Cons and tricks have been around for years in all sorts of guises and are evolving all the time.
Here we take a look at some of the newer scams that are catching people out, and some of the steps you can take to avoid falling victim.
ONLINE DATING FRAUD New figures from Get Safe Online and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau show that online dating fraud in the UK now costs £24.5 million per year.
Further findings reveal more than 2,800 internet dating crimes were reported to the police in 2013. The average amount lost is £8,750 per person but some people lose a lot more. More than half of those who reported crimes were 40 to 59-year-olds, while almost two thirds were women.
According to police reports, most dating scams stem from online dating websites or forums, with victims duped by criminals using fake personal profiles. Once these suspects have gained the trust of their victims, they begin to request money under the guise of various false eventualities, such as a medical problem for either themselves or a family member. “Online dating sites are a great way to meet people and we are not telling people not to go on them,” says Tony Neate, from Get Safe Online. “We are just urging people to remain vigilant.” How to stay safe: ? Trust your instinct; if you think something is wrong, it probably is.
Choose a site that will protect your anonymity until you choose to reveal personal information and that will enforce its policies against inappropriate use.
Do not post personal information such as phone numbers on dating sites.
Never send money or give credit card or online account details to anyone you don’t know and trust. ? Wait until you feel comfortable with someone before telling them your phone number, place of work or address.
Make sure you meet the first few times in a safe place with plenty of people about.
SOCIAL NETWORKING SITE FRAUD Socialising online on networking sites is now second nature to many – and especially to younger people. But this familiarity could leave users vulnerable to ID fraud, according to Neil Munroe from credit reference agency, Equifax.
“People don’t realise how easy it is for fraudsters to use the personal information on social networking websites to steal an identity and open accounts in that name,” he says.
While on one of these sites, you might encounter online competitions or deals and discounts asking you for personal details or a mobile number.
“But if this information gets into the wrong hands, you could get targeted by phishing scams designed to trick you out of your money,” warns Munroe.
Miranda McLean, from online cash payment provider Ukash, says the key is to remain vigilant.
“Cyber criminals are using increasingly sophisticated methods to target vulnerable consumers,” she says. “People need to be on the lookout for scams whether socialising, shopping or playing games online.”
How to stay safe: Only use trusted social networks.
Don’t include information such as your date of birth, pet’s name or your mother’s maiden name that you may use for passwords or Pins.
Use the privacy settings on your profile so only close friends can view your details.
If you are going on holiday, don’t advertise it online. This could leave you vulnerable to burglars.
Never share your password or Pins for your account with anyone else or respond to emails or phone calls where someone is requesting these.
Cyber criminals are using increasingly sophisticated methods to target vulnerable consumers
Miranda McLean, from online cash payment provider Ukash
With this scam, emails usually contain an amount you are “owed” and begin with the sentence “we have reviewed your tax return; according to our calculations of your last year’s accounts, a tax refund is due.”
During 2013, people reported more than 91,000 phishing emails to HMRC, which as a result was able to close 178 dubious websites last month. “HMRC never contacts customers who are due a tax refund via email,” says Gareth Lloyd, head of digital security at HMRC. “We always send a letter through the post.” How to stay safe: ? Check the advice at Hmrc.gov.uk/ security/index.htm where examples of fake emails are listed.
Forward suspicious emails to HMRC at email@example.com and then delete them permanently. ? Avoid clicking on websites, links or attachments contained in suspect emails.
PayPal – users need to watch out for bogus emails purporting to come from PayPal asking them to authenticate their accounts by clicking on a link. “Apart from the poor English often used, one of the easiest ways to confirm if an email isn’t genuine is if it doesn’t address the customer by their first and last name,” says Rob Skinner from PayPal.
“Most phishing emails are addressed ‘Dear Member’ or similar.”
DVLA – motorists are urged to ensure they are using the official Gov.uk site when applying for a driving licence, as the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) has been made aware of several websites offering a “check and send” service for applications. “These sites are in no way affiliated with the DVLA,” says a spokesman. “They will claim to offer value-added services. But this will mean you can end up paying up to three times the normal price for your licence.”
EHIC – travellers applying for a European Health Insurance Card are being warned not to get duped by sites charging as much as £14.99 to manage your application. “The process is simple so there’s no need to pay for these cards, which are free,” says Caroline Lloyd, travel insurance spokeswoman at GoCompare.com. For more information visit Nhs.uk or call 0300 330 1350.
FURTHER TIPS TO STAY SAFE While it can seem an impossible task, it is vital to have secure unique passwords for as many online accounts as possible.
“At the very least, have a different password for each type of service provider, such as financial services, retail services and email,” says Julie Doleman from credit reference agency Experian. “Think about using the first letter of each word in a sentence, along with a mix of lower and upper case letters and numbers. Change passwords regularly.”
Be smart with your smartphone and be aware of the information stored on it. This includes emails that can be accessed without a password. “Remember public networks and open Wi-Fi hotspots are riskier than private networks,” says Doleman. “Be aware of the information you access via mobile networks.”
Monitoring your bank statements will help you to spot any suspicious transactions. Checking your credit report on a regular basis will also help.
You can request a copy of your statutory credit report from any of the main agencies, like: Experian.com or Equifax.com.