Three ways to avoid getting scammed online

Every now and then I receive a very welcomed e-mail from my Omani bank that reminds me how to stay aware of online scams.
Scammers have become certainly more creative and sophisticated, it is therefore essential that the public awareness is constantly kept up to date with the latest trickery.
I must praise the Omani financial institutions for their active role in protecting the savings of their clients.
Here is a short list of red flags to be aware of:
1. Do not trust big names on face value only
Many scammers contact their victims via phone calls operated from busy and noisy customer care services, claiming to be calling from a large organisation, usually an Internet provider or a computer manufacturer.
Some victims are brought to believe the genuineness of the caller ID based on the realism of the surrounding sounds, thinking that a large organisation must have busy call centres.
Do not fall for it. The background noise that you hear might seem like a large global team at work, but it takes very few people to make a small room crowded. Some leaked camera footages taken in organised scam centres show no more than 10 to 12 people at work in close proximity.
With thousands of potential victims to call, their lines are always busy.
Always ask to verify the employee’s full name and if they claim that you are using their service (for instance Internet contract) always make sure that they can state your customer ID number, not just the name. Scammers harvest names and phone numbers only.
Go as far as asking them to read for you the outstanding amount due in your latest bill. Inevitably, if they are scammers, they will not be able to source that number and they will never call you back.
2. Never let anyone take remote control over your computer
This is an essential part of the most common “tech support” scam. The scammer would claim that your Internet connection is at risk and will request you to download a software so that they can take control over your computer.
Once they do so, they would likely open the display settings and reduce the luminosity to zero, so that you cannot see what they are doing.
3. Do not always trust what you see
In a very common scam, victims are asked to login in their online banking where the balance will be shown. At that point the scammer would want to take remote control of the computer.
Then, within the browser (such as Explore, Safari or Chrome) they will enter in Developer mode — a default feature available on all browsers — and within the inspection panel of the browser, they will edit the HTML code displayed when the screen is blanked out.
At that point they will show the victim an updated balance, which is usually higher than the actual one.
For instance, if your bank balance was RO 20,000, they would change it to RO 22,000 then they will start claiming that there was a glitch and now you have to return them the extra RO 2,000.
But be aware, the RO 2,000 were never added to your account, they were only displayed by your browser through the inspector panel.
[The author is a member of the International Press Association]


Stefano Virgilli