Picture this. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) received close to 792,000 complaints of suspected online crime in 2020 alone. That was a colossal jump from just under 300,000 complaints in 2016, five years prior. 

The FBI’s 2020 Internet Crime Report showed the soaring numbers also lead to a record $4.2 billion in losses through various online scams. 

Now picture this.

The IC3 report showed cases soared rapidly between 2019 and 2020, increasing by 325,000 complaints and $700 million. 

These internet scam statistics point to an exponential upswing in the number of online scams that involve increasingly sizable sums of money. 

With internet scams becoming so prevalent, how do you protect your financial life from ruin?

Here are five ways to avoid online scams based on new statistics. 

1. Avoid Sending Money to People You Just Met 

Romance scams have been the most prevalent and expensive for the last three years. 

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) also showed the median amount of money people lost in online romance scams amounted to $2,500 in 2019.

People trying to find love on social channels and online dating apps/sites lost over $300 million in 2019 alone. 

Victims told the feds scammers who requested financial support appealed to their compassion and made promises to pay back but never did. 

Scammers also avoided face-to-face meetups, taking advantage of the pandemic’s social distancing recommendation to steer clear of revealing their true intentions.

So, you’ll want to avoid sending new friends and acquaintances money in the hope they will pay or like you back.

2. Meet Up in an Open, Friendly Area

How does an open, friendly area look like in real life?

  • Pick a public meeting spot. 
  • Avoid carrying cash if you are expecting a purchase delivery. Instead, prefer to make payments with your phone — not even a credit card. 
  • The goal is to avoid showing any cash signs on you, so you won’t incentivize a criminal to commit fraud with your details.
  • Also, invite a friend along, especially if you will meet someone for the first time. 
  • Reject any invitations to pay in advance in the name of reserving a seat in a restaurant or other place. Do that by hovering your mouse over a link in a message. See if the popup link matches the sent link. 
  • If they are different, leave it be. It may be a scam link.

Use Reverse Look Up Sites to Know Who They Are

  • You can look up someone’s number using reverse lookup sites. You can query unknown callers’ identities using a reverse phone number search. 
  • Or you can do a quick or more detailed background check on someone for assurances that they are who they say they are.         
  • Top reverse lookup services can provide more details attached to a particular phone number, email, or physical address.
  • Yet legit reverse lookup websites use publicly available information per the rules the Fair Credit Reporting Act outlines. 
  • After all, you do not want to engage in illegal searches, stalk, or be tempted to breach someone else’s privacy with the information you’ll gather. 

Some of that information includes:

  • Find out if there are phone scams involving that number
  • Arrest and criminal background 
  • Name and address of the number’s owner 
  • Alternative phone numbers
  • Marriage or divorce records
  • Property records

That is powerful information. 

4. Reverse Lookup Images

In 2020 many scammers found a haven hiding behind the screens and avoiding physical contact. 

Others scraped images online to create pseudo-social media accounts. 

They would then use the fake accounts to court unsuspecting victims until they took off with sums of money.  

One way to avoid falling into such a trap is to reverse lookup images online to discover more details such as where they came from, associated social media accounts, and other online presence. 

How do you do a reverse image search?

It is a seamless step when using a laptop or desktop computer. Go online to search for an image on Google.

  • Type images.google.com in the URL space
  • Click or tap the camera icon
  • Drag the image from the other window if you have it open in a separate browser window. Or click the Upload an Image to get it from your computer’s storage.
  • Alternatively, copy the person’s image online URL and paste it under Paste Image URL.      
  • Click Search by Image 

The result: The search results will bring up images related to the one you uploaded or searched for. Or you may find similar photos. 

That’s what you want. 

Now, compare the different images to see if there are any inconsistencies. 

Keep in mind, if you can’t find more similar photos that point to an actual person’s online presence, you do not want to continue that relationship. Similarly, you can also reverse lookup phone numbers.

5. Hold All Your Cards Close to Your Chest 

You do not want to reveal personal information, not to friends, and certainly not to colleagues at work or that cool circle you’ve wanted to become a part of for ages.

The top online scams in 2020 all involved stolen personal information:

  • Phishing scams targeting the increasing number of people working from home
  • Non-delivery scams that victimized online buyers who preferred to shop from the safety of their homes
  • Outright extortion involving threats about exposing personal information already acquired

You know better than to show your social security number, credit card details, and consumer credit information.

But did you know giving out your full name, personal phone number, and email addresses can land you smack in the middle of an internet scam?

If you use dating apps and sites, take note. The report shows you are the likeliest to reveal those details as you build rapport with a potential lover. 

So, take it slow. Keep your financial life out of the romance picture until a time when you’ve known much more about the other person and have met face-to-face severally.

For example, you can mention that you have a job or business. But keep how much you earn, loan repayments, property, and deep financial plans to yourself. 

Wrap Up

Internet crime reports have tripled over the last several years.

They hit an all-time high in 2020 when COVID-19 scams were rife, including fake online jobs, non-delivery/payment scams, among others. 

Still, you can avoid online scams when you know what to do and are proactive about it. 

Start by not sending money to people you do not know well. Then use top reverse lookup websites to verify phone numbers, addresses, emails, and even shared images. 

Also, keep any information that identifies you private.