Online scams: here’s what to keep an eye on to browse safely

These days, many of us rely on home deliveries and choose to shop on the internet – that’s why it’s important to learn to recognize potential online scams, devised to trick us into disclosing our personal data.

This article will help you understand how to protect yourself online and stay alert as you browse the web, especially social media and instant messaging services.

What are online scams?

The first question to ask is this: what are online scams? The term indicates a crime that is committed online via websites and smartphone applications. In general, it is much easier for cybercriminals to scam online surfers than trying to do so through face-to-face interactions. There is nothing to be done, internet scams are a huge business: according to a report by the European Central Bank (ECB), fraudulent transactions amount to as much as 1.8 billion euros a year! Fortunately, there are also ways to protect yourself. The first step is to know and identify the techniques most used on the web by cybercriminals.

The most common online scams

Being aware of the most common online scam techniques allows you to understand if you are actually the victim of an attempted fraud and to identify attempts at deception. Although there are many types of online scams, below we have grouped the most common ones.

Scams related to online purchases

In 2018, a good 41.5 billion euros were spent on e-commerce in Italy. Such an amount of money cannot fail to be greedy in the eyes of cybercriminals. This is why one of the most used techniques by the latter is precisely that of scams related to online purchases. These can take the form of entire fraudulent websites or within sites with legitimate ads, such as eBay, Facebook or Instagram. Both techniques could deceive you and lead you to buy items that probably don’t exist: a fraudulent website, created specifically for this purpose, is in fact designed to look like a real business, complete with items to search for, shopping cart and cashier for payment. A doorbell warning that can help you recognize a fraudulent website is the warning sign in the URL bar that indicates the site as “not secure”.

This appears when the website owner has not purchased an SSL certificate, indicating that the connection between the website and the end user is vulnerable to cyber attacks. The owner of a legitimate website knows how important it is to protect their customers’ data. Therefore, before making an online purchase, he always checks that the website you are using is marked as “safe”. signal that the connection between the website and the end user is vulnerable to cyber attacks. The owner of a legitimate website knows how important it is to protect their customers’ data. Therefore, before making an online purchase, always check that the website you are using is marked as “safe”. signal that the connection between the website and the end user is vulnerable to cyber attacks. The owner of a legitimate website knows how important it is to protect their customers’ data. Therefore, before making an online purchase, always check that the website you are using is marked as “safe”.


Phishing is one of the most common types of online scams. If you find yourself in the crosshairs of phishing, you may receive an email, text message, or phone call that appears to come from a trusted source, such as your bank or online store. Typically, the message is designed to trick you into disclosing confidential data. For more information on phishing and how to avoid falling into a possible hacker trap against you, check out our in-depth guide on the subject.

Scams on dating sites

As they say, love is blind. This excuse offers criminals the ideal opportunity to exploit those seeking “true love” on both dating apps and social media. Sentimental scams on dating sites take a lot of time and patience on the part of the scammer. Here’s how it works: The scammer pretends to be someone he isn’t, creating an attractive profile and using fake images. After gaining the victim’s trust, he invents a story, such as a medical emergency, prompting the victim to send him money.

The fake fundraiser

Most of these fraudulent techniques are designed to play on people’s emotional side and nullify their ability to make rational decisions. An example could be a false promise of love, or taking advantage of the empathy of others. This is exactly how the online fake fundraising scam works. Cybercriminals organize an online fundraiser including a “heartwarming story” to build empathy and encourage you to donate to a false cause. In reality, there is no cause and the individual (or individuals) behind the alleged charity project has the sole objective of pocketing the money sent to him by the unsuspecting victim.

Advance payment scam

This is one of the oldest deceptions in the world. Recipients receive an email from an individual asking for help in transferring millions of euros, pounds or dollars, after telling the potential victim how their funds have become inaccessible due to complex legal issues such as a civil war, government-imposed restrictions and so on. Usually, scammers pretend to be high-ranking officials and offer large sums of money to anyone who can help them. Thankfully, this type of scam is fairly predictable and should be just as easy to spot. The most important thing to do in these cases is to be wary of bad guys who try to steal your money through a fictitious and unlikely call for help.

Get rich quick scams

On the net, scams that offer great and immediate wealth are numerous and usually come in the form of well-paid job offers that require little effort. Criminals post fake job advertisements, trying to lure anyone desperate for a job. In hopes of getting a new, high-paying job, victims reveal their personal data, eventually having money or even their identity stolen. If in the past these scams were much easier to recognize (with ads like Click here to receive € 1,000 per day, working from home, no experience required!), criminals are now adopting increasingly sophisticated techniques. For example, LinkedIn has been targeted by cybercriminals who send messages with bogus job offers to those directly involved. When compared to real job opportunities, these offers can seem compelling to the inexperienced eye and are very effective in attracting attention.

How to avoid online scams

As new generations are born and raised with the internet, one might think that online safety is a natural thing for them. On the contrary, a survey carried out in 2017 by the Cyberbullying Observatory revealed that 55% of Italian millennials use the same password for more than one account, without worrying about the consequences in terms of security. online scams? Here are some tips:

  • Familiarize yourself with the most common techniques used by criminals. It is almost impossible for them to scam a person who is well informed and who knows what game they are playing.
  • Investigate the people or organizations that contact you. Whether it’s a potential suitor on a dating site, a recruiter on LinkedIn, or a representative of a charity contacting you for a donation, it’s important to always keep a critical eye on the content of their requests. A brief web search will allow you to ascertain if they really are who they say they are.
  • Always keep your personal data safe. Try to be extremely cautious whenever someone asks you for your payment details or your personal details.
  • Be careful when shopping online. Do a little research on the website in question if you are unfamiliar with it and make sure the payment service is secure (for example, look for the padlock symbol in the URL bar to see if you are safely browsing that page). If there are ads related to auctions, look for each user’s registration date and previous sales or purchases. Use an online bank with a high and effective security system to make sure your daily operations are adequately protected.
  • Check your social media privacy settings. If your personal information is clearly visible, you could become an easy target for cybercriminals. Check your settings and limit the information you share publicly.
  • Be skeptical of alleged bargains and online offers , such as job offers, discount codes, travel discounts, giveaways, or unusually good discounts on very expensive items.

How to report online scams

If you discover an internet scam, or think you have been a victim of it, it is vital that you report it as soon as possible. A complaint to the competent authorities, such as the Postal Police, will lead to the opening of an investigation and a punitive action against the directly concerned. If a scammer pretends to be a real organization (for example, by sending you a phishing email on behalf of PayPal), report it directly to the latter – carrying out an investigation is in the interest of the affected companies. Also contact the competent anti-fraud authority for your country.

Here is the list of anti-fraud authorities drawn up by Europol, the agency aimed at fighting crime in the European Union:

  • Germany: Polizei
  • United Kingdom: ActionFraud
  • Spagna: National Police or Civil Guard
  • Italy: Postal Police
  • France: Internet-Reporting

N26 and safety

For us at N26, your safety is paramount: we hope this article has given you some useful tools to navigate online with greater awareness. However, if you think that the security of your account may have been compromised by an attempted fraud, please contact our Customer Support immediately – we will be happy to assist you.

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