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Scam Watch Hub: the types of scams out there and how to avoid them

2nd February 2021

Nobody likes to feel that they have been conned, but unfortunately, there is an increasing number of scams that have been designed to cheat people out of their money or to steal their identity.

Even the most tech-savvy of people can be fooled by online scams, but you can avoid being deceived by these tricks if you know what to look for. The basic rule for surviving internet scams is a simple one: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

This guide takes a look at the most notorious scams, the common ways fraudsters may contact you and what you can do to avoid falling victim to these tricks.

What is a scam?

Scams are fraud consist of tricks that are designed to try and cheat people out of their money or identity and they can be done in many different ways.

Some ways scammers approach people include by phone, post or online and the number of people being tricked by scammers is on the increase as there are now lots of people across the world that have reported being the victim of a scam during the coronavirus pandemic.

In an article on the Armstrong Watson, website, they talk about the amount scams are costing people: “Fraudsters preying on people’s financial and health fears have been responsible for a sharp increase in scams during the Covid-19 crisis.

“According to Action Fraud back in July over £11m was estimated to have been lost to coronavirus-related scams, and this number continues to rise.”

What are the most common scams in 2021?

There are lots of different scams that fraudsters are using these days with the advancements in technology and these range from scammers coming to your front door to unexpected phone calls.

The Money Advice Service spoke about some of the different types of scams that are used these days: “The internet and advances in digital communications have opened other ways for scammers to target you and steal information.

“Chances are, you’ve come across the most common type of scams – the spam email from a Nigerian prince or reporting to be from HMRC or your bank.”

Below are some of the most common scams that are happening now.

Selling fake PPE and charging for vaccines

Unsurprisingly the most common types of scams at the moment have been related to the coronavirus pandemic and this includes fake calls that ask people to pay for vaccines, which are free, and selling PPE that is actually fake.

Sara Hope, a Project Assistant at Friends Against Scams, explains a bit more about these types of scams.

“The coronavirus pandemic is the topic of many scams at the moment. Including selling fake or non-existent PPE, charging for a vaccine and pretending to be from the police and issuing fines for breaking lockdown restrictions.”

COVID-19 themed emails

Sticking with the coronavirus-themed scams there has been a range of COVID-19 scam emails that have been sent that relate to the pandemic.

Raj Samani, Chief Scientist and McAfee Fellow, who offer the latest antivirus & cyber security solutions, said: “During the pandemic, McAfee has seen online criminals using COVID-19 themed emails to scam Brits by prompting them to unsuspectingly download malware onto their personal devices. This includes COVID-19 themed fraudulent insurance emails which are sent by fake insurance companies to infect systems with fake invoice attachments carrying malware.

“We also expect to see an increase in phishing and smishing messages (social engineering attacks that are used to steal data by duping a victim into opening an email, instant message, or text message) containing malicious payment URLs. This could take shape in the form of schemes, where fraudsters set up a fake call centre using a product return and servicing scam and sends a link via email or SMS, offering a refund via a mobile payment app, but the user is unaware that they are agreeing to pay versus receiving a refund.”

New finance-related scams

Financial fraud cost the UK more than £2 million every day in 2018, according to Financial Fraud Action UK, the organisation who are responsible for leading the fight against fraud in the payments industry.

As a result of the coronavirus outbreak, fraudsters have had new opportunities to try and take advantage of people as they spend more time at home during the lockdowns. Add to this that many people are worried about their jobs and finances, fraudsters have been attempting to play on these fears.

This is something that Safewise senior tech and safety reporter, Rebecca Edwards, has found. She said: “With the state of the world as it is, there has been a surge of scams related to medical claims, cures, vaccines, and remedies.

“On top of that, many people are struggling financially and so there have been a number of new finance-related scams—whether it’s related to government relief or ‘magic bullet’ loans and financial ‘tips’ that aim to get access to people’s financial information, accounts, and other sensitive identifying data.

“I’ve seen these scams delivered via email, text, and through robocalls. They typically include a link that will likely infect the computer or smartphone used, which can destroy your machine, ‘spy’ on you, or discover private sensitive information.”

What should people look out for to spot a scam?

People of all ages from older people suffering from mobility aids that need stairlifts to get around to young adults have been affected by scammers. To avoid becoming the next victim, there are lots of things to look out for to spot a scam.

Check official websites

Whether you receive an email or a phone call asking you to buy something or do something, it is recommended that you check an official website before proceeding with any payments or sending over information.

As there are more and more scams relating to the coronavirus pandemic, Sara Hope from Friends Against Scams, talks about how you need to check official websites to find out more information.

She adds: “The government and the NHS are providing information on what you need to know about coronavirus so always make sure you go to their official website for information. If in doubt, call a trusted friend or family member to ask their advice.”

Websites now generally tell you that they are secure as they have a little padlock next to the URL and website addresses often start with HTTPS so these are extra things that you can check. Although these websites are secure, it doesn't necessarily mean they are genuine.

Avoid dodgy links

You should never click a link to your bank or a financial institution from an email as fraudsters can “spook” messages to make them look as though they have come from sources you trust.

However, these links will take you to fake websites that have been designed to collect personal information from you or force you to download malware.

Chief Scientist and McAfee Fellow, Raj Samani, said: “Whether shared on social media, via email or you are simply browsing the internet, avoid clicking on suspicious messages or URL links, even if they are posted or shared by someone you know. Always go directly to the source as opposed to clicking links or replying direct to messages.”

The language that is used

Whatever form of scam that fraudsters are using, whether it is email or the telephone, they will often try to alarm you to something and will pressure you into thinking something is going to happen.

Rebecca Edwards from Safewise adds: “Another giveaway is language that is alarmist and designed to create a sense of panic or urgency that spurs people to click or react before fully examining the email or text for legitimacy. Things like warnings about a problem with your account, threats of legal action/implications, or promises of easy money should be approached with scepticism.”

Raj Samani also thinks that you if receive a message asking you to act, then you should be cautious as this is a tactic used by fraudsters.

“If you receive an email or text asking you to take a certain action or download software, remain cautious and don’t click on anything within the message. Instead, go straight to the organisation’s website. This will prevent you from downloading malicious content from phishing links.”

Tips to prevent being the victim of a scam

Turn social media profiles to private

If you have social media profiles on the likes of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, for example, then you know that what you post online can be seen by the public.

You can, however, alter your profiles to make them private and this can give you more control over who sees your profile and what you post as well as what other people can tag you in.

By doing this it will make it harder for fraudsters to steal information about you (like birthdate, birthplace and where you live etc.) that they can use as part of their scam.

Speak to older family members

According to reports, around 43% of older people, which is almost five million people aged 65 and over, believe they have been targeted by scammers. What’s more, is that older people who suffer from dementia are at particular risk.

Raj Samani from McAfee says it is wise to speak to older parents or relatives about the different scams that are out there and how you can avoid them.

“With every generation becoming tech-savvy, it can be easy to forget that elderly relatives are not so used to today’s digitally driven world. As your parents and grandparents continue to learn, explain how (and why) online criminals use a range of different tactics to scam people.”

Don’t share passwords and ensure you use strong ones

It might seem obvious, but people have given out their passwords when replying to what seems like a legitimate request.

The main rule is that you should not ever give out your passwords and it is not something individuals or businesses should ever ask you for.

When creating passwords, you need to ensure what you use is ‘strong’, so don’t use passwords like “password” and “12345” as they can be easily guessed by fraudsters. It is also important not to use the same password for multiple accounts and to instead mix it up.

Raj Samani shares his top tips when it comes to creating a password: “To keep all of your personal online accounts safe, it’s best to use unique, complex passwords. You can use a password generator to help you create strong passwords and a password manager can help store them.  And, if the site offers multi-factor authentication, definitely use it, and choose the highest privacy setting available.”

Keep virus protection software up-to-date

Whether you have a laptop or a desktop computer, it is vital that you keep your virus protection software up-to-date as this can help guard you against malware and other dodgy websites when you are browsing on the internet.

The Money Advice Service said: “Keep operating system and virus protection software up-to-date. Don’t ignore updates as these can often include patches to protect against new kinds of scams, viruses and ransomware. This goes for mobile devices as well.

“Use safe and secure Wi-Fi connections and avoid public Wi-Fi. Your standard 3G or 4G connection is often more secure than the one in the coffee shop or restaurant.”

Consider signing up to call blocking services

If you have an older relative that is getting lots of fake calls or you yourself have noticed that you are being targeted more by cold-callers, then there are certain services that you can sign-up to that will help to limit these.

The Money Advice Service said: “Sign-up for a call blocking service like the Telephone Preference Service. This might not stop all scam calls as they operate outside the legal guidelines, but it will stop cold-callers. This means any suspicious or unexpected calls you do receive are almost certainly from people you don’t want to deal with.”

What should you do if you have been a victim of a scam?

If you have been unfortunate enough to become a victim of a scam, then there are lots of things that you can do.

Stop sending money straight away

If you are making payments as a direct debit, then get in touch with your bank and stop this. Once you have stopped the payments you can then begin to think about potentially recouping some of your money.

Report the scam

Raj Samani explains that you need to report the scam: “As a lot of the country continues to work from home, and the elderly are likely to continue to shield as much as possible, risks will remain high.

“It’s therefore crucial that they are clued up on how to browse online without putting personal details at risk and what warning signs to look out for if receiving fraudulent texts or phone calls. Official organisations will never ask for personal or financial information via text, phone or email. If you witness this, it’s always best to contact the organisation directly or report it to Action Fraud online at actionfraud.police.uk or by calling 0300 123 2040.”

Beware of follow-up scams

Sometimes after you have reported a scam you might get targeted by a fraudster again so be aware of this. A common line they will use is that they can get your money back.

Check your credit file

By checking your credit file, you can let lenders know that you have been the victim of a scam.

This is something that the Money Advice Service recommends doing. They add: “Check your credit file for free through, Credit Karma, MSE Credit Club, and ClearScore. You’re best to check it monthly for credit applications done by a fraudster. See if there are applications for credit you don’t recognise, or if you have a Cifas marker on your file.

“If your bank believes you’ve been a victim of fraud it could put a Cifas ‘Victim of impersonation’ note on your account. It warns lenders that you’ve been a victim, or are vulnerable to becoming, a victim of fraud. If you have a Cifas marker on your file, request more information about why from Cifas.”

Scammers don’t just target older people or people who suffer from an impairment that might mean they need a disabled bathroom as people of all ages have previously been the victim of a fraud email or telephone call. While there are lots of scams out there, by following these tips you can help avoid becoming the next victim of a fraudster.

This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.