If you're a regular user of the internet, don't get caught out by these ten online scams...
Unfortunately, thanks to the rise of the internet, more and more of us are becoming victims of scams. With the majority of us now having our own email accounts, we've become easy targets for cunning scammers seeking to get their hands on our hard-earned cash. So here are ten swindles you need to keep an eye out for while using the internet:
This is one of the most common forms of fraud. An email is sent to you from what appears to be your bank requesting you to reset or confirm your security details - often by following a link.
However, these links will often take you to a fake website with the aim of getting hold of your personal or financial details to defraud you. So make sure you delete any emails you get like this and don't click on any links.
Remember, your bank will never ask you to confirm your bank details. If you are in doubt about the validity of an email, or if you think that you may have disclosed information to a fraudulent site, contact your bank immediately. For more information, check out the Bank Safe Online website.
2) The Nigerian or 419 scam
You receive an email from what appears to be businessmen or officials from Nigeria or another African country offering to transfer a large sum of money into your bank account to get it out of the country. You'll be allowed to keep a significant amount of this money, providing you pay a fee to cover transaction and legal costs.
However, if you hand over any money, you'll never hear from these conmen again, and if you've handed over your personal and bank details, you're likely to have an empty bank account at the end of it.
3) Selling online
Not dissimilar to the two swindles above, but if you're planning to sell items on websites such as Amazon Marketplace or eBay - be careful.
My boyfriend was recently alerted to one of these scams after trying to sell a camera on Amazon Marketplace. After listing the camera on the website, he received several emails from what appeared to be Amazon asking questions on behalf of the buyer and then requesting that the camera be shipped out immediately.
However, after realising the shipping address was in Nigeria, he discovered it was a scam and fortunately did not post the camera.
Scammers seem able to send emails from what looks like an Amazon address in a bid to convince you that they are genuine. In many cases, the scammer will say he/she wants to buy the item for a loved one's birthday - so if this happens to you, the first alarm bell should start to ring. If you're then asked to ship the item to Nigeria, the second alarm bell should go off. Finally, if you're asked (as my boyfriend was) to confirm your bank details, you know you've definitely been targeted by a scammer.
Amazon says it will never ask you to verify your password, credit card or bank account number so make sure you never respond to these emails. For more information, check out the Amazon website.
You receive a nice little email telling you that you've won a large sum of money - what a lovely surprise, especially since you never bought a lottery ticket! The problem is when you phone up to claim your prize money, you'll be told you need to hand over a fee first. And if you do so, you'll never see that money again.
5) Fake websites and fake goods
A number of people have recently been caught out by this scam. Many websites selling a wide range of goods look like they are based in the UK - using co.uk as part of their domain name to lull customers into a false sense of security. However, because it's possible to buy a domain name for as little as £5, many of these websites are in fact based outside of the UK - often in China - and are selling fake (and sometimes unsafe) goods.
Moral of the story? Don't be fooled by the domain name into trusting a website. It can be completely meaningless.
6) Economy related scams
These scams are aimed towards people in financial difficulties. So, for example, if you've been struggling with debt recently, there's a good chance you may have received an email from a company claiming to be able to help you.
Perhaps this company has offered to buy all of your debts which you can then repay with a far smaller monthly repayment than you were originally paying.
However, this is the work of a con artist. It's not legally possible for a company to buy a debt without having the lender's permission. Even if you think your debt has been 'bought', you will still owe money to your original lender. And if you stop paying money to your original lender, you could end up damaging your credit rating.
If you are struggling with your finances, there are plenty of free advice lines who will be able to help you. Read Get out of debt with free advice for more information.
7) Trojan emails
Trojans are a type of computer virus that can be installed without you realising. You might receive an email in the form of a promotional offer, for example, aimed at getting you to click on a link or open an attachment.
These links/attachments will be infected with Trojans that record keyboard strokes and aim to capture passwords and other sensitive information.
This is a difficult one to avoid - your best bet is to avoid offers which sound too good to be true, and to try not to click on any link you don't trust. And of course, update your anti-virus software. Here's a guide to free anti-virus software.
8) Friends in need
A scammer hacks into one of your friend's email accounts and sends you an email pretending to be your friend. Your 'friend' says he has lost his wallet and passport overseas and needs money to pay for his hotel bill and flight home.
You'll often be told the phone lines have been disconnected and the only way you can keep in touch is via email. You'll then be asked to wire over some money. Of course, if you do, you'll never see your cash again.
9) Charity or disaster relief
Quite often, following a natural disaster, you might receive emails requesting donations. However, these are fake charity appeals and will often take you to a fake website to obtain your credit card or bank details.
Charities do not tend to ask you for your bank details via email. But if you are unsure whether the charity is real, you can check with the Charity Commission.
10) Online dating
If you're using an online dating site - be warned. Scammers often create attractive profiles to lure in victims. Sometimes they might pretend to be from the UK but are working abroad, while in other cases, they will say they live overseas.
The scammer will then spin a sob story to try and encourage you to hand over your personal details, including your bank account details. For example, he/she might say he/she wants to meet you but can't afford the travel fare, or he/she has been robbed and beaten and requires urgent surgery but needs extra cash.
Whatever you do, don't send over this money - otherwise, you will never see it again.
For further information and tips about scams, check out this guide from Consumer Direct. And don't forget to check out the Get Safe Online website to find out how you can protect your computer and stay safe online.
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