Confidence trick

How to Protect Yourself From 3 of the Biggest Online Scams Right Now

Cybercriminals are skilled at adapting to new technologies, incorporating new ideas, and twisting old scams to hook in as many people as they can.

But some scams remain pretty constant.

NatWest bank has published a list of the top scams people have most fallen victim to throughout 2016. These schemes continue into 2017, and surely beyond — fraud that’s universal and affects thousands of people worldwide.

What can you do about them? How can you protect yourself?

1. Advance Fee Fraud

This is a variation of the well-known “Goods Not Received” fraud, in which a seller asks for money before sending an item. Often, this happens on a separate platform, away from auction sites and third-party marketplaces (like those on Amazon).

Was thinking about putting a jacket on eBay. Took photos of it doing the Macerana.

It’s tempting because a seller will likely offer a discount for taking discussions away from official sites; after all, eBay takes a percentage of fees in order to keep itself running. EBay is the middle man, who thinks it deserves credit. And you might feel bitter about that. However, auction sites do offer a level of security that you simply don’t get in private negotiations.

Very simply, a seller asks for payment for a product or service before the item is shipped or service carried out. The result is that you lose money because what you’ve bought never turns up.

It’s no shock that, according to the U.K.’s NatWest bank, this was the second most common scam to affect its customers in 2016.

How can you protect yourself? Just refuse. It’s easy to say, but if you’re tempted by offers of a discount, it might be hard to do. You can see why real sellers would want payment in advance though.

wad of hundred dollar bills
Image Credits: 401(K) 2012 via Flickr

Know your rights. In most places, it’s against the law to receive payment for goods without dispatching them first — although there are always exceptions. This even applies to pre-orders, however. Sellers only offer discounted prices on pre-orders so they can factor in how many items they need to buy from their providers before actually submitting their order, not so they can withdraw money early.

If you are tempted to pay in advance, at the very least keep it to official platforms which offer precautionary methods — payment through PayPal, for instance, or using a credit card.

2. Spoof Payment Requests

This is actually a relatively new scam, at least in this form, with the number of cases rising considerably since 2014.

It involves a fraudster sending a spoof email to the accounts department…

Podcast Episode 150: The Prince of Nowhere

In 1821, Scottish adventurer Gregor MacGregor undertook one of the most brazen scams in history: He invented a fictional Central American republic and convinced hundreds of his countrymen to invest in its development. Worse, he persuaded 250 people to set sail for this imagined utopia with dreams of starting a new life. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the disastrous results of MacGregor’s deceit.

We’ll also illuminate a hermit’s behavior and puzzle over Liechtenstein’s flag.


In 1878, a neurologist noted that French-Canadian lumberjacks tended to startle violently.

Each year on Valentine’s Day, someone secretly posts paper hearts in Montpelier, Vt.

Sources for our feature on Gregor MacGregor:

David Sinclair, Sir Gregor MacGregor and the Land That Never Was, 2003.

Matthew Brown, “Inca, Sailor, Soldier, King: Gregor MacGregor and the Early Nineteenth-Century Caribbean,” Bulletin of Latin American Research 24:1 (January 2005), 44-70.

T. Frederick Davis, “MacGregor’s Invasion of Florida, 1817,” Florida Historical Society Quarterly 7:1 (July 1928), 2-71.

Emily Beaulieu, Gary W. Cox, and Sebastian Saiegh, “Sovereign Debt and Regime Type: Reconsidering the Democratic Advantage,” International Organization 66:4 (Fall 2012), 709-738.

R.A. Humphreys, “Presidential Address: Anglo-American Rivalries in Central…