How To Spot an Online Scam

The internet and online world has become a favourite target for scammers sensing an opportunity. Online scams can come in many forms, but how can you spot an online scam?

How To Spot An Online Scam

The rise of the internet has undoubtedly been one of the biggest and best advances in the human world over the last 100 years.

But like all big changes, there are some downsides. And in this case, the internet and online world has become a favourite target for scammers sensing an opportunity. Online scams can come in many forms, but all are designed to get hold of your money.

The good news is that there are many ways to spot online scams, keeping you and your family safe online. This guide will provide the skills and knowledge needed to identify online scams and outsmart would-be scammers.

How Can You Recognise and Avoid Online Scams?

Make the internet a safer internet experience by following these tips and tricks to avoid online scams:

  • Beware of ‘Phishing’ – Scammers often pretend to be acting on behalf of an official organisation such as a government department, a bank or a recognisable business. Criminals will use scam emails or messages to trick their victims. Their aim is to make you visit a fake website or download an attachment which can transfer a virus onto your computer or be used to steal bank details or other personal information. One way to spot an online scam is if those emails or messages are unexpected or unsolicited. Never click on suspicious links or download attachments from unknown senders.
  • Have You Been Asked to Share Personal Details? – Never provide personal information, passwords or payment details over email if you can’t confirm who the person is that is asking for them. If you’re not 100% convinced they are who they say they are, stop any contact with them straight away. Also be wary of anyone who asks you to pay in an unusual way such as via Western Union or by using Cryptocurrency.
  • Double-Check Contact Information – Reputable businesses will provide clear and easily accessible contact information. But scammers won’t want to direct you to the official website they’re impersonating – so double check the website, phone number or email address they use. Look at the website URL, check for ‘https’ in the address bar and check for a padlock icon. There could be subtle spelling changes that can be easy to miss. Always check the company is genuine before engaging with them.
  • Research the Company or Product – If in doubt, check the company’s background on Google. Look at their reviews, ratings and any news regarding the company and how trustworthy they are. Remember, never click on links in emails or messages, head directly to the website instead.
  • Is the Offer Too Good to Be True? – Online scams will often promise high returns for very little financial commitment. But, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. This is particularly the case if you’re being pressured to make a decision. If that feels like it’s happening, step away, double check their details and use Google to see if anyone else has experienced a similar situation.
  • Check the Spelling and Grammar – Scam emails or messages are often littered with speling and Grammer mistakes (like those in the last sentence). Legitimate organisations very rarely, if ever, make spelling or grammar mistakes in their emails and communications with you. So if you do spot mistakes, be wary.

How Do I Outsmart an Online Scammer?

As well as using the tips and tricks above, there are several other ways you can protect yourself and outsmart an online scammer:

  • Strengthen Your Passwords – One of the best ways to stay ahead of scammers is to create strong, unique passwords. Use a mix of upper and lower-case letters, numbers and symbols. And avoid using any obvious dates or common words.
  • Enable Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) – 2FA adds an extra layer of security by requiring two forms of identification such as a code sent to your mobile. This makes it much harder for online scammers to hack into your account.
  • Keep Your Software Updated – Older software versions can be more susceptible to hackers and online scams. Keep one step ahead by regularly updating your operating system, spam filters and antivirus software.
  • Find Out If You’ve Been a Victim of a Data Breach – Scammers can bulk purchase account information that’s been obtained by data hackers. But thanks to websites like Have I Been Pwned, you can check if your security has been breached and change your passwords.
  • Monitor Your Credit Report and Bank Accounts – Keep on top of your financial transactions and credit reports so you’ll quickly notice if there have been any unauthorised transactions or activity. The quicker you spot a problem, the quicker you can get in touch with your bank to help you and reverse any scam transactions.
  • Educate Yourself Continuously – Stay informed about the latest online scams and tactics employed by scammers. Awareness is your best weapon against falling victim to their deceptive practices.

How To Report an Online Scam

If you think you’ve been the victim of an online scam, get in touch with the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC). The NCSC is a UK government organisation with the ‘power to investigate and take down scam email addresses and websites.’ You can send on suspicious emails and messages and report scam websites or adverts to them. Their website is also a good resource for more information on online scams and how to protect yourself.

Online safety

As the adage goes, knowledge is power and thanks to our tips and tricks above, you’re now well armed to take down online scammers and defeat them. Check, double and triple check all your information and never send personal information, passwords or money to people or companies you don’t know. Stay safe and stay informed!

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