The digital world has many advantages, but unfortunately it has opened many new ways for criminals to exploit individuals and businesses.

Like all scams, those online aim to take advantage of victims for financial gain. These scams can be very sophisticated with criminals exploiting digital platforms and impersonating legitimate companies to gain trust. Cybercriminals may contact you through personal or work email accounts, social networking sites, dating apps, or other channels in attempts to obtain financial or other valuable personal information.

The Crime Survey for England and Wales found 3.7 million reported incidents in 2019-20 of members of the public being targeted by credit card, identity and cyber-fraud.

An attempt to obtain passwords or other personal data by posing as a legitimate organisation or person is called ‘phishing’. Criminals will use scam emails, texts or phone calls to try to trick their victims into giving away personal details or passwords.

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), a UK government organisation with the power to investigate and take down scam email addresses and websites, stated it had received over 17 million reported scams by January 2023. This has resulted in 114,000 scams being removed across 209,500 web addresses.

Telephone scams, often called ‘vishing’, can be difficult to spot. Fraudsters phone you and claim to be from your bank, the police, or a similar organisation. They might pretend to be doing a ‘fraud check’ or calling to discuss a problem with your account. To convince you that their call is genuine, they may tell you to end the call and phone the organisation they are purporting to be from. However, when you try to end the call, the fraudsters don’t hang up, remaining on the line to intercept your call when you try to contact your bank or other organisation. It is advisable to wait at least five minutes before making the call, to ensure the line has cleared and you are not still speaking to the fraudster or an accomplice. Alternatively, you could use another phone.

Fraudsters try to get you to confirm your account details (especially if they already have some of them), transfer money to another bank account or hand over your cash or card to them via courier. Often, they will try to persuade you to visit a credible website where they can infect your computer and steal your details.

‘Phishing’ by email is another route criminals can use to reach you. Although most email accounts have spam filters, some scam emails may still get through to your inbox. Don’t click on or download anything you don’t trust as this could infect your computer with a virus.

Watch out if you receive an email from a company with a strange email address. Always make sure your antivirus software is up to date to give you more protection.

Pay particular attention to the quality of the communication and look out for misspelling, poor punctuation, and bad grammar as these are common signs of bogus emails and text messages.

Fraudsters may also try to create a sense of urgency to pressure you into giving them your personal details, using phrases such as ‘failure to respond in 24 hours will result in your account being closed’.

It’s sensible to provide as little personal information about yourself on social media as possible and only accept invitations from people you know.

When you receive an unsolicited email ask yourself a few simple questions.

  • Have you been contacted out of the blue?
  • Have you been asked for personal details?
  • Are the contact details for you to respond to vague?
  • Are you being pressured into make a decision?
  • Are you being asked to keep it secret?
  • Is the offer too good to be true?

If the answer is yes to any of these be on your guard.

If you’ve received a fake email that pretends to have been sent by a genuine company, it’s a good idea to contact that company the scammers have tried to mimic.

See below for further information and help regarding phishing

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