Social Engineering Scams and How to Avoid Them

Reading time: 8 min read
Harsha Kiran
Written by
Harsha Kiran

Updated · Oct 25, 2023

Harsha Kiran
Founder | Joined March 2023 | LinkedIn
Harsha Kiran

Harsha Kiran is the founder and innovator of He started it as a personal passion proje... | See full bio

Girlie Defensor
Edited by
Girlie Defensor


Girlie Defensor
Joined June 2023
Girlie Defensor

Girlie is an accomplished writer with an interest in technology and literature. With years of experi... | See full bio

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Cybercrime usually centers on hacking into computers and networks, but social engineering takes a different approach. Instead of targeting systems, it exploits human psychology.

In 2022, social engineering became the most prevalent method in cyberattacks, accounting for over 90% of data breaches. One convincing email or phone call from someone impersonating your boss can make you a victim.

This article will explore social engineering scams, their various forms, and practical methods to safeguard yourself against them.

🔑 Key Takeaways:

  • Social engineering scams use your mind against you, utilizing manipulation techniques that lure you to do what the fraudster wants.
  • There are many types of social engineering scams, all equally devastating.
  • Phishing is a scam that uses deceptive websites, emails, and text messages to trick people. 
  • There are several ways to avoid social engineering scams, but the best one is to stay calm and alert.

What are Social Engineering Scams?

Social Engineering scam is the psychological manipulation of people to get money and Personal Identifiable Information (PII) for ensuing crimes. The scammer uses effective social skills to trick you into voluntarily offering what they want. 

Social engineering can be a way to organize and improve society like engineers do machines. Unfortunately, these words now harbor a dark meaning as they’re now associated with deceit, theft, and cyberattacks.

In many cases, social engineering is just the initial phase, a part that’s necessary to run the next one. 

For instance, scammers may trick an employee into giving up a company’s confidential passwords. They’ll then use those passwords to infiltrate the company’s network and commit theft.

Social engineer was first coined by a Dutch industrialist

10 Common Types of Social Engineering Scams

Below are ten of the most common cyberattacks that utilize social engineering. Understanding how these scams work is crucial to avoiding them.

Voice Scams

This scam has been a scourge since the mass production of telephones. Nowadays, it’s done through online messaging or conferencing apps. 

Fraudsters call you and introduce themselves as bank representatives or employees from a reputable enterprise. Then, they ask for confidential financial details after patiently elaborating on a plausible reason. Sometimes, they’d even ask the victim to initiate a bank transfer to a dummy account.

Their scripts are clever and are often executed to press you. This is a ploy to instill a sense of urgency, to make you panic so that you’re more likely to do what they want. 

🎉Fun fact: Scammers have upgraded their tools and now use AI to mimic your loved ones’ voices. CBS News reported that a mother encountered this after receiving a phone call from a fraudster pretending to be her 15-year-old daughter and claiming to be kidnapped.


Since 2011, phishing attacks on mobile devices have grown by 85% yearly. It’s one of the most common ways to launch a cyber attack. 

Phishing uses deceptive websites, emails, and text messages. The emails or text message campaigns contain a pressing message and a link. 

They’re written to evoke curiosity and urgency, compelling victims to divulge private information or to click on the link that leads malicious website. A typical example is a policy violation alert requiring immediate account credentials to be re-entered. 

Phishing websites have domain names similar to legitimate companies, but the spelling is always slightly off. as a phishing site may be or Entering this site is dangerous as it may give your computer information-stealing malware.

Scammers use the information they obtain to commit payment fraud or identity theft.


Spear Phishing

This scam is the targeted version of the typical phishing method. Like in actual spear fishing, the fraudster chooses a specific victim, and it’s usually an individual who fits into a set of criteria.

Fraudsters tailor their messages based on the characteristics of the target. This could be a job, fanbase, business, or anything the individual personally relates to. Doing this makes the attack less conspicuous.

🎉Fun fact: Norton revealed that about 88% of organizations have to deal with spear phishing attacks yearly.

In 2019, cybercriminals ran a John Wick 3 scam on movie fans. They targeted specific fans who enjoyed reading comic books on Amazon Kindle. They were lured into downloading a free version of the movie, which, at the time, hadn’t even been released. The phishing link sent its victims to several illegal streaming sites that contained malware.


Smishing or SMS phishing is a social engineering attack done exclusively through text messages. 

Smishing is as prevalent as its email counterpart. In 2021, the scam method rose by 700% in the first half alone.

This variant uses the same manipulation techniques through SMS channels or messaging apps. The victims are also led to expose their PII or to click dubious links.


Remote Access Tools (RAT) Attacks

The scams you see posted on YouTube are often RAT Attacks. This manipulation method is composed of three layers.

The first part has the fraudster posing as tech support from big companies or financial institutions. They’d explain the need to take control of the victim’s computer “to fix an important problem.”

Once the victim is convinced, the scammer guides them to download and enable a remote access program disguised as legitimate software. This opens a backdoor to the computer and allows cybercriminals to control it from a distance. 

The scam reaches its final phase when the fraudster uses the RAT to seize administrative control over the computer. They’d open online banking sessions to steal money and access files to steal information.

RAT Process


A scareware tactic involves false alarms or fictitious threats that urge users to remediate a problem that may not exist.

A window typically pops up and claims that your system or mobile device is infected with dangerous malware or needs storage cleaning. It scares you enough to have you install software that claims to solve the problem for free. But in reality, the deceptive software has no real benefit. It can even be the actual malware itself.

Pro Tip!

Stay calm and avoid clicking on anything if you receive an alarm that tells you to take urgent action. Instead, close the browser or application and run a trusted security scan to verify potential threats.


A pretext is an appearance assumed to cloak a person’s real intention. Pretexting is a social engineering scam that centres on a false identity. 

The scammer assumes a fabricated identity, someone in a position of trust or authority, or a representative from a well-known company. They may pretend to be co-workers, bank officers, credit card company representatives, service support, or lawyers.

The scammers persuade their victims to give up specific PII through clever lies. The PII gathered are used in identity theft or sold to identity brokers on the dark web.

🎉 Fun fact: According to Verizon, pretexting comprises 27% of all social engineering scams committed in 2022.

Quid Pro Quo

Quid Pro Quo roughly translates to “a favor for a favor.” It’s a subtle attack that convinces its victims to exchange their money or personal information for a reward or giveaway.

The quid pro quo attacker pretends to be IT support and offers you a free service. But to activate it, you’d have to open a dubious email, disable your antivirus or VPN, or reconfirm your account credentials.

The scam is enticing because it feels like a bonafide promo. Free services that require little effort from you are hard to come by.


Tailgating is the easiest way for an authorized individual to get around tight security measures. The attacker uses pretexting to convince the victim to grant them entry, exploiting social courtesy and playing on their emotions. Persuaded victims will “hold the door open” for attackers to enter a secured account. 

For example, a cybercriminal may use an employee’s misguided politeness to access a company network. The easy infiltration will lead to a massive data breach, causing the company heavy losses.



Water-Holing, or a Water Hole Attack, is a social engineering scam that casts a wide net to catch a victim. 

Cybercriminals choose a low-security website frequently visited by a particular group of users. They exploit the website’s weak defenses, infecting it with malicious code payload that attacks many users simultaneously. 

Eventually, one user will catch the malware on their device. It then proceeds to launch a pivot attack to commit another crime. It spies on the victim and gathers PII. Unbeknownst to the victim, the malware may also turn their computer into a bot for more extensive cyberattacks like DDoSing. 

Pro tip!

When browsing, be cautious of websites you're unfamiliar with or those that unexpectedly prompt downloads or updates, as these could be waterholes used by cyber attackers to distribute malware.

The Best Defenses Against Social Engineering Scams

Scams are prevalent online, but you can’t avoid them just by staying out of the internet permanently. Instead, you can be more cautious and deter nefarious scammers. 

Follow these tips on how to avoid social engineering scams:

Protect yourself from social engineering with these tips.

The tips above will save you from being a victim. But as with everything online, it’s up to you to save yourself. Be alert. You can defeat social engineering just by being vigilant.

The Bottom Line

Scams are as old as human history. As long as there has been coveted information, malicious people have sought to exploit it.

Social engineering is just a tiny part of how criminals exploit humans online. They continuously evolve, pushing the boundaries of infiltration and theft without getting caught. So, novel scams are sure to sprout in the coming years.

Luckily, governments worldwide are tightening laws that combat fraud. Security solutions are also improving their technology to deter cyberattacks. 

As an everyday user, you can learn a lot of tricks to avoid social engineering scams. The best one is to stay calm and be alert. If you do, you can spot a scammer’s lies.


Is social engineering spam or phishing?

Social engineering is how a fraudster tricks a victim into doing something dangerous online. Phishing and spam are social engineering scams because they use the same mode of trickery.

What is social engineering spam?

Email phishing, spear phishing, smishing, and voice scams are similar social engineering scams. The only difference between them is their mode of communication. Email phishing and spear phishing utilize spam emails. Smishing uses spam texts, while voice scams use spam calls.

Is social engineering a cybercrime?

Social engineering is a human manipulation technique used to commit a cybercrime. It’s just one crucial part of a large, multi-layered plan constructed by cybercriminals.


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