But how do we spot the most obvious signs of a scam, and what you should do if you have already responded.
Criminals use email, phone call and text message. Criminals work by convincing you to do something which they can use to their advantage.
In the instance of a scam email or text message, their aim is often to get you to click a link. The chances are that you will be directed to a dishonest website. This could download viruses onto your computer or retrieve your passwords and personal data held within.
Phone scammers often pretend to be a person or company of trust, such as local authority, bank or credit card company or a service provider and can often be more direct, maybe asking for sensitive information or banking / card details.
COVID-19 has seen an increase in scammers.
Cyber criminals have seen Covid-19 as an opportunity to prey on people whilst they are vulnerable and worrying about the pandemic. They may claim to have a ‘cure’ for the virus, be able to offer financial rewards, or encourage you to donate to worthy causes that have been badly affected by the pandemic. Like many scams, these criminals are preying on real-world concerns to try and trick you into interacting with them. They may also mimic real NHS messages.
These are designed to get you to react without thinking. They can often be hard to spot as scams.
What to do if you think you have been scammed? If so, try not to panic. There is lots you can do to limit any harm.
Suspicious Messages Reporting
It could be that you have a bad feeling about a text message or email. Alternatively, you could have received communication from a company you don’t normally receive messages from, or someone you do not know. If you are suspicious, you should report it. By doing so, it could help prevent other people from being affected.
If you have received an email which you are not sure about, forward it to the Suspicious Email Reporting Service (SERS) at email@example.com.
If you receive a suspicious text message it can be forwarded to 7726. This free-of-charge short code enables your provider to investigate the origin of the text and act, if found to be malicious
If you have already responded….what can you do?
If you find you have already responded to a suspicious message before realising, take the following steps:
- Do you believe you have been tricked into providing your banking details? If so, contact your bank and let them know immediately.
- Should you think your account has already been hacked (you may have received messages sent from your account that you don’t recognise, or you may have been locked out of your account). Please refer to the National Cyber Security Centre guide on recovering a hacked account.
- For messages on a work laptop or phone, contact your IT Department and let them know, as they should have the necessary in place to hand this type of scenario.
- Where you have opened a link on your computer, or followed instructions to install a piece of software, open your Antivirus (AV) software if you have it, and run a full scan. Guidance on this can be found via the National Cyber Security Centre – Allow your antivirus software to clean up any problems it finds.
- If you have given out your password, you should change it on any of your accounts which use the same password with immediate effect.
- When you have lost money, tell your bank and report it as a crime to Action Fraud (for England, Wales and Northern Ireland) or Police. You will be helping prevent others from becoming victims of cyber-crime.
Spotting suspicious messages
It is becoming increasingly difficult to spot scam messages and phone calls; many scams can even fool the experts. Criminals are clever at using tricks to try and get you to respond without thinking. Some signs to look out for are:
- Authority – Is the message claiming to be from someone official? For example, your bank, doctor, a solicitor, or a Government Department. These tricksters often pretend to be important people or organisations to fool you into doing what they want.
- Urgency – Does it have a matter of urgency about it (such as ‘within 24 hours’ or ‘immediately’)? Criminals often threaten you with fines or other negative consequences if you haven’t taken the necessary action in time.
- Emotion – Has the message made you panic, fearful, hopeful or curious? Fraudsters often use threatening language, make false claims of support, or tease you into wanting to find out more.
- Scarcity – They can often message offering something in short supply such as concert tickets, money or a cure for medical conditions? This makes you want to respond quicker for fear of missing out on a good deal or opportunity.
- Current events – Are you expecting to see a message like this? Criminals often exploit current news stories, big events or specific times of year (like HMRC deadlines) to make their scam seem more relevant to you.
If you believe it could be genuine
If you believe a message or call might really be from an organisation you have an existing relationship with, like your bank, and you want to be sure:
- Go back to something you can trust. Visit their official website, log in to your account, or phone their advertised phone number. DO NOT use any links or contact details in the message you have been sent or given over the phone.
- Check to see if the official source has already told you what they will NEVER ask you. For example, your bank may have told you that they will NEVER ask for your password.
Make yourself a harder target
Information that is publicly available make a Criminals life so much easier and their messages far more convincing. One of the easiest sources of information gleaned can be your social media accounts.
To make life harder for the criminals, you can do the following:
- Review your privacy settings for your social media applications, and other online accounts.
- Think about what you post (and who will see it).
- Go via BT to Change your phone number to be unlisted, or ‘ex-directory’.