Recognize and Beat the Top 5 Online Scams of 2017

Your information is valuable…not just to you, but to anyone out there looking to impersonate you, steal your login data, and do bad things including breaking into your e-commerce and banking accounts. The lengths they’ll go to are impressive, and it can sometimes be hard to figure out which scams are real and which are not. Here’s a quick guide to the top 5 online scams that are making the rounds in 2017, and how to protect yourself.

The 419 Scam

This one’s an oldie, but it has evolved over the past few years. This scam started out as an easily identifiable scam where you’d receive a poorly worded email from a representative of a Nigerian Prince asking you to help him transfer money into the country for a percentage. These days, it has become a scam that uses beautiful email templates informing you that you’ve either won a lottery or that you’ve been named as a beneficiary of an estate. The catch? You need to pay a relatively small sum (small in relation to the millions you’re being promised!) to get access to those funds. As you’d imagine, there is no money for you, and anything you send will disappear into an untraceable chain.

How to beat it

We get by with a little help from our friends, and the best solution to a scam like this is to reach out to friends and get a second, third, and fourth opinion–additional sets of objective eyes can keep you one step ahead of falling victim to a 419 scam. Also, be aware! Anyone who promises you large amounts of money but needs you to send money first is probably scamming you. Delete the email and move on! Legitimately urgent legal communication will come by registered letter, not by email! Last but not least: never wire money or send your credit card or banking information to a stranger unless you’re comfortable with that information being stolen and used against you.

You're Not Tech Support!

This one’s becoming quite common: you receive a telephone call from “Microsoft” telling you that your PC is infected with a virus, and that they need to quarantine it immediately! They have you sit down at your computer, punch in a web address, and install some software, and suddenly… your computer comes to life on its own. They lock you out, holding you hostage until you pay a ransom to get your tax files, pictures, and other files back.

How to beat it

This one’s easy: Microsoft, Apple, Google, and Samsung DO NOT call end users (that’s ordinary people like you and I) on the phone. They don’t offer proactive tech support like this, and they will NEVER ask you to go to a sketchy website to install weird software. If you get a call like this, hang up immediately. If you believe you have a virus, get a good piece of anti-virus software from Staples, or asl the easyTech service centre to run a diagnostic on your machine.

Fake News

It’s undeniable that there are websites out there publishing information like it’s true. From information about medical treatments to the political landscape, fake news seems to be everywhere. These stories can be dangerous, especially when they’re asking you to take action that might be unhealthy or unsafe.

How to beat it

In the face of all this fake news, a smart new plugin has showed up for Chrome: B.S. Detector. This plugin analyzes story sources and puts a banner at the top of the page; a red banner will let you know that you should be skeptical about this story, and why. It’s a quick way to get a heads-up on stories and sites that don’t warrant your attention.

Fake Apps

Fake apps are scarier and more dangerous than fake news because they compromise your phone, your tablet, or your computer, possibly sending your data to people who would misuse it.

How to beat it

There are a few steps that you can take to beat fake apps: on your phone and tablet only use the Apple App Store and Google Play Store to purchase and download apps. Steer clear of pirated or cracked apps and don’t share your account with anyone who wants to “share” apps with you. Both Mac OS and Windows 10 now have features that allow you to restrict which apps run on your computer, preventing you from accidentally running a fake app designed to steal your personal data. Finally: when downloading apps, check the developer credentials page before you click install. Apps that look like the real thing may still have a developer page that reveals that the app wasn’t written or released by the manufacturer you thought

Phishing Scams

This one is number one for a reason: phishers are getting better at what they do. While you’ll still receive emails in broken English with poor images, many new phishing emails are nearly indistinguishable from the real thing. Typically you’ll get an email with a high emotional trigger: your account is about to be closed, your password has been hacked, you owe us a large amount of money. These triggers are used to make you panic and get past your rational defenses. The goal is to get you to click on the link to take you to a site run by scammers, that is identical to your desired destination. Netfliix and CanadaaTrust are two examples of common misspellings. This scam has also showed up in the form of phone calls from “Revenue Canada,” demanding your tax information over the phone.

How to beat it

Say it with me: I will not click links in emails and then enter my account information anywhere. Repeat that ten times. If you receive an email with a high emotional trigger: stay calm. Don’t click the link. Go to your browser and type in the website address as you know it, and log in how you usually would: any information that would be available through an email link should be available here too. Evaluate the situation, and in the worst case scenario call the company in question to ask directly. When it comes to “Revenue Canada” phone scams, hang up, and call Revenue Canada directly to inquire as to whether the contact was legitimate. Here’s a spoiler: Revenue Canada will not call you to ask for sensitive data, and important communication will be done by registered mail.


These five scams aren’t new, they’re new and improved for 2017. Be aware, be smart, and stay one step ahead.

By Mike Agerbo

March 14, 2017