It’s 2017 and time to start thinking about new year’s resolutions and changes. And for hackers and scammers, that means resolving to find ever more creative ways to con us out of our hard earned cash. We’ve put together a list of some of the most common online scams – as well as those likely to be popular in 2017. The best way to avoid getting scammed is to educate yourself about the possibilities, and then protect against them.
The HMRC scam
The first tax payment deadline of the year falls on January 31st and scammers see this as a great opportunity. For most of us, dealing with the taxman is not a pleasant experience. It’s complex, confusing and more often than not results in having to pay more cash than you expected. So, if you get an email apparently from HMRC demanding a payment, you might be tempted to rush to pay it. However, we’d recommend that you think twice before doing this. HMRC does not send out emails demanding cash so check any email you receive very carefully. In particular, hover your mouse over the email address and see what pops up. More than likely the actual email address won’t be an HMRC address, in which case you know it’s a scam.
The debt collection scam
No one wants to find a debt collector at their door. Which is why they provide a very convenient cover for scammers. Emails that claim to be from debt collectors demanding money are getting more and more frequent. In the past, scammers have had a lot of success this way thanks to rising levels of personal debt. Demands usually appear via email and, if you think there’s a chance they might be genuine, you should check them out before paying anything. Make sure the debt exists by tracing it back to the person you apparently owe it to. Check the company that has sent you the email is legitimate. And once again, look at the email address it has been sent from to make sure it corresponds to the company name.
Malware is a hacker’s best friend. This type of computer virus can deliver all sorts of benefits for a cybercriminal if they can convince you to download it. It can gather information, allow a third party to spy and also monitor keystrokes. All of this can be used to obtain critical information, such as bank account details and email logins. Malware can only be delivered to your machine by you activating something that puts it there. This could be an attachment in an email or a fake website banner. Don’t open attachments or click on links in emails that have been sent by someone you don’t recognise. And make sure, when you’re browsing online, that you’re using reputable websites.
Hackers invest a lot of money in creating fake websites. The better these websites are, the more likely that consumers are to come along and provide card or contact details to what they believe is a reputable site. Some of the most common fake websites are bank websites or those that offer to help you apply for a new driving licence or a passport. With the information that you provide via a website like this a hacker could obtain access to your accounts or a document in your name. The best way to make sure you’re not using a fake website is to contact the company or government department involved and ask for the web address directly. It’s also important to look out for spelling mistakes, an incorrect web address and disjointed site functionality. If you’re not sure then don’t do it.
Dating online scams
Scammers will use virtually every human weakness to extract cash and the quest for love is one of them. If you’re using dating apps and/or websites then look out for potential tricksters. While many dating matches do tend to progress off an app or site, make sure you know something about the other person before giving them personal details. If you’re going to meet up then do it in a public place with plenty of other people around. Don’t hand over your home address until you’ve progressed well beyond casual dating. And if your date asks your for cash on the back of a sob story about an ill relative, a money disaster or some other misfortune then politely refuse. If the date disappears after that then you’ve avoided being scammed.
Alex Hartley is a keen advocate of improving personal finance skills. She's worked at Solution Loans since 2014 and written hundreds of articles about how people can manage their money better. Her interest in personal finance goes way back to...Read more about Alex Hartley