How often have you seen a pop up stating something like this:

CONGRATULATIONS YOU’RE OUR 999,999,999,999,998th VISITOR CLICK HERE TO CLAIM YOUR PRIZE

Probably more times than you’ve watched that video of the sneezing baby panda.  Well I hate to be the barer of bad news but you didn’t win. Anytime that they have told that you’ve won a new smartphone or a holiday or cold hard cash money. It’s a scam, a trick. (Apologies for the redundant statement but it’s pretty important that everyone understands what I mean here.)   How can we know this? How do we know that every time it is a scam? How can we know that the Prince of Nigeria doesn’t want to send you money or that you haven’t somehow won the Spanish lottery?

The answer is Critical Thinking!

Firstly, ask questions.

In the case of the pop up; one could argue that the website does indeed have a viewing counter. They may even know, through the use of cookies, the IP address of their one millionth customer. But wouldn’t they advertise this all over their site if it was a real competition? The purpose of such a competition would be to promote how popular the website is along with trying to increase the traffic to the website. So you’d think there would a big title on the web page stating that this would be a thing. Even if there is a banner stating this on the site you should still be skeptical. This isn’t something that is very common for websites to actually do. The chances that it is an actual competition and you have just stumbled onto the website at the right time are very small. In the case of the email asking for your assistance or investment; consider the question of why such an individual would be asking for your assistance. For the target audience here I’m guessing you don’t know too many people in Uganda or overseas generally. Just take the old ‘Stranger Danger’ one on this.

Secondly, use Occam’s Razor.

I’ll probably write a blog discussing Occam’s Razor in more detail later but for now a quick summery. Ockam’s Razor tells us that the most simplest explanation is usually the correct one… Amongst other things …  and with caveats… but again that’s for another post. As stated above how likely is it that you have just happened to have stumbled into a competition and won? Is it not way more likely that it is just a scam. How likely is it that a wealthy relative that you never knew you had has died leaving you millions? Is it not way more probably that this is spam. How likely is it that you have won the British lottery? Given that the probability of winning the actual lottery is one in several hundred million and given the fact that you are not British (if you are then ignore this sentence but there is more to come anyway) and given that you are likely underage at any rate (if you’re not then ignore.) How probable is it that you have actually won. If you are an adult aged British person it’s still highly unlikely that the British lottery would contact you via email or internet pop-up. And why are you reading this blog? Don’t stop by any means I’m just asking. But getting back to it… It is way way more likely in most cases where you are informed of having won a competition without an application that this is a trick and/or scam and you should not click the link.

Thirdly, do research.

Look into the company name or website or persons name if they have given you one. See if they even exist. In some cases the companies won’t exist at all. The best case will be that you find out that the person is a known criminal. The unlikely best case is that it turns out that you have actually won a new computer, if that does happen please let us know that would be a massive beating of the odds and I say good for you.  (It has to be unsolicited, you didn’t know about it before hand, and that there were no later requirements for getting the prize. Such as having to sell or promote several of their products.) Doing your own research is always going to be the best way to find the truth.

Fourthly, seek advice.

This is a bit redundant at this point but if you really are worried that you may be missing out on a new video game machine or a million billion Pounds Stirling then you should ask a parent or your friends what they think. Admittedly this is a bit of a argument from authority and argument from popularity but that’s why I am putting this as a fourth and final step that in time you will realize is unnecessary because you’re own experience will tell you that you haven’t won. More than likely your parents have been using the internet a lot longer than you and they will have seen these scams several times before.

Finally always remember that it may be hard to close that pop-up or delete that email because you feel as if you are losing something. Think of it like this, the odds are that you aren’t losing a prize but losing an annoying computer virus that could be potentially very harmful to your computer.

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