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Cybersecurity Expert Reveals How to Avoid Falling Victim to an Online Scam

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Cybersecurity expert from Shepherds Friendly reveals how to prevent an online finance scam and what to do if you’ve fallen victim to fraud.

An estimated £7.5 billion was stolen in 2023 through scams or identity theft, with 1 in 10 Brits falling victim to scams. The digital world we live in is a hotbed for online finance fraud, and as scammers increasingly use more sophisticated methods and technologies, how do we avoid falling victim to these crimes?

To help Brits protect their finances, cybersecurity expert Marcus Williams, Head of IT & Cyber Security at Shepherds Friendly, has answered some of the most common questions about online fraud, including what to look out for, the best ways to protect yourself, and what to do if you do think you’ve fallen for a scam.

What are the most common types of online finance scams to be aware of?

“Fraudsters are constantly looking for new opportunities to scam unsuspecting people across the UK, which means there seem to be new types of scams popping up all the time.

“One of the most common types of online finance fraud is a phishing scam, which is where the scammer will send fake emails, calls, or messages that seem to be from legitimate organisations, asking you to provide personal or financial information.

“Refund scams are also common, which is again where criminals will impersonate a trusted organisation, this time telling you that you’re due a refund and need to share your personal or banking information to receive the money.

“Scammers won’t always pose as a business or organisation, though. Sometimes they will send messages via social media or to your phone, pretending to be a friend or family member. Usually they’ll be asking for some sort of urgent financial help, whether it’s money to pay a bill or for a relative who is ill.”

Why is it so easy to fall for an online scam?

“Online scams are becoming more sophisticated, and fake emails and websites can look very real. Scammers are also very adept at using social engineering to appear more legitimate, exploiting personal relationships and connections to manipulate victims. They might gather information from social media and other sources to personalise their scams, which makes them a lot easier to fall for.

“The use of urgency can also cause stress, which may impair the victim’s rational thinking and lead them to make an impulsive or ‘quick’ decision, usually with an unfortunate outcome.

“There’s also perhaps a lack of awareness among consumers, so it’s extremely important to stay informed about the types of scams you might come across, to reduce the risk of falling victim to one.”

What are the top five ways we can protect ourselves against online scams?

“Number one, watch out for phishing scams. Don’t open links from emails that you’re not expecting, and definitely don’t open them if you’re not 100% sure they are safe.

“Make sure to keep your personal information private, and don’t post any personal details in the public domain, for example, on social media.

“Using multi-factor authentication can also provide better security for your accounts. This means that rather than just asking for an email and password, you have to provide two or more verification factors to gain access to a specific resource, whether that’s an online account or an app. 

“It’s also important to use strong passwords that can’t be easily guessed, and don’t use the same password across multiple accounts. 

“Keeping your anti-virus software up-to-date is crucial too, as this can decrease the risk of your computer being hacked or scammed.”

What are the biggest identifiable features of an online scam/scammer?

“The main things you need to look out for are unsolicited messages that you weren’t expecting, as well as the use of fake URLs or email addresses. Often, the email itself might seem real but the address it comes from can look very dodgy, so be sure to double check this before clicking any links or replying.

“Scammers will almost always use a sense of urgency too, whether they’re asking you to send money immediately, or telling you that you need to reply now in order to claim a prize or get a refund.”

How do scammers typically target individuals?

“Three of the most common types of scams include phishing emails, smishing texts, and cold calls.

“Phishing emails will often ask you to click a link, which will take you to a website that might download a virus to your computer or steal a password or other personal information. They will usually look like they are from a legitimate company or website. 

“Smishing texts are a type of social engineering attack that uses fake text messages to trick people into either sending money, sharing personal information, or downloading malware to their device. As with phishing emails, these will often appear to be from either trusted organisations or friends and family, and they will create a sense of urgency to get you to react fast.

“Not all scams are through online platforms, and many Brits find themselves falling victim to cold calls too. Fraudsters may claim to be from a bank or financial institution and request that you share sensitive information, such as bank details or PIN numbers. Other types of cold call scams could be about compensation you’re apparently entitled to, or calls claiming there’s an issue with your tax refund or unpaid bills.”

What should you immediately do if you think you’ve fallen victim to a scam?

“If you think you’ve accidentally fallen victim to a scam, you need to contact your bank. Depending on the organisation (and the type of scam), they can help with things like replacing your cards, stepping up security on your account, and potentially refunding any money that’s been taken.

“You should also change all your passwords, especially the one linked to whichever platform the scammer now has access to. Make sure to also report the scam to the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), who can investigate the issue.”

Are you likely to get your money back if you’ve been scammed?

“Whether you’ll get your money back depends on which bank you’re with and the type of scam you’ve fallen victim to. 

“If you’ve noticed an unknown payment from your account, speak with your bank about the ‘unauthorised transaction’ and ask if you can get a refund. 

“If you’ve paid a scammer through a bank transfer or direct debit, you should be able to get a refund under the Direct Debit Guarantee, and for credit card scams, you have greater protection if things go wrong under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Card Act.

“If you can’t get your money back, but feel like you are entitled to this, follow the bank’s official complaints process. If your complaint isn’t sorted out in 8 weeks, or you get a final response letter, you can take your case to the Financial Ombudsman.”

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