How to Avoid Online Scams

Online scams, unfortunately, are becoming more and more sophisticated. Many people are caught out, even those who regularly use the internet. Every year in the UK, millions of people lose money to scammers or unknowingly share their personal information with the wrong people.

Here are some ways you can fall victim to an online scam to help you identify a scam and avoid it.

Email scams

Scammers send fake emails in the hope that people will enter their personal or financial details. They may direct you to a fake website, this might look like a well-known website you use, or they might be offering you a prize.

Some emails, known as junk or spam might contain links or attached files for you to click on or open. Opening these links or downloading the files may harm your computer or device.

Scam emails can look genuine and appear to be from official places, like HMRC or a bank, but you can check the following things:

  • The email address it has come from – is this a random, personal email pretending to be a bank?
  • Errors in the spelling or grammar
  • Does it sound like it’s come from the organisation? Or is the style of writing different?
  • Requests for personal information, such as your username, full password, or bank details - genuine organisations will never ask this
  • Threatening language encourages you to ‘act now' or that a deal will expire, or your account will be deleted or closed.

What to do if you’ve received an email like that

  • DO NOT click on any links or download anything. If it’s too late and you have, it would be the safest option to change your email password, and if you gave any credit or debit card details, to ring your bank and request a new card
  • Don’t reply to the email and delete it
  • If you are unsure whether an email is real or not, ring the organisation it’s from to double-check.

Fake webpages

Scammers create fake websites which look official and they might request you to provide personal or financial information. For example, a fake bank website may be set up asking you to update your account or security information.

There are also websites set up to look like a copy of a service offered by government websites. For example, websites that offer to help you apply for a passport renewal or a new driving license.

Top tip: Visit your bank's website by typing their official web address in your internet browser – you’ll be able to find this on letters from the bank. For Government services, use GOV.UK – this is the Government’s official website.

Social media scams

Scammers can also use social networks like Facebook or dating websites. Once they’ve gained your trust, they could start asking for money, often by telling you an emotional story.

These tricks are hard to spot, so it’s always worth talking to someone you trust about it. Be aware of changes in communication from them and never give your bank details or transfer money to anyone you don’t know, or haven’t met in real life.

If you agree to meet someone you’ve met online in person - make sure it’s in a public place, tell someone else where you’re going, and don’t give away too much personal information.

Computer viruses

Computer viruses (also known as malware), are programs that spread from one computer to another. You may be sent an email with an attachment or a link, and when you click on this, it releases a virus onto your computer/laptop/device.

Criminals can then use this to take control of your computer, or the virus may scan your computer for personal information. It can also slow your computer down, send out spam emails or delete files.

Make sure you install anti-virus to protect your computer from any potential viruses.

What to do if you think you are a victim of an online scam

  • Don’t suffer in silence, it’s important that you remember people, unfortunately, get scammed all the time online and you can get support to help you
  • If you think your computer, laptop, or device isn’t working properly due to a virus, seek help from an experienced computer technician. Curry’s PC World has a ‘Care & Repair’ service.

 Page last updated: September 2023. 

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