Browsing online and coming across a scam disguised as an ad, a fake news article, or an unsolicited email that pitches you an incredible investment opportunity is nothing new. Scams and phishing schemes are a constant threat these days and users must learn how to protect themselves against these harmful attempts. Luckily, as soon as these threats emerge, they often gain the media’s attention, which enables people to get informed and be vigilant. Here are some insights coming directly from tech giant Google in order to warn users of potential scams.
According to Google, phishing attacks have increased drastically over the past year as scammers took advantage of the pandemic to obtain sensitive personal information and score from vulnerable people. Crooks have been using different strategies to trick people out of their cash. Some of these scams come in the form of Google ads, others target people via social media or email. The essence of these messages is very similar, fraudsters either promise quick cash or significant returns if the people agree to make an initial investment. Others offer to act as intermediaries between individuals and state institutions in order to help the first get stimulus payments, tax refunds, or different other funds the governments granted during the pandemic.
This year, in May, scammers sent millions of hoax emails each day about Covid-19 in an attempt to obtain sensitive information. According to Google, there were as many as 18 million Covid-19 phishing emails each day and this number only refers to emails sent to Gmail addresses, which Google could track.
The company also revealed that,in spring, when news about Covid-19 vaccination flooded the internet, they constantly blocked somewhere around 100 million phishing emails sent to Gmail addresses per day, out of which almost 20% were coronavirus scams. Based on these numbers and the multitude of methods scammers use in order to pray off people – email, Google or Facebook ads, scams disguised as news articles being the most common ones, the giant warns that the pandemic might be the biggest scam topic ever.
Another common scam Google tracked this year via Gmail is one in which scammers impersonate the WHO. These emails were carefully designed with the organization’s logo and used on a professional approach. Their purpose was to convince people to click on a download button that automatically installed a piece of software on their computer. Its purpose was to collect sensitive data. Other emails were more direct and asked for money that theoretically should have gone to charities that needed to help vulnerable communities get through the pandemic.
The World Health Organization hasn’t been the only authority scammers impersonated in order to obtain personal information which would allow them to commit fraud. Many phishing attempts reported over the last year were even impersonating the IRS. The goal, in this case, was to imitate the institution and take advantage of taxpayers who expected refunds or had to pay their taxes. Scammers pressed these people to send them money or allow them to handle the refund procedure on their behalf. The various government support packages made available during the pandemic were a good occasion for scammers to try and pray off people who expected funds in their account by convincing them, via email, that it’s possible to access the money faster or in larger amounts. Given that more than 1.5 billion people use Gmail as their email provider, imagining the magnitude of these fraud attempts is scary.
However, on a more positive note, it’s also good to remember that both authorities and companies are actively taking steps in order to inform people of these scams and prevent them from proliferating. Measures to prevent phishing emails and data theft are also taken by Google. Through its Help Center, the company offers comprehensive information to Gmail users explaining what phishing emails are, how to report suspicious scam emails, and most importantly, how to avoid falling victim to a phishing attack. Moreover, thanks to the advanced machine-learning tools the company uses, it is virtually capable of blocking more than 99.9% of scam emails from reaching users. Yet, to be able to stop these cybercrimes and prevent people from revealing their sensitive information or losing money, it is important to spot a scam as soon as it first emerges.