Staying safe against online scams

online security
Written by Nigel Simpkins

Unfortunately, the convenience and advantage of the online world has brought with it many dangers. Chief among them is the risk of online fraud. Although fraudsters have always been with us, the advent of email and the internet has given them many new opportunities to ensnare the unwary. We are all now much more connected, and while the ease of communication this brings is a good thing, it is also much easier for criminals to get hold of us as well.

The two main objectives of online fraud are either to steal your money or to steal your identity. Fraudsters may also try to seize control of your home computer in pursuit of either one of these objectives. In the digital age, information is the most valuable commodity, and the more an unscrupulous criminal can find out about you, the more at risk you are.

Stay sceptical

Be wary of unsolicited emails, and don’t click on suspicious links or attachments even if they seem to be from people you know. If the message is written in an uncharacteristic style or is strangely brief, then they’ve probably been hacked. If you’re unsure, find another way to contact them to check if the email is genuine before responding.

You can stay safe by staying sceptical about any offers in an email that seem too good to be true. Unfortunately, staying safe can also mean hardening our hearts against fake distress calls. Never send money in response to an unsolicited email, and never reply.

With emails that seem to come from a trusted institution, such as your bank, check the actual address it came from. Scammers often send out convincing fake emails, including all of an institution’s familiar logos etc., but this will not come from the right address. Many people do not notice this and fall for the scam.

Don’t be blackmailed

You may receive emails from blackmailers claiming to have accessed your computer, threatening to share embarrassing material with your contacts if you don’t send them money. It’s highly unlikely that they’ve actually hacked your computer, they are relying on your sense of shame and fear to make you pay up. Many people fall victim to these scams, even when they have nothing to hide. In most cases they can be ignored, but if you are genuinely worried, contact the police. Never pay money to blackmailers.

Financial schemes

The internet has allowed many more people to participate in financial trading online, and in many cases, they may do this safely and profitably. While the majority of online brokers are genuine, there are also fraudulent sites that pose as genuine brokers but that simply take people’s money and then disappear. Protect yourself against these scammers by always using an authorised and regulated broker like Fxpro, and by always checking out a broker on independent trustworthy review sites first.

Personal information

Don’t give away more personal information than you have to, especially on social media sites like Facebook. Scammers can use this to piece together a convincing replica of your identity that they can use for nefarious purposes, including stealing your money. Personal information fetches a high price on the “dark net” and enables a wide range of criminal activities.

Seemingly harmless online quizzes are often ways to harvest this information. Be especially wary of quiz questions that match the security questions used in two-step authentication for sensitive accounts, such as asking for your mother’s maiden name or the name of your first pet.

Love and romance

Fraudsters often lurk on online dating sites, taking advantage of our natural need for love and companionship. If you’re talking to someone online and they ask you for money before meeting, terminate contact immediately. This is hard, as you may have already formed an emotional bond, but they are almost certainly not the person they appear to be.

Property scams

Suspiciously cheap property for sale or rent in high-demand areas can also be an online scam. Fraudsters ask for a down payment to secure the property before showing the prospective buyer or tenant round in person, making excuses as to why they need to do this, but emphasising how it will certainly go to someone else if they don’t make a deposit immediately. Of course, the scammer has no connection with the property you’ve seen online, and your money will never be seen again.

These examples just scratch the surface of the wide variety of online scams. Even the smartest and most cyber-savvy can become victims, so stay on your guard and don’t grow complacent, thinking you’ll never be caught. Only by always exercising due caution can you be sure of staying safe online.