How to Spot an Online Scam

For those of us that are tech-savvy, it might be difficult to imagine getting caught out by an online scam. After all, you use the internet every day, so you’d know if something fishy was going on...right? Unfortunately, it can be hard to tell if something is a scam – that’s why they work so well. The good news is, there are some things to look out for that can help you spot suspicious activity. When you’re aware of the various scams that are out there, it can be easier to keep yourself safe online. 

  

What do scammers want?


Many fraudsters are financially motivated. Typically, they want to find out your personal details that could help them to steal money from you, or they may try to get you to pay for a service or item for them. 


Your personal information could be used to take out loans, make investments, sign up for credit cards or even drain your bank account.  

  

What does a scam look like?


Online scams can come in many forms so you might find it difficult at first to spot one. However, once you know what to keep an eye out for, it becomes a lot easier to avoid falling into a trap. So, what kind of scams might you come across?  


Social Media Scams


When it comes to social media, there are a few different scams that you might encounter. Let’s have a look at these now… 

  

Quizzes 


One common way that you could get scammed when using social media is through what seems like a harmless quiz. We’ve probably all had a go at an online quiz at one stage or another. They might claim to tell you who your famous look-alike is or what personality type you have. But these quizzes may sometimes have hidden threats. Some questions could be designed to find out your personal information, like the name of your childhood pet. They could even sell your data to third parties which could include a lot of information about you from your social media profile, friends and IP address. 


Fake friends


Another scam that you might come across is when you accept a friend request from people you don’t know on social media. These ‘friends’ could be fraudsters that might send you links that could install malware on your device or the link might lead you to a survey designed to harvest your information. 

  

Phishing


A phishing scam is when a fraudster uses email or text messages to try to trick you into providing your personal information or passwords. Usually, this type of scam will look very convincing. It might claim to be from your bank, a charity or a government organization and could include very real-looking logos, images, and colours. 


This type of scam wants you to react without thinking too much about what the message is really saying. To do this, the email or text may be about one of the following: 

  

  • There’s been suspicious activity on your bank account 
  • There have been several failed log-in attempts to an account of yours 
  • There’s an issue with a recent payment you made. They may even include suspicious attachments, like fake invoices 
  • You’re being asked to confirm personal details 
  • You’re being asked to follow a link to find out more information 

  

When you follow these links or provide any of this information, you’ll give the fraudster the information they need to access personal accounts, like your bank account, or access to more specific information about yourself that could be used for identity fraud.  

  

Dating and romance scams


Nowadays it’s easy to strike up a romantic relationship online. With apps, social networks, and chat rooms there are plenty of spaces to get to know someone. Unfortunately, when you meet someone online it can be difficult to know if they are really who they say they are.  


A dating and romance scam is when you meet someone online and strike up a relationship with the hopes of it becoming a romantic relationship. This person will then get to know you and find out intimate details that can be used against you. They may also ask you for money. This person may use fake images, names and information to convince you that they are real. 

  

Pharming


This type of scam happens when a fraudster has redirected the traffic from a genuine website to another that they have set up. This fake site might look like a convincing copy of the site you were looking for. Once on the fake site, you may provide personal information to the scammers. 


Things to keep in mind when you're online


If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.


Unfortunately, there are no ‘get-rich-quick’ schemes that are going to land in your lap and make you a fortune. So as a rule of thumb, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  


Is there an urgent action required?


Does it demand urgent action from you? This type of scam is designed to cause you to panic and respond without thinking fully about the consequences your action could have. 

  

Do you need to provide personal details?


If you’re being asked for your personal details, is the request coming from a reputable source? Personal details, PIN codes and passwords are things no legitimate company will ask you for unless you have contacted them directly.  

  

Has a stranger contacted you out of the blue?


If you don’t know this person and they are asking you strange questions, be careful what information you give them.  

 

Do you keep your accounts private?


Setting your social media account to private can help you to protect your personal information and could help you to avoid having your identity stolen.  

  

How can I avoid being scammed online?

  

  • Check the signs of fake websites.  Reliable websites start with HTTPS, not HTTP and when the page has loaded, make sure the website address hasn’t changed to a slightly different spelling 
  • Get a trusted virus protection software and keep it up to date 
  • Don’t click on or download anything you don’t trust 
  • Be careful about giving personal information away. Don’t use the same password for multiple accounts and change them regularly 

  

What should you do if you think you’ve been scammed?


If you think you’ve been the victim of an online scam you need to protect yourself from further risks, find out if you can get your money back and make sure to report the scam. 


To find out what to do for your specific situation, visit Citizens Advice. Depending on how you’ve been scammed, they will advise you on what to do next.  


You can also report scams to Action Fraud, who specialise in national fraud and cybercrime.  

If you’re concerned that your bank card or account has been compromised, you should contact your bank immediately. 

  

Stay alert


Scams might be hard to spot but when you’re aware of what’s out there you’re better equipped to avoid falling victim to one. It’s important to remain vigilant when spending money online and using services that require your personal information.