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How to avoid online scams

A woman holding a credit card holds her mouth in shock while browsing the internet

Fraud costs Britain more than £190 billion every year. At that same time, nearly 40 million Brits will be targeted by a scammer at some point.

While a lot of these attempted swindles might be poorly-written spam emails or unconvincing text messages, plenty more are sophisticated, effective and under the radar.

With cybercrime becoming a bigger and bigger problem, it pays to keep alert and vigilant. Only online fraudsters are always cooking up new ideas and ways to part Joe and Joanna Public with their hard-earned cash.

While the following run-down of internet-based frauds and grifts illuminates some of the shadier new hustles, it is by no means comprehensive. So always be on your guard and ready to ask yourself ‘am I potentially being scammed here?’ when something unusual happens on or offline…

Bogus online job ad gyps

To keep somewhat safe from online fraud, one quite simple rule of thumb is to always be super suspicious the very second you are asked for any form of personal information or bank details. And so it goes with this swindle.

Fake job adverts are designed to target anyone looking for a change of work. Often, people searching for new jobs are either desperate or not paying attention due to the number of applications they are making. This makes them susceptible to fraud.

If the job ad is vague, promises ‘easy money’ or just seems slightly unusual in how it appears - be sceptical. If it asks for personal data or bank info… ignore it. Or, better yet, report it to Action Fraud, the UK's national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime.

Fake e-commerce grifts

With so much money changing hands online every second of every day, it is no surprise that e-commerce is a target for fraudsters. Whether you are buying or selling, you are a potential mark.

One major swizz involves fake sites that you do not realise are replicas. Believing the set-up to be legitimate, you are extremely pleased to exchange your bank details and other info for the product. Only you are not getting that product. You are getting ripped off.

Your card details will likely then be sold on and used to rack up payments. Avoid this by checking if the URL matches up with the website you should be on before submitting any credit or debit card details.

Google Voice swindles

If you want to buy or sell something online, you should be aware of the increasingly common Google Voice fraud. On online marketplaces such as Facebook Marketplace, scammers act as interested customers and merchants. They are attempting to steal your personal information to set up a bogus Google Voice account in your name.

The fraudsters pose as prospective purchasers and attempt to get you to give your Google verification code to them. They then use that verification code to set up a fake Google Voice account in your name, which they then use to swindle others. Effectively getting you involved in their crimes.

If someone asks you to share a Google verification code with them, refuse.

Sham tech support scams

Now here is a well-known ruse that, while lots of people know about it, is still one of the most popular and potentially devastating online frauds out there.

The swindle is straightforward. Scare tactics are used by scammers to deceive you into paying for unneeded technical support services to cure device or software problems that do not exist.

At best, the scammers are attempting to trick you into paying them to ‘fix’ a fictitious problem with your equipment or a piece of software. At worst, they're attempting to steal your personal or financial information. And if you allow them to remotely access your computer to execute this ‘repair’, they will frequently install malware, ransomware, or other unwelcome programmes that can steal your information or harm your data or device.

Not only that but after they fake their fix, they will often attempt to process a payment from you manually, asking for payment. After all, they did help you, right?!

Guard against this type of fraud by ignoring unsolicited emails, messages or calls regarding faulty software or hardware.

Favours from ‘friends’

Even your friends might rip you off online. Well, okay, not your actual friends. Things have not got that bad yet. No, instead, people pretending to be your friends…

It is not hugely difficult for fraud artists to create phoney social media profiles, duplicating existing ones. Once they have, they can target the real person’s friends and family, while masquerading as that person.

So if you ever receive a message from someone online that appears to be someone you know but they are asking for money, question it. Ask the person something only the real person might know. Or, better yet, contact them away from the platform you are on to verify the person’s identity. In other words, ring them before sending them a week’s salary via PayPal because they are ‘caught at the airport without a ticket’ or whatever the story is.

Crypto cons

Cryptocurrency is a murky area. Depending on who you speak to, it is either a dreadful Ponzi-style con that is going to collapse in on itself and bankrupt thousands of people. Or it is the very future of currency and world economics. For our part, well, we do not have an opinion…

What we do know is this - there are a lot of fraudsters operating within crypto who are extremely pleased to take advantage of any gaps in people’s understanding to exploit them for financial gain.

Fraudsters will cold call victims and use social media platforms to promote 'get rich quick' investments in cryptocurrency mining and trading, such as Bitcoin.

Criminals will persuade victims to join crypto investing websites and provide personal information such as credit card numbers and driving licence numbers to start a trading account. The victim will then make a small first deposit. The fraudster will contact them to convince them to invest again to make an ever larger profit.

In some cases, victims discovered they had been duped only after the website had been deactivated and the suspects could no longer be reached. The money, as you can imagine, is gone. With no recourse for clawing any of it back.