Online Scams and How to Avoid Them

Contributor: Jay Gregorio. Lesson ID: 13230

The digital world is no exception to scams. From calls to offers that are too good to be true, scammers have become more sophisticated and believable. Find out how you can keep yourself safe.


Communications, Practical Life Skills

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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You open your email and see this message in your inbox:


You just won a lottery for a whopping $20,000 from! We value your loyalty and thank you for participating in the lottery.

To claim your prize, we will need you to get in touch with us for specific directions on how to claim your cash prize! Give us a call at 800-451-4445!


  • It sounds real enough, and who would not want to claim such an amazing prize?

There's just one problem. You did not enter any lottery!

  • How can you identify email scams that are not legitimate emails?
  • What are the things for which you should look?

Let's find out as we explore this lesson!

too good to be true

A website tells you that they will give you a thousand dollars for being their one-thousandth visitor!

Sweet! But wait a second.

  • Doesn't that sound weird?

If you only visit a site, you did not do anything to earn that money. Plus, real companies do not give out money every day to certain visitors. A thousand dollars for doing nothing is just too good to be true.

grandma getting scammed

It is unfortunate that a lot of people still fall into the traps of online scammers, who lure their victims by making themselves look real, credible, and convincing. Once these scammers gain a victim's trust, they can start inflicting damage.

  • What are the most common types of online scams?

Phishing Scam

Phishing is one of the most popular online scams.

The scammer pretends to be a reputable company in order to gain access to your personal information or money.

The potential victim receives an email or text that claims to be from a big company like Amazon, PayPal, Apple, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo!, etc. It says there's a problem with your account or there was illegal access, and you need to take immediate action.

Take a look at this example:

phising email example

Image by Andrew Levine, via Wikimedia Commons, was released into the public domain.

  • What signs in this email reveal that it is a phishing scam?

If you read closely, you will notice that the words "received" and "discrepancy" are spelled incorrectly. An official email will also include your actual name and will be signed by a real person.

The inclusion of a link is also a red flag. Most phishing emails include a link that will hack your device or information in some fashion if you click on it.

You should also Google to verify if "TrustedBank" is a legitimate bank. Compare those results to the email address and signature line of the sender. If you want to contact the company, always call with the information you find while searching online.

Email Tricks

  • Have you ever received a long, tragic, and emotional email from someone who wanted to transfer a huge amount of money to your bank account?

This is one of the oldest email scams, known as the "Nigerian 419". The sender of the email pretends to be a government official, wealthy businessman, or a wealthy family member. They promise to transfer funds to you if you will pay transaction fees.

Take a look at this Nice to Know You example provided by Erika Eichelberger for MotherJones.

  • What did you notice about this email?

You should have wondered how the sender got your email address and why she is reaching out to you of all people. Even the wealthiest person on Earth would not entrust 20% of $4.2 million to a stranger.

The sender is trying to appeal to the recipient's emotion by mentioning death in the family. The urgency of the matter is also emphasized implying that the recipient should respond immediately.

Social Media

From Instagram to TikTok to Facebook, most people are active in some form of social media.

While the purpose is to connect with known family members and friends, it has also become a way to connect with "virtual friends". It is generally safe to engage online with people as long as you limit the amount of personal information you share. Private information such as your full name, birthdate, phone number, and address should never be shared.

There is also a risk of catfishing, where a person pretends to be someone else in order to develop a relationship with you.

hacker on a date

If a virtual friend ever goes too far and makes you uncomfortable, there is always an option to report or block the person.

Fake Antivirus Email

You are quietly working on your computer, and suddenly an alert message pops up claiming your computer has been infected with a virus.

  • What should you do?

computer with virus

Many of these pop-ups are creatively done to make it look more sophisticated and credible. Sometimes, clicking will only result in unwanted notifications or advertisement that you're not interested in.

However, there are cases where files were encrypted or hidden within the pop-up. Clicking unleashes them and leaves you without control on your own computer. The sender may then ask for money to "unlock" your system.

To avoid this from happening, do not click on the pop-up that the scammer is sending, and install legitimate antivirus software on your computer.

  • Want to learn about other types of scams?

Watch Top 10 Internet Scams You Should Avoid from MostAmazingTop10:

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The best way to make the digital world safer is to take precautions and pay attention to details before doing anything.

No matter how great a scammer's strategy is, nothing beats a careful and logical examination to determine what is real and what is not!

Review all you've learend in the Got It? section.

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