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Avoid online scams: top tips to help you
We like to think we’re a nice bunch of people and we can only assume that you are too. If only everyone could be as lovely as us, eh? Unfortunately, the world isn’t all sunshine and roses. Certain people are determined to scam us out of our money and they’ll try all manner of sneaky tricks to do it.
That’s right. You’re in the real world now and every day can feel like a battle against the con-artists of the web. From hacked email accounts, phishing scams or ID fraud there’s a lot to look out for.
Don’t worry, guys. With a little bit of savviness, we can create some awareness of these scams so we know what to look out for. “But how?” I hear you cry. Well. Because we’re the good folk, we’ll tell you.
How to spot fake websites
A key feature of most scams is an offer that’s too good to be true. Found a product at a fraction of the retail price from an unknown retailer? It’s likely to be a scam. But how can you be sure? Here are some tips to help spot a fake website:
- ‘Contact us’ – Look for the ‘contact us’ page on the website. Then, see if you can contact them with the details provided. No phone number? How will you call them if something goes wrong? Email address only? Email and see if you get a reply. Postal address? If they’re based in some far away land, it may be a risky move placing an order.
- Check with the brand – Most scam websites will claim to sell high-end goods. If you’re buying something that you’ve found cheap on an unknown website, give the actual brand a call (there should be a number on their website). Ask if the website you’ve found the deal on is a stockist. They should know who’s selling their goods.
- Check the web address (URL) – The web address of a fake website may be a little bit suspicious. For example “cheap-designerbrand-shoes.com”. Or, it could be a slightly different version of a normal web address for example: firstname.lastname@example.org rather than just www.ebay.com.
- Spelling mistakes – With a lot of scams, the devil is in the detail. Bad grammar and poor spelling are tell-tale signs of an online scam. Sheesh, you’d think they’d at least get that right!
- Check for online reviews – Google search the web address along with ‘reviews’ and see if any other customers have left feedback about the company, or, if someone else has already reported the website for fraud.
How to identify email scams
Scam emails can be difficult to spot. Especially when they appear to come from a company we know and trust.
One of the most common forms of scams is known as phishing and involves emails being sent in order to gain access to your personal information. These emails may also contain viruses.
Whether it’s from the council, a creditor or well-known brand there are a few things you can look out for when you receive an email that could help you identify a scam.
- Look at the ‘from’ email address – Misspelled names or slight variations of a legitimate company’s email address are a dead giveaway. You could enter the email address into Google as well to see if other people may have already reported it as a scam.
- Poor spelling and grammar – Again, check the language of the email. If there are spelling mistakes, the email isn’t written well or there are grammar errors it may not be very trustworthy.
- Still unsure? Phone the company the email is supposed to be from and ask them if they sent it. It’s important to note here that you should probably use a phone number from the official website of the real company, rather than any used in the email. If you don’t want to call, you can contact the company on their official website.
- Suspicious links – Until you’re completely certain an email is safe don’t click on any of the links. In some cases, it could cause a virus to download onto your computer.
- Asking you for personal information – Scammers will be keen to get their hands on your personal details. Be wary of any emails asking you for this information and again, if in doubt, call the company the email claims to be from. Remember, most companies won’t ask you for personal details and passwords via email. This is particularly applicable to bank details like sort codes and account numbers.
- Report it to your email provider – If you do receive an email you suspect is a scam, report it as spam to your email provider. There’ll usually be an option to do this although how and where may differ between email providers so it’s worth having a look around. For example, on my Hotmail account it’s under the ‘junk’ email button.
Information hacks and data breaches
Unfortunately, online data breaches happen. But what does that even mean? Well, it means that hackers have managed to break into a company’s secure system to access data they have stored about their customers.
To find out if you’re information has been leaked in a data breach, you can use this website.
If you think your data has been hacked:
- If you think someone has accessed your card details call your bank to let them know
- Update your passwords on your online accounts
- Check your statements for any suspicious activity like purchases you didn’t make
Create a secure online password
We’ve all heard the reports that ‘Password’ is one of the most popular passwords in the world. Of course, this is a disaster waiting to happen.
Setting your accounts up with a secure password is one of the key steps to help protect yourself online. I like to use something completely random and then add some numbers, capital letters and symbols to make it nice and complicated.
Of course, I always forget my ridiculous passwords but at least my accounts are safe.
So, strong passwords could be something like:
You get the idea, right?
Watch out for card fraud
Shopping online is all well and good until someone else steals your card details and starts doing some shopping of their own. Ugh. No one needs this kind of hassle in their life.
If you notice some transactions on your statement for items you didn’t purchase, get in touch with your card provider as soon as possible to let them know.
You can read more about unauthorised payments on your card and what to do in this situation on the FCA’s website.
Facebook group scams
With the ever-rising popularity of Facebook, it was inevitable that local people would set up groups where they could buy and sell goods to one another. This in itself is fine, and not much different to doing business over eBay, Gumtree or other classified websites.
These groups have become a hotbed for scams however, and many an innocent Facebook user has been swindled out of money for non-existent holiday deals, caravans and cars.
Before considering buying an item from some random person in a Facebook group, make sure you:
- Visit their profile – See if this person seems legit to you. Do they have a public timeline of at least a couple of years, or is this a recently set-up profile with few photos or details? Save a copy of their profile picture and run it through Tineye. This reverse image search engine will soon tell you if the photo’s been stolen from someone else’s profile or is some random stock image some scammer’s nicked off the web.
- Ask around – Don’t be afraid to ask other members of the group if they’ve ever had any dealings with this person. You can also ask if the person has an eBay store or some other way of proving they have a trustworthy history of selling things online.
- NEVER pay by bank transfer – Some scammers will insist on a bank transfer payment for the goods. This is a huge red flag because once you make a bank transfer payment, there’s no way of getting this money back. If the seller is local to you, they’ll usually be willing to accept a cash in hand payment when you collect the item from them. If you’re feeling worried about visiting a ‘stranger off the internet’s’ house, take a friend along with you.
What to do if you think you’ve been scammed
If you think you’ve been scammed you should do the following:
- Contact Action Fraud for help. They’ll be able to offer you advice about what to do next
- If your credit or debit card has been used, get in touch with your card provider to let them know
- If you think your personal information has been leaked, change the passwords on your online accounts and check your account statements for any fraudulent transactions
Below are some useful links to help you prevent and deal with scams:
- Which? guide to spotting scams
- Report scams to the police through ActionFraud
- ActionFraud’s tips to prevent identity fraud
- MoneySavingExpert.com’s tips to stop and prevent scams
Have you got any tips to add to the list to help protect yourself online? Let us know in the comments below.