How to spot and avoid scams

How to spot the signs of a scam and avoid online fraud

How much has online fraud increased?

As the digital world we use every day grows, online fraud has also increased. The 2018 Cifas Fraudscape report reported that identity fraud increased by 8% in 2018, and UK Finance’s Fraud the Facts 2019 report reported that even though advanced security systems protected online users from more than £1.6bn of fraud, criminals still managed to steal £1.2bn in 2018. With scammers looking for more opportunities to take advantage, it’s important to recognise possible scams, as well as knowing the best ways to avoid possible online fraud. Here are some useful methods of how to stay safe on your computer and security guidance to help prevent you from becoming a victim of fraudsters.

Create strong passwords and keep them safe

Passwords can be primary targets for fraudsters, especially if they are written down and left out in the open. Memorising your password rather than recording it can help ensure that it is kept away from outside eyes.

Using names, places, numbers or things related to you such as interests or hobbies may make it easier for someone to guess or steal your password. For example, if you liked cats and you were born in 1970, ‘catlover1970’ would be an easy password for someone to guess.

Here’s the best way to create a strong password:

  • Use a combination of upper and lowercase letters and numbers
  • If possible, use symbols as well, such as £ $ % ^ &
  • Create a long password
  • Don’t ever write it down – make sure it’s memorable, and unique to you
  • Don’t share email accounts or social media profiles with anyone else

The learnings behind changing your password frequently have changed; this used to be thought of as best practice, but now experts suggest that a fraudster can crack a ‘new’ password as easily as an older one. The best thing you can do is make sure your password is complex, long, and unique to you.

Banks will never ask for your password or PIN – if you receive an email asking for this information, it may be an online fraudster and you should contact your bank using the number on the back of your bank card as soon as possible.

Anti-virus and anti-fraud software and security

Using antivirus software can add another layer of protection to your online activities, and it could detect external threats that you might not notice. Leaving your firewall switched on can also help – some operating systems provide their own firewall.

Regularly updating your operating system and anti-virus software helps ensure that you have the latest protective technology, and that your computer is up-to-date on threats to your computer’s security.

When you enter personal information or payment details onto a website look for signs that the site is safe and secure:

  • The website URL begins with https, rather than http – the extra ‘s’ stands for secure
  • The address bar is green, or has a green tick
  • The address bar has a padlock next to the URL.
  • The website has a privacy policy
  • You can easily find contact information to get in touch with the site’s owners
  • You can verify the site’s ‘trust seal’ – just click on it. If the site is legitimate, you’ll be taken to a verification page

You can also use sites like Site Checker to see if a site’s genuine.

Email scams

Online fraudsters may send you an email with a link or attachment – if the email looks suspicious, delete it immediately. It could prevent your computer from being attacked or information from being stolen.

Suspicious emails can include emails with strangely phrased subject lines, or with offers that seem too good to be true – for example, a message that says “You have won the jackpot, all you have to do is click here to claim your prize!”

Replying to these emails, clicking on links, opening attachments, and giving personal information should be avoided.

Online fraudsters have become increasingly savvy and have started to send emails which are difficult to distinguish from correspondence from a genuine company. Here are some things you should look out for to spot a phishing email:

  • The email’s sent from a company you’ve never dealt with or banked with
  • It’s full of misspelled words, poor grammar, or looks like it’s been poorly-translated
  • The email isn’t addressed to you (the sender uses ‘Dear Sir/Madam’)
  • The email address the email was sent front looks strange. The name of the account itself may seem genuine – e.g. ‘.Gov Tax Refund’ shows up as the name of the sender in your inbox, but when you press ‘reply’ you’ll see the email address. Phishing emails often contain a lot of letters or numbers, and don’t seem ‘professional’
  • There are several calls to action
  • The tone is threatening or overly emotional
  • The company logo or any images don’t look hi-res, and look like they’ve been stretched or edited in some way
  • The offers within the email look too good to be true (for example, it might claim you’ve won a lottery or you’re owed a massive tax refund

Only accept remote access requests if you know who’s sending them

Remote access is the ability to access a computer or network from another location. This can be useful for businesses and corporations when someone is away from the office but needs to access information.

However, hackers and fraudsters can use this as a way to access a computer and steal information. It’s very important to only allow remote access to trusted sources, if any at all.

Research online retailers

Before you make a purchase online, researching the website or retail company can help you confirm their legitimacy. You can check if a limited company (aside from sole traders) is registered on the official Companies House website. Finding details such as phone numbers, postal address and email addresses can also give you a point of contact should anything go wrong.

Avoid giving money to ‘pop-up’ charities. These are charities that open soon after a disaster has occurred which may be set up to take advantage of those giving to charity.

When donating money to charity ensure that the charity is registered to avoid giving money to a scam. Check for registered charities in England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

Do not send money to people or organisations that you don’t know, as there is no concrete way of knowing if they are trustworthy.

Bank Statements

Keeping close track of your monthly bank statements and credit card bills can help you notice any unusual numbers or transactions. Shred paper statements before throwing away to prevent anyone from stealing your information.

Several banks now offer the option to go paper free – contact them to see if your bank offers paperless statements. They’re often more practical because:

  • All of your statements are in one place – and there’s no danger of losing them
  • You can easily filter them by date or month
  • You can print them out if you need to provide proof of address (for example, for a landlord)

Plus, paperless statements are much better for the environment.

Privacy Protection

There are a variety of ways that online scammers can target your personal information and finances, from hacking emails to stealing personal information. As these types of crimes have become a growing concern, it is increasingly important to be able to protect yourself and your information online – Learn more about privacy in the information age and online security, and check your credit report for any possible signs of identity theft.

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