12 Different Types of Online Scams (and How to Avoid Them)

Without a doubt, the Internet has made it much easier for everyone to communicate, operate businesses, make all sorts of transactions, and many other activities. However, we all know that cyberspace has its drawbacks: lack of privacy, identity theft, and online scams.

You’ve probably heard about text scams, investment scams, love scams, and many other types of “scams” online. These can occur in social media chat rooms, emails, and websites. They may also come in the form of seemingly “official” calls or text messages.

In this article, we will talk about the most common types of online scams. Whether you’re an OFW or based in the Philippines, an employee, self-employed, or a business owner — you can never be too careful when it comes to protecting yourself and your information online!

Different Types of Online Scams

List of Digital or Online Scams

Here is a list of the most common scams online. For each type of scam, we have included its “modus operandi” (how scammers do it) as well as some ways in which you can protect yourself. Read on and be prepared!

1. Phishing

“Phishing” sounds a lot like “fishing” because that’s exactly what it is — scammers trying to lure and “fish” for your personal information!

Modus Operandi: 

Have you ever received an email from a bank, saying that your account is in danger of being deactivated? It may seem “legit,” with an official logo and everything… But wait! If it contains a link and asks for your personal banking information, think before clicking or entering anything! It is most likely a phishing scam.

A phishing scam tricks you into providing critical information such as your account password, bank account details, and more. Once the scammer obtains your personal details, he/she could “hack” into your account, and before you know it — all your money is gone!

Aside from email phishing, there’s also “SMSishing.” The method is similar, except it’s done through SMS or text. You receive a message containing a link, which, if you click and enter your details — enables the scammer to steal your personal information!

Protect Yourself: 

  • Check or verify the authenticity of the email address that sent you the message. Is this the official email address of your bank? If not, then do not respond!
  • Contact your bank to clarify the status of your account. Tell them about the message that you received.
  • Look for any misspelled words, grammatical errors, punctuation mistakes, etc. These are common signs that the message is a scam!
  • Protect your phone and/or computer with trusted antivirus software and firewall programs.

2. Online Shopping Scam

Online shopping is very convenient, indeed! However, it has also led to the rise of online shopping scams.

Modus Operandi:

You log into your favorite shopping website. You see an item that you like, click “add to cart,” and proceed to check out. After paying online, you excitedly wait for your order… but it never arrives!

Another possibility is that your order does arrive, but it is different from what you have ordered — wrong size, wrong color, broken or defective, etc.

Protect Yourself:

  • There are many fake sellers out there! Make it a point to buy from official or “preferred” sellers only.
  • Read customer reviews and look for actual pictures of delivered items before making an order.
  • As much as possible, select “cash on delivery” as your payment option instead of online (i.e. credit card, e-wallet, etc.). This way, if the order doesn’t arrive (or if you receive a wrong or defective item)… You won’t lose anything because you didn’t pay for it, anyway!

3. Card Skimming

As the name says, this happens when a scammer tries to “skim” information from your credit card.

Modus Operandi:

This scam usually happens in a public place, like a store or a restaurant. The scammer attaches a “card skimmer” to a credit card reader. When you hand over your card to pay, the skimmer collects your account details… Before you know it, you card has been “cloned” and is now being used to make unauthorized purchases!

Aside form card readers in stores or restaurants, card skimmers may also be attached to automated teller machines (ATMs).

Protect Yourself:

  • Be aware of what a card reader typically looks like. If you see or observe anything suspicious, do not give or insert your credit card!
  • Never let anyone “assist” you when using an ATM. If there are any problems with an ATM, contact the bank directly.
  • As much as possible, use your bank’s ATM (e.g. Metrobank ATMs for Metrobank cards). This is because banks usually impose tougher security measures on their own ATMs. Also, this would make it much easier to report any transaction problems.

4. Employment Scam

As OFWs, we’ve often been warned about illegal recruiters or “fake” employment agencies. Stay away from such agencies; otherwise, you could become a victim of an employment scam.

Modus Operandi:

Scammers posing as employers target job seekers online. They send an email offering a lucrative job offer with high salary and attractive benefits. The catch? You’ll have to pay a huge sum as part of the “application” or “training” fees.

Once you agree to apply, the “agency” will ask for your CV and contact details. They will even conduct a “job interview” via phone or video chat. Then, you’ll be asked to send money as payment for training materials or job application fees. But after you make a payment… you never hear from the agency again!

Protect Yourself:

  • Always verify if the agency is a legitimate one. Do they have an official website? An official address? Look for reviews from past job seekers who have worked with the agency.
  • Go to the official website of the Philippine Department of Migrant Workers (DMW). They have a list of approved job orders that are offered by licensed or accredited manpower agencies.

5. Lottery Scam

Have you ever received a call or text, telling you that you won the lottery? Beware, because it could be scam!

Modus Operandi:

You receive an SMS, email, or an actual phone call — telling you that you have just one a huge amount of money, an expensive watch, or some other amazing prize. You’re so excited about winning, that you may not even recall joining any lottery or raffle!

The message sender or caller tells you to respond quickly — within the day — otherwise, you’ll miss out on your prize! However, to get your prize, you need to send money for “government taxes” or “insurance costs” or “courier fees.” After making the payment and waiting for ages for your prize that doesn’t arrive… you realize that you have just been scammed.

Protect Yourself:

  • Do not respond to a text, email, or any message stating that you’ve won a contest… but you’ve never entered or joined anything!
  • Do not send money or give your personal details to anyone claiming that you’ve just won the lottery.

6. Lending or Investment Scam

Lending or investment scams are a dime a dozen! They have actually been around long before the age of the Internet.

Modus Operandi:

You come across a social media post about a lucrative money-lending or investment business. It promises huge returns — as much as 20 to 50 percent in profits, weekly or monthly. So you take the bait, “investing” your personal savings… You might as well have waved goodbye to your hard-earned money!

Some of the most common lending or investment scams include: fake lending companies, stock trading scams, paid-to-click scams, and cryptocurrency scams.

Protect Yourself:

  • Always verify if a business or company is duly registered with local and/or national authorities (e.g. DTI, BSP, SEC, FDA, DMW, etc.).
  • Think twice, thrice, or many more times before investing!
  • If something sounds too good to be true… then it probably isn’t true at all!

7. Pyramid Scheme

The pyramid scheme is actually a type of investment scam. Even before the rise of the Internet, pyramid schemes have been around!

Modus Operandi:

You get approached by someone with the now-popular opening line, “Open-minded ka ba (Are you open-minded)?” or some other similar spiel. You also get invited to a “seminar” where one after another, people gush over a certain product/brand and talk about how it has made them rags-to-riches rich, enabling them to buy a car, a house, etc.

Once you agree to join the “business,” you are asked to pay a certain amount as investment, as well as to invite and recruit more people to boost your sales and commissions.

As more and more people get recruited, the people at the “top level” earn more, while people at lower levels have to keep on recruiting new “investors” to keep the scheme going…. Hence the term “pyramid” scheme.

Protect Yourself:

  • Always do your research before joining any business or investment schemes.
  • Do not be “swayed” by talks of getting rich quickly or being able to afford big ticket items in a short period of time.

Different Types of Online Scams

8. Free Public Wi-Fi Scam

Free public Wi-Fi is definitely helpful, but beware of hackers and unscrupulous networks that are out to get your personal details.

Modus Operandi:

There are many places that offer free Wi-Fi such as malls, bus stations, and so on. However, if not protected, these networks remain susceptible to hackers who could steal your personal information.

Protect Yourself:

  • As much as possible, avoid using public Wi-Fi. Consider bringing your personal pocket Wi-Fi, instead.
  • Do not enter personal details like usernames and passwords on a website that you do not trust.
  • Do not download files from public Wi-Fi, especially those with suspicious extension names.

9. Inheritance Scam

Most people have probably dreamed about inheriting millions of money from a long-lost relative who had just passed. Sadly, scammers often use this story to rob people of their money!

Modus Operandi:

You receive a lengthy email stating that you’re about to receive life-changing inheritance from a distant relative or wealthy benefactor who had just passed away. The message is supposedly written by a lawyer or banker.

However, due to some government or banking “restrictions” — you need to send money, personal details, and/or sign some documents in order to claim your inheritance.

Protect Yourself:

  • Legitimate estates usually do not seek out heirs in this manner, so be wary of such inheritance stories!
  • Do not provide your banking details to anyone who is promising to send you millions out of the blue!

10. Money Mule Scam

You may have heard of “drug mules,” or those who carry illegal substances in their luggage for a certain amount of money. These days, there are “money mules” as well — people who carry illegally-acquired cash.

Modus Operandi:

You receive a message asking if you’re interested in an “easy job.” All you have to do is provide your bank or e-wallet details, and allow your account to receive deposits of money. Sounds awesome, right?! But wait… this could be illegally-acquired cash, and you could end up becoming part of a money laundering scheme!

Protect Yourself:

  • Be wary of people sending you texts, emails, or social media messages — offering you easy money in exchange for your bank account or e-wallet details.
  • Beware of “jobs” where you are being asked to receive money, withdraw funds, and/or send money to other people.

11. Emergency or Grandparent Scam

If you have ever received a text or a call from an unknown number — claiming to be a relative who’s in sudden need of cash due to an emergency — think again, because it could be a scam.

Modus Operandi:

We’ve all heard a variation of the emergency scam before. Perhaps you’ve received an SMS from your OFW relative, saying that she’s stuck at the airport and needs emergency cash. Or perhaps you’re a grandparent and you get a call from your “grandchild” who needs money immediately (hence the term, “grandparent scam”). The tone of the message or phone call sounds really frantic!

Worried and concerned, you proceed to send money immediately through bank deposit or an e-wallet transaction. Unfortunately, you never hear from the so-called relative or grandchild ever again.

Protect Yourself:

  • If you received a text, call, or email about an emergency, double check the number or email address. Is it really from someone you know?
  • Try to contact the person directly — using his/her number saved in your address book. It’s important that you talk to the person to verify if, indeed, he/she is in trouble.
  • Do not send any money unless you are 100 percent sure that the person is someone you really know.

12. Love Scam

Ah, love… who doesn’t what to be romanced? Be very careful, however, because that knight in shining in armor or beautiful lady could be a scammer, instead!

Modus Operandi:

You meet someone online; he/she seems really nice. After romantic conversations over the course of a few weeks — or months — you find yourself falling in love. You decide to meet up, and he/she “books” a flight to see you.

Suddenly, however, your beloved claims to be in a medical or financial emergency. He/She asks for your help, and you do not think twice about sending money. In some cases, he/she may ask for your bank details, claiming to need it for some urgent purpose.

After sending thousands of pesos (or dollars), you never hear from the person again… and you realize that you had fallen victim to a love scam.

Protect Yourself:

  • Yes, it feels good to be in love, but you must be “practical,” too. When it comes to online dating, always be careful and never let your emotions dictate your actions.
  • Think twice, thrice, or many times before sending money to someone that you have never seen personally.
  • If you agree to meet in person, consider bringing along a trusted family member or friend. Also, inform your family and friends about your travel plans.

Additional Tips and Reminders

In addition to the above, here are some general tips and reminders to help you avoid online scams:

  • Always be mindful of sharing personal information, be it through text, email, social media chat, or a website.
  • Use only official and legitimate platforms when shopping or making financial transactions.
  • Do not open, respond, or click any links in an unsolicited (spam) email or text message.
  • Keep your credit cards in a safe place at all times; do not share your account details with anyone.
  • When creating accounts online, choose strong passwords that would be difficult to guess.
  • New scams keep appearing everyday. Stay updated about the latest scams by watching the news and following official government sites.
  • If you think you have been scammed, or if you have given your personal details to a scammer, contact your bank and the local authorities immediately.

The Bottom Line

Although the Internet has made it easier for us to communicate, operate businesses, and make transactions — it has also become a breeding ground for scammers who are out to steal our personal information, and eventually our money. By simply being aware of online scams, we are taking the first step to protecting ouselves.

What’s more, the old adage, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is” should always be at the back of our minds. By remembering these worlds, we can save ourselves a lot of pain and frustration!

In addition, do not hesitate to report online scams. There are local and national government hotlines for reporting these matters. Take the time to report such cases, so that online scammers can eventually be brought to justice!

Meanwhile, here are some more tips and reminders so that you can avoid becoming a victim of online scams.