adapt to technology.
It might seem like scams affect only elderly adults or individuals who aren’t familiar with technology. But likely, tech-competent people will interact with a sneaky scammer at some point through gaming, crypto investing, or peer-to-peer payment transfers. And when you do, you need to be prepared. Here’s how:
- Don’t make rash decisions. Just because a website looks legitimate doesn’t mean it is. Don’t click on the link that claims you’ll earn extra V-bucks. And never give away your crypto or peer-to-peer payment app account information.
- Protect yourself from hackers and viruses using VPNs and antivirus software.
- Block unwanted calls and messages to prevent spam. Here’s how to block unwanted calls and messages on an Android:
- Open the Phone app.
- Open Settings.
- Activate the option that allows you to block unknown numbers. You can also manually add phone numbers that you want to be blocked.
- Open Settings.
- Tap the Phone option.
- Tap Silence Unknown Callers and turn on this feature.
Here’s how to block unwanted calls and messages on an iPhone:
What to Do if You Think You’re Being Scammed
The FTC recommends you take the following steps if you believe you or any of your family members have been scammed. Of course, these steps should take place in concurrence with reporting the scam to the proper authorities.13
If you gave away personal passwords or information:
- Change your passwords and make sure your new password is secure. Failure to do so could result in identity theft.
- Monitor your bank accounts and credit scores, and read our guide to the best credit protection services.
- Check your bills, bank account statements, and credit reports to check if someone is using your identity.
- If your Social Security card was lost or stolen, you’ll keep the same Social Security number, but you might want to request a new card.
If a scammer can access your computer remotely:
- Update your computer’s security software, run an antivirus scan, and delete any problems it identifies.
- Take any other steps to further protect your digital security such as installing a VPN and using browsers like Chrome that block pop-ups and protect against malicious downloads.
If the scam took place on a cash app or with crypto:
- Report the fraud to the money transfer company or cryptocurrency trading platform and ask for a payment reversal.
- Report any scam or suspected scam to the Federal Trade Commission.
The best way to protect yourself against scammers is to prevent yourself from being scammed in the first place. Part of prevention is staying up to date with new types of schemes, since online scammers are constantly changing their techniques. Here are some resources to help you stay informed and in control of your online accounts:
Our research took place on June 16 through June 19, 2021, using responses from 1,125 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. Before each awareness or familiarity question, we defined terms like “cryptocurrency” and “peer-to-peer” payment apps. We also used information from ABC News, CashApp, Zelle, Detroit Free Press, U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Trade Commission, Kaspersky, NordVPN, Google Support, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.
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