As an expat who’s left home and headed out to immerse yourself in a whole new world, you probably think your street smarts are off the charts. You might think you’re a lot more worldly than that bully Jeff from high school who used to stuff ‘nerds’ (and the occasional ‘dweeb’) into lockers but never ended up leaving his hometown or making much of himself (classic Jeff). Maybe you think you know how to get by in this world without getting fleeced by a con artist.
Fraudsters are everywhere, and they’re after your data, they’re after your money, and they’re after your identity. And they’ll stop at virtually nothing to get it, especially online. The problem is, they’re only getting better and better at what they do, which means it’s becoming increasingly difficult to tell when you’re getting scammed. The scams are becoming so sophisticated that a lot of big companies are now sending out fake phishing emails to their own staff to test their vigilance.
So yes, even you can be scammed by one of these cybercriminals, and you’ll need to keep your wits about you when you’re online. Admittedly though, this can sometimes be tough when you’re an expat who’s got so much else to be heedful of. This is why I’ve taken the time to put together this list of some of the most common (and insidious) online scams for expats to watch out for. If you keep your eyes peeled for these scams and know how to avoid ‘em when you spot ‘em, you’ll be A-OK and one giant step ahead of those pesky little fraudsters hiding behind their computer screens trying to trick you and swindle you online.
Here are ten scams (listed in no particular order) you should be on the lookout for online:
Arguably the most classic online scam, one which I’m sure you’ve heard of already. But if you think you’ve got this figured out, think again, because phishing scams are getting more and more sophisticated and difficult to spot. There’s a reason why they’ve been so enduring and continue to be one of the most popular avenues of attack for cybercriminals – people continue to fall for them. You might be aware of how this usually plays out: a victim will receive an email from a seemingly legitimate source, maybe from an online service you use or a bank or something like that.
The email asks them to click a link or download a file to claim some sort of offer or to access exclusive content. They’re about to click the link and download the file, but then they spot something a bit off in the email – a misspelling here, a grammatical error there, strange unprofessional wording over there. If you received an email like this, you might think: “that’s really weird that they’d send me something like this – I didn’t request anything like this from them”. In cases like this, trust your senses, because you’re most likely dealing with a scam. Never, ever click on a link or download a file from any kind of unsolicited email you receive, because you’ll either end up infecting your computer with malware or handing over your private, personal data to a criminal – or both. And beware, because scammers are getting better and better at targeting these phishing emails to individual recipients based on information they’re able to dig up online, making the messages appear more legitimate and harder to spot.
Ever see anything advertised on a website or social media platform offering luxury products at ridiculously low prices? I’m betting you have. Ever think how they can offer those products at such low prices? Well, because it’s a scam. They don’t even have the products they’re advertising, and they’re definitely not planning on sending you what you paid for. Your best-case scenario is that they send you a garbage, knockoff version of the product you thought you were purchasing. There are fake eCommerce websites all over the internet that offer products at unbelievable prices to lure unsuspecting online shoppers to their sites. Once there, the shopper will enter all kinds of personal info like their address, email, phone number, and of course their credit card information.
Guess what? All the info the shopper enters into one of these fake eCommerce websites (and whatever amount they paid for the fake or nonexistent product) goes directly to the criminal(s) running the scam. Don’t be one of those shoppers. I’m sure you’ll be wanting to save as much of your money as possible when living as an expat so you can spend it on things that really matter to make the most of your expat life. So if you see a deal online that seems too good to be true, it’s because it most likely is. Don’t fall for it. Instead, shop only from trusted online retailers that you know won’t steal your data or your money.
Online tech support scams
As an expat, there’s a good chance you’ll be doing at least some of your work remotely, which I’d say is even more likely since the pandemic completely upended traditional work life as we know it. Cybercriminals have seized on this – and seized hard. Now what they’re doing is posing as online tech support agents to ‘help’ remote workers with their home office setups. What they’re really after is remote access to your computer so they can steal your data or even gain access to your company’s internal systems.
If you’re ever offered remote tech support from someone claiming to work for your company’s IT department, make sure you’re able to positively identify them as legitimate – especially if they’re asking for remote access to your machine. If you’re not sure, then simply cut off communications and get in contact with your company’s IT department directly yourself to ensure you’re dealing with the right people and not giving criminals access to your computer or your company’s network.
Ah yes, the old ‘Nigerian Prince’ scam, as it’s known colloquially. No list of online scams could possibly be considered complete without this one. It’s an oldie but one that clearly still works as it’s tricking people on a daily basis, so watch out. You’ll receive an email purporting to be from a wealthy royal or banker in Nigeria, another country in West Africa or perhaps India. The email states that this individual needs your help transferring a large sum of money to an account in your country. The individual promises you a cut for your efforts, so you’re looking at cashing in upwards of in the range of about $25 million or so once the transfer is completed. All you need to do is supply the sender with all your personal information and your bank account info – maybe even your bank account login information and password to help, you know, “streamline the process” – and you’ll be swimming in money like Scrooge McDuck. No, not really… not at all, actually. This scam comes in many variations but is essentially the same thing across the board. Don’t fall for it.
Fake “account issue” scams
Yeah, technically this one can fall under the phishing scam category, but it deserves special mention because it’s so prevalent. You’ll get an email that appears to be coming from a company like Netflix, Paypal, or Apple, for example telling you that there’s an issue with your payment method and you’ll need to update your payment details to continue using the service. The email will feature the company’s logo and everything to make it look as official as possible, and will prompt you to click on a link to update your payment details. Except, of course, if you click on the link and supply your credit card details, you’ll be sending those details directly to a scammer.
These emails can look truly legitimate, but, again, if you look closely, you’ll notice strange wording, misspellings, grammatical mistakes, and other inconsistencies that can tip you off that it’s a scam. So don’t be fooled even if the email looks legit. As an expat myself, I know how tough it would be to lose access to my Netflix account; so if you get one of these emails and you’re afraid of losing access to your account, it’s always better to contact the company directly through its official website to check on your account status.
Hey! Guess what… YOU WON THE LOTTERY!!! Yeah, the one you never even entered, you lucky sod – click here to claim your $10 million! Sorry to burst your bubble, but no, surprisingly you didn’t win the lottery. Don’t click anywhere to claim any amount of money. If you do click, you risk downloading malware onto your device and giving your private information to a scammer. I agree, it would be awesome to just randomly win the lottery, but that never happens…ever. So don’t fall for it, no matter how vividly you can imagine yourself sipping on piña coladas as you cruise the Adriatic on your mega-yacht after cashing in your winnings.
Fake antivirus scams
You’ve probably seen it before: a pop-up window that, well, pops up (funny that) and alerts you that your computer is infected with malware and you need to click the link in the window to download the antivirus software to fix it. The thing is, your computer isn’t actually infected with malware – that is, of course, until you click on the button to download the antivirus software. Then – I hate to break it to you – your computer is infected with malware. Don’t go around clicking on random pop-ups telling you that your computer is infected. A random spammy pop-up is not going to be the messenger. You’ll need to get a trusted antivirus software to scan your computer and protect it from viruses and malware. Or, take your computer directly to a trusted IT professional for them to look it over.
Evil twin hotspot scams
If you think this one sounds evil, it’s because it is. Basically, this scam is designed to trick you into connecting to a public Wi-Fi hotspot run by a hacker. It works like this: a hacker will set up shop in a public area (like an airport or cafe or something) where a lot of people are connecting to a public Wi-Fi hotspot. The hacker will set up an alternate hotspot and name it something very similar to the legitimate hotspot run by the establishment where people are connecting to the internet. This could be something like “Free Airport Wi-Fi” or “Strabucks Wi-Fi”, for example. Notice the slight misspelling of “Starbucks” in the previous example. Did you notice it the first time you read it? This is an example of something that could easily go unnoticed by someone not paying enough attention, and it’s a tactic often used by hackers setting up evil twin hotspots, so watch out.
Anyway, if you connect to an evil twin hotspot, as they’re called, the hacker running the network will be able to see everything you’re doing and will be able to intercept any information you enter into forms, like your credit card numbers for instance. This is why it’s so important that you watch out for potential evil twin hotspots whenever you connect to Wi-Fi in public. If you’re not sure if the network you want to connect to is legitimate or not, you can always ask someone who works at the establishment you’re in. In any case, you should always use a VPN like ExpressVPN, or NordVPN, or Surfshark whenever you’re connecting to a public wifi hotspot so that your internet traffic is encrypted and not viewable by anyone trying to snoop on what you’re up to online and perhaps steal your information.
Instagram influencer scam
Everyone’s an “influencer” nowadays, just like everyone was a “DJ” about a decade ago. It’s the newest ‘cool’ thing to be, and it can make you a lot of money and get you a ton of cool stuff for free if you’re, I guess, “influential” enough. So if you’re an expat who’s looking to make it as an influencer, or is just looking for something on the side, beware of this little scam where shady companies bait aspiring influencers into sending them money for fake, knockoff products (or often for nothing at all). If you ever get a message out of the blue from a company you’ve never heard of on one of your Instagram posts asking you to “DM for a collab”, know that you’re looking directly down the barrel of a scam. If you do end up DM’ing the account that commented on your post, you’ll probably just get a discount code for about 10-20% off some sort of product from some sort of company’s website.
Well, you won’t be feeling so special after you enter the code and your payment details to purchase the “product” and you end up getting something that isn’t worth a shit in return (which is the best-case scenario, really). Or, maybe you won’t get anything at all in return, except for less money in your bank account. Maybe you’ll even end up supplying all kinds of personal information to a fraudster like with the other scams out there.
So, if you ever see a random offer to “collab” pop up on one of your posts, don’t take the bait. Legitimate offers to collaborate will not normally require payment for any product sent to the influencer, and legitimate offers will always send you a direct message or email instead of commenting on one of your posts.
Fake travel websites scam
I went into detail on this one in another post, but I’ll touch on it here too because I feel it applies to this post as well. Anyway, fake travel websites are all over the internet, and if you’re not careful, you could be giving your sensitive information to the criminals running the fake sites. Expats tend to travel quite a bit, so you’re probably looking for the best possible deals when booking your flights, your hotels, train tickets, rental cars, etc. If you end up booking a seemingly awesome deal on a malicious booking site, then you’re effectively supplying criminals with information like your billing address, home address, email address, phone number, passport number, credit card number, and more.
This is the kind of information criminals love to have when they’re looking to steal someone’s identity. Again, if a deal looks too good to be true, it definitely is – especially if it’s on a site you’ve never heard of before. Do yourself a favor and only book from sites you know and trust. Don’t fall for the fake booking website scam. Don’t give criminals your sensitive personal and financial data.
So, there you have it. These are the online scams every expat should be looking out for when using the internet, especially when you’re in a foreign country where your attention may be divided anyway. There are so many traps out there, in real life and online, but if you keep your head up and pay attention to the world around you and know how to spot these traps before they get the best of you, then you’ll be all good. I hope the tips I’ve shared in this post were illuminating and I hope they help you to live your expat life free of scammers and fraudsters and criminals, at least online. And, of course, feel free to drop me a note in the comment section below if you have any questions, feedback, or know of any additional scams I didn’t touch on that you’d like to share!