The 5 most common online scams and how to prevent them

CyberPeace Institute

Are you a simple user or a target for cybercriminals? Internet scams are becoming more sophisticated and difficult to detect. Here are 5 of the most common online scams and how to avoid them.

Internet scams are evolving and adapting to our digital landscapes. These are the 5 most common online scams used by cybercriminals with tips on how to protect yourself from them and safeguard your personal information.  

1. Phishing

Phishing is the basis of all online scams and at the root of the large majority of cyberattacks, even the most advanced ones. It is a fraudulent communication posing as coming from a reputable source aimed to trick the recipient into giving away sensitive data or to install malware.

While these attacks often take place via email, all communication channels can be used including social media platforms, one-on-one discussion apps like Whatsapp, and even through the regular mail. Scammers will try to get your attention to lure you into their nets, so watch out for seemingly interesting topics like salary increases, a person of authority suddenly reaching out like a boss or the police, etc. and verify its authenticity. 

How to avoid it

  • Enable two-factor authentication for your online accounts so even if attackers steal your password, they still can’t log into your accounts.
  • Take time to review requests that seem out of the ordinary and check for small errors like grammar, names or overall inconsistencies. 
  • If it looks suspicious, it probably is. If it’s important, the person will contact you through another channel. If you really want to be sure, use a different channel to contact the sender. If not possible, select a few keywords from the suspicious communication, add “scam” and input that in your favorite search engine. It is likely somebody else will have been scammed before you and will have reported it.  
  • If you are unsure, do not click on any link. Rather, look for the webpage using your preferred search engine.  

2. Fake e-commerce platforms

Incredible offers can be very enticing, but are often too good to be true. Fake websites will propose huge deals on your favorite brands and either ship fake copies of the items or nothing at all ! 

Cybercriminals can also use form-jacking to steal credit card information. They slightly change the link to the payment form of a real website, making it almost impossible to spot the difference.   

How to avoid it

  • Deals that are too good to be true are often just that !
  • Do not make purchases or share sensitive information if you are on a public Wifi. Use 4G/5G instead, or install a VPN to use Public Wifi safely. 
  • Make sure the website URL starts with https:// and that the browser displays a valid lock icon.

3. Travel scams

A large number of new online scams have flourished in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Scammers are now selling fake insurance policies to travelers including claiming to cover cancellation fees due to COVID-19. Another common travel scam on social media are offers and giveaways that promise a free vacation. Usually scammers do this to collect personal information or install malicious software on your computer.

How to avoid them

  • Always contract insurances from trusted insurance companies
  • Choose policies that let you “cancel for any reason (CFAR)”
  • Double check social media handles for legitimate accounts like known airlines or travel companies
  • Avoid giving away personal information on unknown websites 

4. Sextorsion

Sextorsion is a form of blackmail. It happens when someone threatens to distribute your private and sensitive photos or videos if you don’t pay them a ransom, usually in the form of cryptocurrency. Blackmailers usually target people through emails, dating apps, social media, webcam apps or adult websites. 

How to avoid it

  • More often than not, scammers claim they have access to private photos or videos when they don’t. If they do have access, they’ll give you proof.
  • Be aware when speaking to strangers on the internet. Blackmailers on dating apps will often express strong romantic feelings very fast, suggest exchanges of nude photos, make excuses that their webcam isn’t working so you cannot see them.
  • Do not engage and stop all contact if you receive threats.
  • Visit this Swiss website to get help :

5. Disinformation

There is a lot of fake news on the Internet; some of it aimed at tricking you in the short term like the scams mentioned above, others are aimed at altering your perception of reality in the long run. Disinformation campaigns are generally launched by state and non-state actors, with the aim to create a climate of distrust. The end game for these actors is to destabilize regimes and institutions for political gain, sow distrust and instability.   

How to avoid it

As soon as you connect to the Internet, you play a role in the peace or violence that goes on in cyberspace. By double checking the source of suspicious news or messages you receive, by not systematically re-posting or forwarding all that you see, you contribute to limit  disinformation campaigns and play a critical part in our collective journey towards cyber peace. 

For more resources on cybersecurity and awareness initiatives from around the world, visit our CyberPeace Café community or our blog that gathers many toolkits and best practices to protect yourself and others.

© Copyright 2023: The concepts and information contained in this document are the property of the CyberPeace Institute, an independent non-governmental organization headquartered in Geneva, unless indicated otherwise from time to time throughout the document. This document may be reproduced, in whole or in part, provided that the CyberPeace Institute is referenced as author and copyright holder.


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