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Friday 14th June 2024

Top tips to avoid online scams

Nick Daws highlights the UK ‘scamdemic,’ offering 10 tips for online safety for your finances


The UK is in the throes of a ‘scamdemic’. Even people who think of themselves as financially savvy have been caught out. 

A recent Global Anti-Scam Alliance (GASA) survey, conducted in association with Cifas, revealed that a substantial 10% of Britons lost money to scams or identity theft in the last twelve months, culminating in financial losses approximated at £7.5 billion [source].

The most common types of scam are online and telephone. In this article I will focus mainly on online scams. I will cover phone scams in a future article.

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Introduction

As technology advances, so do the tactics of criminals looking to exploit unsuspecting individuals online. Such scams have become increasingly sophisticated, making it essential for users to stay vigilant and adopt preventive measures. 

Here are ten top tips to help avoid falling victim to an online scam yourself.

1. Keep your software updated

Ensure that your operating system, antivirus software and all applications are regularly updated. Cybercriminals often target vulnerabilities in outdated software, and updating helps to patch these security flaws.

2. Use strong and unique passwords

Create complex passwords that include a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. Avoid using easily guessable information like birthdays or common words (and please don’t use 1234 or password!). Additionally, use different passwords for different accounts to minimise the impact if one account is compromised.

3. Enable two-factor authentication (2FA)

Wherever possible, enable two-factor authentication for your online accounts. This adds an extra layer of security by requiring you to provide a second form of verification, such as a code sent to your mobile phone, in addition to your password.

4. Be cautious with email and messaging

Exercise caution when receiving unsolicited emails, especially those requesting personal information or urging immediate action. Verify the sender’s identity before clicking on any links or downloading attachments. Be wary of unexpected messages from friends or colleagues, as their accounts may have been compromised.

5. Verify website security

Before entering personal or financial information on a website, ensure that the website is secure. Look for “https://” in the URL and a padlock icon in the address bar. Avoid entering sensitive information on websites without these security indicators.

6. Be wary of ‘sponsored links’ on search engines

On Google the top items in any search result may be marked ‘Sponsored’. Be aware they are displayed prominently because the advertiser concerned has paid for this. There are many examples of such advertisers charging for services you could get more cheaply or even free from legitimate sources (e.g. applying for government grants or tax breaks). There have also been cases of sponsored ads being used for phishing scams and identity theft. Google is supposed to block such links, but in practice they still appear regularly. 

7. Educate yourself about common scams

Stay informed about common online scams, such as phishing, lottery scams and fake job offers. Awareness is your first line of defence, and recognizing the red flags can help you avoid falling victim to fraudulent schemes. Which? Magazine has a free weekly Scam Alerts service you can sign up to here. This will alert you to the latest scams that are currently doing the rounds.

8. Monitor your bank and credit card statements

Regularly review your bank and credit card statements for any unauthorized or suspicious transactions. Report any discrepancies to your financial institution immediately. Early detection can prevent further financial damage.

9. Use reputable online retailers

When shopping online, stick to reputable and well-known retailers. Be cautious of deals that seem too good to be true, especially on unfamiliar sites. Check customer reviews and ratings on independent sites such as Trustpilot to ensure the legitimacy of the online store in question. And be aware when clicking links in emails/texts that supposedly lead to well-known websites such as Amazon, they may actually link to scam sites instead. 

10. Secure your Wi-Fi network

Protect your home Wi-Fi network with a strong password and encryption. This prevents unauthorised access and helps safeguard your personal information from potential hackers within your vicinity.

Closing thoughts

As I said above, online scams are becoming increasingly sophisticated. It’s therefore essential to take the threat seriously, even if you believe you would never fall for a scam yourself. Staying informed and practising good cyber-hygiene are essential tactics for staying safe online. 

Finally, do keep an eye out for older friends and relatives who may not be as  streetwise online (and are also frequently targeted by fraudsters). Get them to double-check with you if they come across anything they are uncertain about or uncomfortable with. Age UK has a useful page listing online scams seniors may be especially vulnerable to (though anyone could also become a victim of these).

If you have any comments about this article, as always, please do post them below.

Nick Daws writes for Pounds and Sense, a UK personal finance blog aimed especially (though not exclusively) at over-fifties.

Photo Credits: Pexels

Nick Daws

Mouthy Blogger

Nick Daws is a semi-retired freelance writer and editor. He is the author of over 30 non-fiction books, including Start Your Own Home-Based Business and The Internet for Writers. He lives in Burntwood, Staffordshire, where he has been running his personal finance blog at Poundsandsense.com for over seven years.

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