What is an Online Scam? The 7 Worst Examples Ever (2024)

By Tibor Moes / Updated: January 2024

What is an Online Scam? The 10 Worst Examples Ever (2023)

Online scams have evolved into a pervasive and complex issue, exploiting vulnerabilities in the digital age and impacting millions globally.

In this article, we’ll explore the seven most notorious online scams to date, offering insights and statistics to understand their scope and how they operate.


Online scams are deceptive and fraudulent activities conducted through the internet to exploit individuals for financial gain.

  • Nigerian 419 Scams: Originating in the 1990s, these scams involve fraudsters posing as wealthy individuals seeking financial assistance, promising high returns. Annually, they still collect around $801,223, averaging a loss of $2,441 per victim.
  • Phishing Scams: These scams trick individuals into revealing sensitive information by masquerading as legitimate entities. In 2022, 300,497 victims in the U.S. lost a total of $52 million to phishing scams.
  • Romance Scams: Fraudsters create fake online profiles to form romantic relationships and defraud their victims. Nearly 70,000 people reported romance scams in 2022, with losses amounting to $1.3 billion.
  • Tech Support Scams: Scammers pose as tech support to fix non-existent computer issues, often leading to financial exploitation. The number of related cybercrimes, including tech support scams, escalated from about 467,000 cases in 2019 to over 800,000 in subsequent years.
  • Cryptocurrency Scams: Exploiting the rise of digital currencies, these scams target inexperienced investors with fraudulent schemes. Since 2021, consumers have lost over $1 billion to cryptocurrency scams.
  • COVID-19 Scams: Capitalizing on the pandemic, these scams range from selling fake health products to phishing emails. Since 2020, over $500 million has been lost to COVID-related fraud.
  • Job Offer Scams: Fake job listings and recruitment efforts trick job seekers into paying money or sharing personal information. In the first quarter of 2022, job seekers lost $68 million to such scams.

Don’t become a victim of an online scam. Protect your devices with the best antivirus software and your privacy with the best VPN service.

Online Scam Examples

1. Nigerian 419 Scams (1990s – Present)

Imagine receiving an email from a Nigerian prince, promising you a substantial share of his fortune in return for a small financial favor. Sounds too good to be true? That’s because it is. This is the essence of the infamous Nigerian 419 scams, which have been deceiving individuals since the 1990s.

Despite the rise of awareness, these scams are far from obsolete. As reported by CNBC in 2019, these schemes still amass an astounding $700,000 annually, equivalent to about $801,223 in 2022 dollars. On average, each victim loses around $2,133, a figure that inflates to approximately $2,441 when adjusted for 2022.

The longevity and success of these scams highlight their adaptability and the ongoing vulnerability of individuals to persuasive, albeit fraudulent, narratives.

2. Phishing Scams (2000s – Present)

Phishing scams represent a more technologically sophisticated threat. These scams cleverly disguise themselves as trustworthy communications, often appearing as emails or messages from legitimate companies or institutions, aiming to trick individuals into divulging sensitive information like passwords or credit card numbers.

The scale of this problem is enormous. Forbes noted that in 2022 alone, there were a staggering 300,497 victims of phishing scams in the U.S., cumulatively losing over $52 million.

The alarming figures demonstrate the effectiveness of these scams and the ease with which they can lure unsuspecting individuals into their trap. The continued prevalence of phishing highlights the critical need for enhanced digital literacy and cybersecurity awareness among internet users.

3. Romance Scams (2000s – Present)

Romance scams have emerged as a heart-wrenching cybercrime, where fraudsters feign romantic intentions to manipulate and swindle money from their victims. The approach often involves building trust over time, leading to significant emotional and financial damage.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) revealed a sobering statistic for 2022: nearly 70,000 people fell prey to these scams, with reported financial losses soaring to a shocking $1.3 billion. This alarming figure not only underscores the prevalence of such scams but also highlights the profound impact they have on individuals, both emotionally and financially.

The success of these scams lies in exploiting the basic human need for connection and love, making them particularly insidious and hard to detect.

4. Tech Support Scams (2010 – Present)

Tech support scams are a deceptive practice where scammers pose as tech support representatives from well-known companies to mislead victims into believing their computers are infected with malware. The ultimate goal is to extort money for unnecessary or harmful services.

According to Statista, the prevalence of such cybercrimes, including online fraud and tech support scams, has seen a dramatic increase in the United States. From approximately 467,000 cases in 2019, the number soared to over 800,000 in the following years.

This surge reflects the growing sophistication of scammers and the continuous challenge for individuals to distinguish between legitimate tech support and fraudulent schemes. The data highlights an urgent need for greater awareness and education on identifying and avoiding such scams.

5. Cryptocurrency Scams (2010s – Present)

The rise of cryptocurrencies has brought with it a new breed of cybercrime: cryptocurrency scams. These scams exploit the burgeoning interest in digital currencies, often targeting those unfamiliar with the intricate workings of crypto investments.

The allure of high returns and the novelty of the technology make an irresistible combination for scammers. CNN reported that since 2021, consumers have lost over $1 billion to such scams.

This staggering amount reflects not only the growing popularity of cryptocurrencies but also the high level of sophistication and deception employed by scammers. They often use fake websites, fraudulent investment opportunities, and phishing emails to lure unsuspecting investors into parting with their money.

The massive financial impact of these scams underscores the importance of educating potential investors about the risks involved in cryptocurrency trading and the need for vigilance in this largely unregulated digital frontier.

6. COVID-19 Scams (2020)

The COVID-19 pandemic not only brought unprecedented health challenges but also opened the floodgates for a variety of scams exploiting the global crisis. From fake health products and phony treatments to fraudulent financial aid and charity schemes, scammers took advantage of the fear and uncertainty surrounding the pandemic.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, as reported by CNBC, consumers reported losing more than $500 million to COVID-related fraud since the beginning of 2020. These scams ranged from offers of fake vaccines and home test kits to phishing emails purporting to be from health organizations.

The rapid spread and high impact of these scams highlight how scammers exploit public health crises and the importance of public awareness and skepticism, especially during times of widespread panic and confusion. The data serves as a stark reminder of the need for vigilance and critical thinking in the face of seemingly helpful offers during emergency situations.

7. Job Offer Scams (2000s – Present)

In an age where job hunting is increasingly conducted online, job offer scams have become a prevalent and pernicious problem. These scams typically involve fraudulent job listings or recruitment efforts, promising lucrative opportunities to unsuspecting job seekers.

The scam often involves requesting personal information or payment from candidates under the guise of application fees, training costs, or equipment purchases for the supposed job. Forbes reported a startling statistic: in the first quarter of 2022 alone, job seekers lost a staggering $68 million to such fake job scams.

This significant figure highlights the sophisticated tactics employed by scammers to exploit the hopes and needs of job seekers, especially during periods of high unemployment or economic downturn. The losses reflect not only the financial impact but also the emotional toll on individuals seeking employment.

This data emphasizes the critical need for vigilance when searching for job opportunities online. Job seekers must be aware of the red flags associated with fraudulent job offers, such as requests for upfront payments or too-good-to-be-true job promises, to protect themselves from falling victim to these deceitful schemes.


In conclusion, the digital age has given rise to a multitude of online scams, each uniquely engineered to exploit vulnerabilities in human psychology and technology. From Nigerian 419 scams to sophisticated job offer frauds, these deceptions have collectively cost individuals billions of dollars, not to mention the emotional and psychological toll.

The statistics presented in this article underscore the critical need for awareness and vigilance in the digital world. It’s clear that online scams are not just a fleeting problem but a persistent threat in our increasingly interconnected lives.

The importance of protecting oneself in the digital space cannot be overstated, especially considering the sophistication of these scams. Investing in reliable antivirus software for Windows 11 is a crucial step in safeguarding against such threats. Brands like Norton, Avast, TotalAV, Bitdefender, McAfee, Panda, and Avira offer robust solutions that go beyond basic virus protection.

They provide comprehensive security features including real-time threat detection, phishing protection, and secure firewalls. These tools act as a first line of defense, not only protecting your personal information but also helping to mitigate the risk of falling victim to these elaborate online scams. As the digital landscape evolves, so do the tactics of scammers, making the investment in high-quality antivirus software a necessary component of modern digital life.


  1. CNBC.com
  2. Forbes.com
  3. FTC.gov
  4. Statista.com
  5. Edition.cnn.com
  6. CNBC.com
  7. Forbes.com


Author: Tibor Moes

Author: Tibor Moes

Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab

Tibor has tested 39 antivirus programs and 30 VPN services, and holds a Cybersecurity Graduate Certificate from Stanford University.

He uses Norton to protect his devices, CyberGhost for his privacy, and Dashlane for his passwords.

You can find him on LinkedIn or contact him here.