Internet scams are constantly evolving with the total annual cost to victims of the top ten online scams reaching £670 million. Statistics show that 30% of all scams happen on the Internet or via email and 84% of all ID fraud happen online.The most common fraud in the UK is online shopping scam, costing consumers £63.6 million in 2014, averaging £200 loss per victim. So, what should you look out for to protect yourself? We’ll break down today’s most common online scams, and what you can do to safeguard against them.
The 419 (Advance Fee) Scam
The 419, or “Nigerian Scam,” is one of the most common scams on the Internet, one you may have already seen in your own inbox. This fraudulent scheme, named after the article of Nigerian Criminal Code that outlaws fraud, is one of the oldest scams in the book and it’s still claiming victims. The scammer usually claims to be a member of a wealthy Nigerian or other West African family, reaching out to you personally after the death of a loved one. He or she seeks to relocate a large sum of money out of the country for safekeeping purposes and into your bank account. You must submit small payments for fees in return for a large chunk of their cash. You should not respond to these requests, and, furthermore, you should never volunteer your bank details.
You’ve Been Pre-Approved!
You receive a letter or an email declaring that you have been pre-approved for either a credit card or bank loan. Those experiencing financial difficulties may fall victim to this scam, which promises instant approval and appealing credit limits. You must pay a fee upfront and at the time of sign-up. Keep in mind that even if credit card companies do charge annual fees, you will never be asked to pay them at sign-up. Accredited banks won’t know your credit situation and pre-approve you unsolicited.
The Phishing Scam
You receive an email from a seemingly familiar company that looks legitimate such as your bank, university or a retailer you frequent. The message directs you to a site, usually to verify personal information such as email addresses and passwords, that then steals your information and exposes your computer to attack by scammers. Phishing scams are some of the most common out there. You should never click the links provided in suspicious emails. Doing so will make your computer and personal information vulnerable to malware. Again, though the sender may seem legitimate, which is exactly what the scammer wants you to believe, no reputable institution will ask for your password or other key personal information online.
Disaster Relief Scams
When disaster strikes, so do fraudsters. Hiding behind the disguise of an actual aid organization, scammers will use a tragedy or natural disaster to con you out of your money. By thinking you’re donating to an emergency relief fund, you unwittingly provide credit card or other e-payment information. Only give to established, legitimate organizations. Visit https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/charity-commission to verify the validity of the charitable organization in question.
Scammers have added social media to their bag of tricks. By posting photos on sites like Pinterest, Twitter or Facebook, scammers have been known to lure even the most experienced of travelers. Upon clicking the image, which attracts clicks through the promise of a free trip or plane tickets, you will be prompted to either complete a survey filled with personal information or open your computer up to secretly malicious software. Make sure the social media page you’re on is an accredited account. All major airlines and travel sites will have their social media handles on their respective webpages. Don’t be fooled by a Twitter or Facebook account that appears to be that of a major airline like British Airways.
Debt Relief Scams
Individuals who are down on their luck can easily fall for an email claiming to relieve their debt. This scam makes the false promise of collaborating with creditors to either consolidate or settle debts. All you need to do? Pay an up-front fee for the services. As with the credit card scam seen earlier, you should never volunteer your personal financial information to facilitate an up-front fee. This is especially dangerous if you’re already in a bad financial situation.
Congratulations! You’ve won the lottery or some other large amount of money! Except you haven’t. This bogus email comes to you out of the blue, usually claiming to be a part of an international sweepstake, stressing you’ve won and that you just need to send over a processing fee or get in touch with someone who can process your winnings. Unless you have entered a legitimate lottery, chances are you haven’t won the jackpot. When you win the lottery, you contact the appropriate retailer, not the other way around.
Fake Check/Money Transfer Scams
You list something on an auction-based website, and the winning bidder offers to pay you more than the offered purchase price via cashier’s, corporate or personal check. Upon receiving the scammer’s counterfeit check, you are conned into sending the difference back through bank wire. Then you have to pay the bank back in full once the fake check bounces. Never accept payment for more than your selling price. Additionally, you should opt for a secure form of e-payment, such as eBay’s PayPal or Google Wallet, to ward off scammers.
It’s safe to assume that if anyone is asking for your bank or personal information, you’re being taken for a scam. You should never give out personal information to anyone on the Internet who contacts you directly. If you have to make a financial transaction online, make sure you’re doing so on a secure server and through a reputable website. If for any reason you believe you’ve been scammed, you should immediately change all of your passwords and delete any malicious software you may have downloaded. And always remember: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.