Everybody’s done it. At one time or another, even the savviest Internet users have clicked on a link to a so-called news story, with a headline and photo too tempting to miss. Only then do you find that you’ve been taken to a page filled with ads or content that doesn’t live up to the headline. You’re promised “insider secrets” and “shocking” stories you “won’t believe.” But what you get is a bunch of vague or entirely untrue information, surrounded by ads for products you don’t want.
Welcome to the world of clickbait. If you’ve been lucky so far, your clickbait experiences have been limited to unwanted ads that have led to disappointment and wasted time. But more and more online scammers are using clickbait to do more than just promote products online. Today’s scammers have harnessed the power of clickbait to commit identity theft. And if you fall for their bait, you could lose a lot more than a few minutes of your time.
How Do Clickbait Scams Work?
Just as you get more savvy about avoiding Internet fraud, scammers get more savvy about how to reel you in. Online scams are no longer limited to those sad stories of far-away “princes” asking for financial help. Sure, those still exist (and you should never send money to someone you don’t know). But newer scams target unsuspecting victims in less obvious ways, and clickbait is one of them. Fall for the wrong bait, and you could end up scammed out of money – or worse, your identity.
Clicking unknown links can result in downloading malware to your computer. Malware (or what you might think of more commonly as viruses) can access your personal information from your computer and send it back to the scammer—information including your name, address, user name, passwords, credit card information and more. And that can result in identity theft and significant financial troubles down the road.
It doesn’t just happen while you’re surfing the web. It can happen over email as well. For example, you may get an email that looks like the sender is your bank – or some other company you trust. It might say that you need to update your billing information or risk having services cancelled. There may be a link to click. Take a closer look, though. You may discover the email address of the sender isn’t consistent with official emails from the company. If you have questions about whether or not an email you receive from a company is valid, pick up the phone. One call to customer support is often all it takes to discover you’ve narrowly avoided being scammed.
Clickbait emails may also look like welcome emails from friends, with subject lines like “Something I thought you’d enjoy” and a single link to a webpage. Click the link, and suddenly you’re getting pop-ups that say your video player is out of date and needs updating, or some similar warning. It may look official. But if it pops up after you’ve clicked on an unknown link or video, it could be a scam.
Clickbait scams can even be spread over social media. Scammers love social media because it gives them direct access to a huge pool of unsuspecting victims. By using fake profiles and posing as friends, they lure people into taking their bait and engaging with dangerous posts. Be just as wary of clickbait posts on social media as you would anywhere else online. Enticing links to “amazing” or “shocking” videos can lead down the same risky paths as clicking on a video received by email from an unknown source.
How Can You Avoid the Bait?
To avoid clickbait scams, The Better Business Bureau advises not to click on any “must-see” videos unless you are absolutely sure you know and trust the source. Hover over links first to see the webpage associated with the link. If it’s a URL you don’t recognize, don’t click it.
Always be wary of videos that launch pop-ups telling you to update your video player, or that your computer needs some other update. Hackers use this as a way to engage with you and get access to your computer’s information. Keep your virus and malware protection software up to date. Those can often be your best front-line defense against dangerous links.
And finally, if a celebrity story or other promised news item is just too enticing to miss, resist the urge to click. Instead, open a new tab in your browser and search for the information that way. If a trusted media outlet is reporting on the same story, go to that source for the information. If you can’t find it on a credible media outlet, chances are it was not reliable information to begin with.
Surf Safely – and With Peace of Mind
The ability to communicate, shop and socialize online is one of the great things about living in the 21st century. With this simple advice and a little extra caution, you’ll still be able to enjoy surfing and keep your peace of mind – without being scammed.