What are scams?
Scams are devised schemes that aim to convince and manipulate vulnerable people to share personal information and access to money. Scams commonly play on emotional frailty and unfamiliarity with technology to trick people into believing they are doing the right thing when they are being exploited. Scams and fraud are illegal, but it can be hard to spot when you are interacting with a scammer, so it is important to remain vigilant and safe online.
Common types of scams
Scams can look very sophisticated and genuine in the beginning, and they can take many forms. These are some of the most common types of scams and what they are aiming to get from you.
A cold call is when a scammer contacts you on your phone. They may be trying to sell you a fake product or service, or they could pretend to be from a legitimate organisation or a government agency. Many of these scams are trying to get payment or personal details and may tell you that you have a refund to claim or a payment due. These calls will be unexpected and will push for you to make a quick decision. If you are unsure whether you are talking to a scammer or a legitimate organisation, you should hang up and call the organisation back using the official number on their website or in the phonebook. You should never give any bank account details, login information, or addresses over the phone in these situations. You can find more information about cold call scams here.
Scammers may contact you claiming to belong to a computer company or internet provider such as Microsoft, Spark, Vodafone, and Chorus. These scams often try to get remote access to your device or computer. By giving them remote access, they will be able to access your online banking details, personal information such as digital copies of passports or drivers’ licenses, and other private information stored on your device. They can also install viruses and rogue software that will stay on your computer. Microsoft will never call you about computer issues, and no proper cold call will ask you for passwords or personal information. You can find more advice about tech support scams here.
Phishing is a type of scam where a person tries to get personal information from a large range of people through mass emails. These emails often look like a legitimate email from a known organisation. These emails target a large number of people hoping that some of them will fall for the scam. You should always be cautious when you receive an email asking for personal information, and legitimate organisations should never ask for passwords or banking information outside of their secure website. You should only open attached documents if you are expecting them, even if you think you know who the sender is. You can search the internet for the names or exact phrases in the email to check if it has been reported as a scam anywhere, and you should mark the email as junk mail. For more information about email phishing, read here.
A romance scam is when a scammer builds a fake relationship with you in the attempt to scam you out of money. This can happen through email, social media, dating websites, and other apps. Scammers usually set up fake profiles, using photos and information of people they have found online. Scammers can take a lot of time to build a relationship with their target to make them comfortable before asking for money. They can often have very convincing backstories and reasons. Some signs that your relationship may be part of a scam include if they are moving quickly, if they talk a lot about personal issues that could be solved with money, and if they are hesitant about meeting or video calling you. If you think you may be part of a relationship scam, you can try reverse image searching the images they have sent you to see if they are being used in other places online. You can find out about reverse image searching here. You should always be cautious about who you talk to online, and never send money to anyone you do not know or have not met. You can read more about romance scams here.
Social media scams
Scams can be found on social media through fake competitions, trading, and selling goods. If you are likely to search the internet for event tickets that have been sold out or for social media competitions, it is important to be aware that not all sales on social media are legitimate. Buying event tickets online through social media or a third-party ticket reselling website can lead to hidden fees, illegitimate tickets, or undelivered goods. If you do want to buy resold tickets, it is best to look at a site such as Ticketmaster Resale, which securely transfers the ticket to you.
You should also be aware of fake competitions or giveaways that look too good to be true. You should look for the verified blue tick to find out if the potential organisation running the competition is legitimate. You should also consider whether the prizes seem like strange giveaways for the company to choose. Never put personal details on an entry form in case the scam is aimed at taking your personal information to steal your identity. If you notice a scam on social media, you should report it to the platform (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc.).
You can read more information about event ticket scams and social media scams here.
Fake invoice scams
A fake invoice scam can appear exactly like a normal invoice except that you have not received any product or service. Often these types of scams will come from an email that looks like a legitimate organisation. These scams can look very real but the bank account on the invoice will be their own one. You should always double check the bank details, and if in doubt look the company phone number up in the phone book to check if the scam is real or not. You can find more information about fake invoice scams here.
Unwanted subscriptions and trials
An unwanted subscription is a type of scam where you sign up to a paid subscription or free trial and cannot cancel after payment starts. These can start off looking like legitimate deals, with free trials of products or services, or promises of a full refund if the product or service is unsatisfactory. These trials require a credit card number to be submitted to finish signing up, and in some cases these subscription fees cannot be cancelled. If you have signed up to an unwanted subscription, the most effective way to stop it from charging you in the future is to cancel your credit card and request a new one from your bank. You will likely not be able to get back the money that has been taken from your account. You should only sign up to trials that you know are legitimate, and you should always be careful about who you give your credit card information to. You can read more about unwanted subscriptions here.
How to stay safe online
Staying safe online is increasingly important as computers and the internet become normal parts of daily life. Some general tips for staying safe include:
- Never provide personal information over phone, text, email, or unsecure websites
- Be wary if you are contacted out of the blue, even if they say they are from a legitimate organisation
- Avoid public computers and Wi-Fi hotspots when accessing or providing personal information
- Update your computer operating systems when required
- Use secure and reputable online payment services, and look for URLs starting with "https"
- Shield your PIN when using your card
- Shred and destroy documents with personal information
- Use 2-factor authentication
It is also important to make sure that your accounts and devices are secured with strong passwords that are hard to guess. Make sure that you use different passwords for every online account that you have, and do not include personal information in your passwords. A strong password has at least 10 characters and uses a mix of numbers, letters, and symbols. If you have many passwords to keep track of, you may want to consider using a password manager.
If you use social media, you should also be aware of your privacy settings and steps you can take to improve your security. Some tips for social media include:
- Make your profile private so only your friends can see your profile, photos, birthday, posts, and other private information
- Only accept 'friend' requests from people you know
- Avoid commenting personal details on group or corporation pages
- Be aware that everything you post online will stay online even if you delete or remove it
- If you are experiencing unwanted comments or interactions from people you do not know, do not be afraid to block, mute, and report them
If you find yourself being targeted by a scammer, there are places that you can report them. Depending on the type of scam, you will need to contact different people:
Websites of interest