Cyber crime: common scams and how to protect yourself

Online scams are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Be it identity theft, a fraudulent transaction, a dating scam or phishing, criminal activity online can be difficult to spot until it's too late.

There has been a huge surge in scams during the pandemic as people have turned to the internet when shops have shut their doors. Total losses equalled £1.7bn in the 12 months to April 2021, with impersonation scams (where fraudsters impersonate trusted organisations to trick victims into transferring money) almost doubling to 39,364 cases in 2020.

Scammers are targeting the young

Young people are most likely to fall victim, with 1 in 5 of 16-34 year olds being scammed in recent years compared to just 4% of those aged 55 and over. With many young people using their phones for banking, shopping, appointments and more, the chances of coming across a scam and falling for it are pretty high.

Common online scams and fraud

The most common scams were online shopping scams. These involve scammers pretending to be legitimate online sellers with either a fake website or a fake ad on a genuine website. There is also a growing number of social media-based scams which often involve fake branded clothing or jewellery. After making a certain number of sales these stores disappear to avoid being caught.

The second most common method of fraud this year was “advance fee fraud”. This is where people receive a text from someone claiming to be a company, such as the Royal Mail, which asks them to click a link and pay a delivery fee in order to collect their package. As many people were shopping online and expecting deliveries during lockdown, a lot of people fell into this trap.

Other common text-based scams involved messages claiming that you are entitled to a tax refund from HMRC or that you risk being fined for not completing the 2021 census. There are also many scammers who are taking advantage of the confusion surrounding the pandemic and sending messages designed to look like they are from the NHS, offering vaccine bookings for a cost.

If you receive a text message you believe could be fraudulent, forward it for free to 7726 to flag it up to mobile phone providers and protect other people.

Do I get my money back?

Scams can leave a huge dent on your bank account and while banks are able to refund you the money if it wasn't your fault, it's not always the case that you get your money back.

Banks can refuse a refund if they find that you acted fraudulently or deem you to be 'grossly negligent', for example if you gave your pin or password to someone else.

If you sent your money to a scammer then it can be a lot harder to get a refund. You'll have to prove that you believed the transaction to be genuine and that you weren't being careless when you made the payment. That said, even if you're worried that you were being careless by falling for the scam, it's worth asking your bank for a refund anyway.

Scams might force you to dip in to emergency funds, or even leave you wondering how you're going to get by. They can bring a lot of stress to your life, especially if you are already struggling financially. That's why it's so important to always remain vigilant with your money and know the tell-tale signs.

How can I protect myself from scams?

Know the warning signs:

The Take Five To Stop Fraud website suggests three steps you can take to protect yourself when being asked for your money and information:

Stop - Pause for a moment and think about parting with your money and information

Challenge - Could it be fake? It’s ok to refuse or ignore anything you’re being asked - only criminals will try to rush or panic you. If you’re in doubt, you can always contact the trusted organisation yourself.

Protect - contact your bank immediately if you think you’ve been scammed and they will help you

Citizen's Advice also offer a great online tool for checking whether something might be a scam.

What do I do if I think I've been scammed?

If you have transferred money to a scammer within the last 24 hours, you should call the police non-emergency number on 101.

If you think someone might have access to your details or has taken money from your account, you should also contact your bank or building society straight away. For example:

Your bank will be able to change your details or freeze your account to protect your money.

If you aren't happy with how your bank or building society dealt with the fraud then you should make a complaint. And if you still aren't happy, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman on their website.

For more tips on how to protect your money online, check out these websites:

Scamming and debt management

Be aware of debt management scams too. There are companies out there pretending to be debt collectors, as well as fake websites and scammers claiming to be the likes of StepChange, National Debtline and Citizens Advice.

Scammers often try to pressure you with deadlines and penalty fees, warning you that if you don't pay immediately then your debt will increase.

If you owe multiple companies it can be difficult to remember the details of your various debts, so you may be more susceptible to being conned into paying someone you don't owe.

How to protect yourself from debt scams:

If you receive a message from Ophelos, for example, you can research our company and look us up on the government and FCA websites (our firm reference number is 935242). Our domain is ophelos.com and all of our communications will come from an official ophelos.com URL.

If you're ever in doubt, please visit our website and chat with one of our friendly customer operations specialists. They will be able to let you know if we have genuinely reached out to you. You can also send us an email or give us a ring if you have any questions.

Online scams are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Be it identity theft, a fraudulent transaction, a dating scam or phishing, criminal activity online can be difficult to spot until it's too late.

There has been a huge surge in scams during the pandemic as people have turned to the internet when shops have shut their doors. Total losses equalled £1.7bn in the 12 months to April 2021, with impersonation scams (where fraudsters impersonate trusted organisations to trick victims into transferring money) almost doubling to 39,364 cases in 2020.

Scammers are targeting the young

Young people are most likely to fall victim, with 1 in 5 of 16-34 year olds being scammed in recent years compared to just 4% of those aged 55 and over. With many young people using their phones for banking, shopping, appointments and more, the chances of coming across a scam and falling for it are pretty high.

Common online scams and fraud

The most common scams were online shopping scams. These involve scammers pretending to be legitimate online sellers with either a fake website or a fake ad on a genuine website. There is also a growing number of social media-based scams which often involve fake branded clothing or jewellery. After making a certain number of sales these stores disappear to avoid being caught.

The second most common method of fraud this year was “advance fee fraud”. This is where people receive a text from someone claiming to be a company, such as the Royal Mail, which asks them to click a link and pay a delivery fee in order to collect their package. As many people were shopping online and expecting deliveries during lockdown, a lot of people fell into this trap.

Other common text-based scams involved messages claiming that you are entitled to a tax refund from HMRC or that you risk being fined for not completing the 2021 census. There are also many scammers who are taking advantage of the confusion surrounding the pandemic and sending messages designed to look like they are from the NHS, offering vaccine bookings for a cost.

If you receive a text message you believe could be fraudulent, forward it for free to 7726 to flag it up to mobile phone providers and protect other people.

Do I get my money back?

Scams can leave a huge dent on your bank account and while banks are able to refund you the money if it wasn't your fault, it's not always the case that you get your money back.

Banks can refuse a refund if they find that you acted fraudulently or deem you to be 'grossly negligent', for example if you gave your pin or password to someone else.

If you sent your money to a scammer then it can be a lot harder to get a refund. You'll have to prove that you believed the transaction to be genuine and that you weren't being careless when you made the payment. That said, even if you're worried that you were being careless by falling for the scam, it's worth asking your bank for a refund anyway.

Scams might force you to dip in to emergency funds, or even leave you wondering how you're going to get by. They can bring a lot of stress to your life, especially if you are already struggling financially. That's why it's so important to always remain vigilant with your money and know the tell-tale signs.

How can I protect myself from scams?

Know the warning signs:

The Take Five To Stop Fraud website suggests three steps you can take to protect yourself when being asked for your money and information:

Stop - Pause for a moment and think about parting with your money and information

Challenge - Could it be fake? It’s ok to refuse or ignore anything you’re being asked - only criminals will try to rush or panic you. If you’re in doubt, you can always contact the trusted organisation yourself.

Protect - contact your bank immediately if you think you’ve been scammed and they will help you

Citizen's Advice also offer a great online tool for checking whether something might be a scam.

What do I do if I think I've been scammed?

If you have transferred money to a scammer within the last 24 hours, you should call the police non-emergency number on 101.

If you think someone might have access to your details or has taken money from your account, you should also contact your bank or building society straight away. For example:

Your bank will be able to change your details or freeze your account to protect your money.

If you aren't happy with how your bank or building society dealt with the fraud then you should make a complaint. And if you still aren't happy, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman on their website.

For more tips on how to protect your money online, check out these websites:

Scamming and debt management

Be aware of debt management scams too. There are companies out there pretending to be debt collectors, as well as fake websites and scammers claiming to be the likes of StepChange, National Debtline and Citizens Advice.

Scammers often try to pressure you with deadlines and penalty fees, warning you that if you don't pay immediately then your debt will increase.

If you owe multiple companies it can be difficult to remember the details of your various debts, so you may be more susceptible to being conned into paying someone you don't owe.

How to protect yourself from debt scams:

If you receive a message from Ophelos, for example, you can research our company and look us up on the government and FCA websites (our firm reference number is 935242). Our domain is ophelos.com and all of our communications will come from an official ophelos.com URL.

If you're ever in doubt, please visit our website and chat with one of our friendly customer operations specialists. They will be able to let you know if we have genuinely reached out to you. You can also send us an email or give us a ring if you have any questions.

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Cyber crime: common scams and how to protect yourself
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