How to Avoid Online Scams

Most people have fallen prey to some type of online scam at least once. Often, once is all it takes to prompt us to take proactive steps to prevent becoming a victim again.

Online scams can be merely a nuisance – like annoying spam emails. But some can be dangerous, costly, and even life-altering.

To protect yourself and your business from malicious computer viruses, identity theft, online fraud, and other scams, you need to understand what kinds of scams are out there, how to recognize them, and what to do to protect yourself and your organization from them.

4 Common Types of Online Scams


Phishing is a serious and sophisticated form of crime whereby criminals misrepresent themselves and steal sensitive information. This misrepresentation can come via phone calls, emails, and even fake websites that look perfectly legitimate. A vast majority of these types of scams attempt to pose as a financial institution or online service provider.


Some websites or online ads offer big-ticket items in exchange for completing a short survey and entering your email address and phone number (and sometimes even your home address). The promised item never comes. Instead, you end up bombarded by junk mail, intrusive ads, and telemarketers.

Fee-Based Services

A common scam is to offer an amazing service for a fee. Examples include searching for social security numbers or finding information about other people online for a fee. You should never pay to find this kind of information online.


Clicking a malicious link from a spam email or a pop-up ad can appear harmless at first. Unfortunately, you might discover your device has been infected with a virus. Your computer might start acting strangely or your data might become corrupted.

Sometimes these viruses actually come from someone you trust via email. It doesn’t mean the person you know sent it to you intentionally. It just means their email has been infected.

How to Spot An Online Scam

Pay close attention to and be suspicious of:

  • Spelling and formatting errors
  • “Something for nothing” or “huge payoff for a small investment” promises
  • Anything having to do with money
  • Anything that might be an attempt to scare you (warning you that your computer is infected or that there’s a problem with your account, for example).
  • A call for urgency (“You must act now!”)
  • Claims to have insider information or confidential data
  • Overuse of buzzwords and jargon

Additionally, noticing spelling and formatting errors can be a clue. If you’re suspicious of a hyperlink in an email, you can investigate without clicking by hovering your mouse over the link to verify the address.

15 Steps for Online Self-Defense

  1. Get educated. Understand what cyber crime is.
  2. Keep your browsers updated.
  3. Upgrade your email to a business-class account with higher level security.
  4. Keep your operating system up-to-date.
  5. Use anti-virus software on your computer.
  6. Do not click on any unsolicited email attachments.
  7. Check the truth of a potential hoax or urban legend at
  8. Always research any request for donations before handing money over.
  9. Never give out your credit card information or personal information like your social insurance number to anyone via email or a link you received through a pop-up ad.
  10. Always contact your bank and government institutions at the number on your statement or by finding them in a directory. Never use a number from an email or on a website that you were directed to by an email.
  11. Don’t install unsolicited software onto your computer.
  12. Trust your gut. If something seems suspicious, it probably is.
  13. If you suspect something fishy, open a new browser window and do some independent research before clicking any links or attachments. If it’s a scam, there’s a good chance someone has written about it somewhere online.
  14. Common sense is the best defense. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  15. Train your staff. Don’t just assume they know all of this.

For more in-depth information about online scams and how to protect yourself, see the following related articles:

Government of Canada’s Anti-Fraud Centre

Top Online Scams

How to Detect Online Scams