We’ve improved at spotting online scams over the last few years. We know we’ve not won the World Wide Super Lottery.
We’ve come to accept that an exiled Nigerian princess who begins her email with ‘Beloved!’ probably doesn’t want to transfer $32 million into our bank accounts. We’ve even, mostly, accepted that we haven’t won a super yacht.
But as we get smarter at spotting scams, the scammers get smarter too. And with the scammers as desperate to get hold of our money as we are to protect our savings, it’s an arms race of ingenuity.
Here are some of the tricks and deceptions currently being used to try to steal from you. Forewarned really is forearmed.
The false police detective
If I hadn’t read about this scam, I know I would easily have fallen for it. Someone pretending to be a police officer phones your home and says your bank cards have been compromised.
They ask for your card details so they can freeze them – and get you to type your PIN into the phone, which they can record.
If you become suspicious, they ask you to hang up and call 999 to check they are who they say. However, because they stay on the line, they are still connected when you dial another number. They can pretend to be the 999 operative and verify the call is genuine. That’s the genius of this scam.
So you are connected back through to the fake police officer, ready to hand over your details.
According to some victims, the scammers even send a courier around to collect their bank cards and then kept them on the phone until their accounts were emptied and their credit cards maxed out.
The fake bank official
The phoney police officer is a particularly compelling version of this scam, but crooks use this phone trick often. It’s very common for them to pretend to be calling from your bank.
What to do
If you’re verifying a call is from the police, a service provider or your bank then don’t just hang up and call back immediately. Call a number you already know, like a friend or the talking clock – just to check the line really is clear.
The call from ‘Windows Tech Support’
My mother is not a stupid woman; she’s a GP and she uses computers every day. But she fell for a scam where a concerned caller claimed to be from ‘Windows Tech Support’ to check that her computer was virus free.
The persuasive caller talked her through ‘checking’ her machine was virus free, by looking at her Event Viewer, which logs any error reports. It is perfectly normal for errors and warnings to be listed here, but my mother didn’t know and believed the caller when they said these were dangerous viruses.
She allowed the caller remote access to her PC and gave him her card details. Fortunately, her credit card company phoned her to check the enormous payment the scammers were trying to steal and then froze her cards. Making sure her computer was virus and spyware free took a full week.
And it's not just 'Windows Tech Support' that try to get into your computer - I know examples of people pretending to be from BT or offering free "security" scans of your computer.
What to do
Be aware of this clever scam, and don’t be afraid to run an internet search if you get a call that you’re not sure about. Most scams will have already been outed online.
Fictional tax rebates or demands
Unfortunately, the taxman has really played into scammers hands. There has been a lot of press recently about the fact that so many Brits are on the wrong tax code, meaning rebates or tax demands.
Scammers really play on this by sending fraudulent emails pretending to be from HMRC demanding payment or promising to make a payment if you just provide your bank details.
Hyperlinks within these emails take you to official-looking pages, where the criminals will relieve you of enough information to empty your bank account. Sometimes these emails pretend to be from your bank and they can look startlingly genuine.
What to do
A good habit to keep you safe is to never follow links, and to navigate to the official page by using a search engine instead.
The illegal pornography scam
This is really awful, because it frightens people and stops them thinking clearly. You receive a fraudulent email purporting to be from PayPal. It claims that your account has been implicated in an illegal pornography transaction and blocked.
It demands your financial details so it can lift the block and let you avoid a police investigation – and you may be so scared that you comply.
Perhaps you’re frightened you’ve accidentally accessed illegal material while downloading legal content; perhaps you think your PC has been hacked and used for nefarious purposes; perhaps you’re so upset that you don’t think that clearly at all. Instead, you hand over your account details to thieves.
What to do
If you really were in trouble, be it justified or not, handing over your bank details would do nothing to help you get out of it. Don’t let them intimidate you.
What’s the cleverest or worst scam you’ve encountered online? Did you fall for it? Share your thoughts with other readers using the comments below.