Though scams happened before the internet, it’s much easier with information stored online.
According to Jason Hochman, partner at Dinn, Hochman & Potter, LLC in Mayfield Heights, and Paul McGrady, partner at Taft Stettinius & Hollister in Cleveland, internet scams come in all shapes and sizes.
“Phishing is the No. 1 scam,” McGrady said. “(Scammers) essentially are looking for personal information. Sometimes, if they are really aggressive, some phishing scams can look like login credentials. So, people receive emails from a bad guy that looks or sounds a lot like a legitimate organization. They’ll abuse trademarks of the financial institute and abuse copyrights. So, when the email arrives, it appears legitimate.”
McGrady said phishing emails commonly say an account was compromised and the user needs to create a new password. But, he added phishing attacks build over time and don’t typically outright ask for login credentials.
Hochman said the most common scam involves emails stating someone abroad needs money or that there is money waiting for a small processing fee.
“They will provide you with wiring instructions to pay them a sum of money in order to release the “money being held for you,” he explained. “There are also other scams where they spoof phone numbers and pretend to be the IRS. They are essentially tricking people into sending money or giving personal information.”
Hochman also added phishing can also happen on complete webpages, where the criminal has built an entirely new webpage pretending to be a legitimate business.
Both professionals said victims of scams have a few options when it comes to legal recourse, though it can be difficult to get a favorable outcome.
“The biggest issue is that most scammers are not amateurs,” Hochman stated. “They make it very hard to identify and trace their identity. When people send money through Western Union, MoneyGram, or today, even Venmo, it’s nearly impossible to get the money back. Once you play into these scams, it is very hard to obtain recourse against these individuals as they are difficult to trace, and often live out of the country.”
McGrady agreed, saying the ramifications of a scam can be serious.
“A lot of people use the same names and passwords across accounts so not just one account is compromised,” he said. “The problem here is there is so much of this and there is only so much the local police can do in tracking it.”
There are a few red flags to look out for when it comes to online scams.
“The first one is anyone asking you to confirm your account information,” McGrady explained. “Banks and other social media platforms have made a point to not do that. It is too fraught with peril. The other thing is to be wary of attachments. The bad guys who are doing these attacks are very sophisticated and try to stay ahead of the software. So, unless you’re 100% sure, avoid clicking any attachments.”
Hochman added, “A lot of scammers pretend to be someone you’re familiar with. So, whether you’re contacted via phone, email, or social media, if you receive a random request that is related to money or payment, from anyone, you’ll want to verify that the person is who they say they are. A lot of times, email addresses and social media pages can be spoofed, so take a closer look at the details. If it’s a weird combination of letters and numbers, and clearly not from the reputable company, don’t respond. Also, do a background check on the person or place to see who it is.”
Hochman added it’s best to do online payments with a credit card or portal like PayPal, as both have fraud protections.
If someone is a victim of an online scam, there are a few options.
“Immediately file a police report with your local police. If your local prosecutor is unwilling to take up the case, consider hiring an attorney to represent you in a civil lawsuit,” Hochman said. “They have some tools at their disposal to assist with potentially identifying the person and can advocate on your behalf.”
McGrady said to start with securing online accounts and then go from there.
“If the password was used across multiple accounts, hit the accounts that might be affected too,” he said. “And then turn the information over to the local police. If the police can help, it’s the sooner the better. Also, warn your neighbors. If they targeted you, they could be working through a list. We don’t shame people for being mugged, so there is no shame in this. The scams can look so real.”