How do I Detect an Online Scam?

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Unfortunately, the Internet is not a 100-percent safe environment. There are dishonest people who use online scams to con others out of their private information and money. The good news is there are ways to detect an online scam. Essentially, they involve being alert for requests to share private information, being on the lookout for deals that seem to good to be true, and watching out for companies that seem shady or difficult to contact. Likewise, it may help to be wary of companies or individuals who try to force hasty purchase decisions.

Be careful about buying online when given a time limit for a discount.
Be careful about buying online when given a time limit for a discount.

One way to detect an online scam is to be alert for e-mails that ask for personal information. For example, if a company e-mails an individual and asks for a password to his account, this is probably an online scam. Sometimes, these e-mails look as if they are coming from a legitimate company, but this is usually false. Most legitimate companies have policies against requesting passwords from their customers.

Other e-mails may ask a customer to go to a company website and confirm his information there. Often, a person clicks through a link in the e-mail and goes to a website that looks just like the site of a company with which he does business. This is usually a scam, however. To stay safe, a person may call the company in question and report the e-mail activity. Usually, this results in the company confirming that the e-mail was a common online scam called phishing.

Another way to detect an online scam is to watch out for offers that seem too good to be true. If a person receives an e-mail stating that he's won a lottery prize that he never signed up for, it's probably a scam. Likewise, if he receives an e-mail from a person or company claiming to need help depositing and cashing checks, opening accounts, or wiring money, this is probably a scam. Likewise, if a person is asked to send a small amount of money and promised that he will receive a large payout just for doing so, this is likely to be a scam as well.

A person may also detect an online scam by carefully considering the website from which he's planning to make a purchase. For example, if a company only has a P.O Box listed as an address or does not have an address listed at all, this can be a sign of a scam. If the company does not have a business phone line customers can call, sends all of its calls to voice mail, or has a phone number that seems to be a personal line, this can be a sign of a scam as well. An individual may choose to avoid such companies or at least check with companies such as the Better Business Bureau in the United States for complaints.

One sure way to detect a scam involves being alert for people or companies who try to force a fast decision. For example, if an individual asserts that he's only going to offer a discount price for the next three hours, this may be a scam. Likewise, if a company or person insists on making a sale immediately or refuses to send information a customer has requested, this behavior may also indicate scam activity.

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a EasyTechJunkie writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

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Discussion Comments


I get so tired of finding a new money scam or business opportunity scam in my email inbox every day. There's always some story about a foreign billionaire who can't legally access his funds, so he needs a proxy in the United States to do it. My least favorite is the foreign lottery scam, since it always shows up when I'm down to my last few dollars in the bank until payday. $250 million would come in very handy sometimes, but I don't want to pay someone $279 to help me claim it.


I fell for an online scam one time when the Internet was still a fairly new thing for me. I received an email telling me that my bank account was about to be frozen, and the only way for me to get it unlocked was to re-enter all of my account information and change my password. The link looked exactly like my real bank's website, with the same logo and an official looking FDIC stamp at the bottom. I went ahead and put in all of the requested information. Fortunately, something went wrong with my Internet service and the submission did not go through.

Looking back on it now, I should have noticed that the return email address was different than the one my bank uses. If I get a similar email now, I'll look at the email address first. Anyone can call themselves Amazon or Bank of America or eBay, but they can't legally use those domain names. I've also noticed that some scammer misspell the name of the real company.

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