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Some of the Biggest Online Scams and How to Avoid Them
With hundreds of millions of internet users active online every day, there’s no surprise that fraudsters gravitate towards the internet to target their victims. It is important to have awareness of some of the biggest scams so you don’t fall victim and risk losing money, or even your identity.


Phishing Scams

a phishing scam

Phishing scams are one of the biggest online scams to date as they are easy to be performed. Action Fraud UK revealed last year that they get 8,000 reports every month- let alone the thousands that go by unreported. This is where a fraudster will contact you either via email, websites or social media trying to trick you into handing over login details- either for online banking, social media or anything that may be of value to them.

They do this by posing as an official source either from your social networking site or banking authorities which to you may seem important- they’ll send you a link to a site that looks legitimate but is a site made by them.

They will also try to make it look like an emergency by saying things like “your bank account is under threat- you must verify your identity immediately by entering your login details”. This will make people panic and once you’ve entered your details the fraudster can either sell them or use them to their own advantage.

How to protect yourself:

  • Make sure your computer is up-to-date with an anti-virus software and firewall- this will protect your computer from malicious links and malware that want to contaminate your computer.
  • Be aware of phishing emails- Never click on a link that is sent to you via email- especially if you are not familiar with the source or it’s not something that you initiated with a company. Don’t be fooled by the display name as fraudsters famously forge the names of large companies to fool people into thinking they are legitimate. Also, never download an attachment- they are often persuasive by saying it is something useful to you but it will actually download malware onto your computer or device which steals personal details you are holding. They often use urgent language, don’t panic and if you want to check it, enter the company they are claiming to be from in your search engine instead.
  • Before you sign up to a website’s services, make sure you check their privacy policies which can often be found at the bottom of the page. A lot of legitimate companies sell their user’s email addresses to other companies which is normally the result of your spam on a daily basis- and harmful phishing emails. If the company claims that they sell their mailing list it may be worth considering not signing up to their website.

Read our in-depth guide if you want to know more about phishing email scams and simple ways to protect yourself.


Advance Fee (419) Scam

email advance fee

In advance fee scams, victims are normally contacted via email, text message or a social networking site and are persuaded to advance them a sum of money. They achieve this by promising their victim that a much larger sum will be returned to them- unsurprisingly, this promise is never fulfilled.

The term ‘419’ refers back to Nigeria as a large-scale amount of this type of scam was first committed in that country- article 419 of the Nigerian Criminal Code deals with this type of fraud.

To date, millions of Nigerian letters have been sent to individuals- the typical one claiming that a huge amount of money is waiting in a Nigerian bank, but the account owner cannot access it for a particular reason. The victim is promised a share of the money if they first hand over a fee- an excuse may be that it costs for them to transfer the money out of the country. In reality, the advance fee is just money being stolen from them.

Similarly, the fraudster may claim that there is money ‘trapped’ in a bank during civil wars- often in countries currently in the news to sound more legitimate. Another example is, they will claim they have a huge inheritance that is difficult for them to access due to taxes or government restrictions in their country.

The advance fee could start off quite small, but if you send it to them, they will continue to make excuses for more and more money as long as you are willing to be a part of it. After you have paid it, they will disappear so they are almost impossible to contact or trace.

Criminals running these scams will often send out millions of emails at a time, so even if it captures a tiny percentage of people, it can still prove to be very profitable. They will normally make the email look like it has only been sent to one person, they may also provide working telephone numbers and fabricated documents that look like they have government authentication.

How to protect yourself:

  • A little bit of common sense goes a long way. If something sounds too good to be true- it probably is. If someone is promising you millions of pounds in exchange for a small fee it is very likely to be a scam.
  • Never send any bank details, account details or any sort of personal information to somebody you don’t know or trust and especially not over email or social media.
  • Even if you think they are telling the truth- never agree to transfer money for someone else. Money laundering is a criminal offense.
  • Don’t respond in any way to the email and delete it straight away.
  • Think to yourself ‘why me?’. This person doesn’t actually know you and they have don’t have any reason to trust you with such a large amount of money.


Health Scams

medical scam

Online medical and health scams can happen either when you receive an email or see an online advert promising wonder medical treatments or tablets that offer incredible results.

These can be fake online pharmacies offering people medicines or drugs a lot cheaper than legitimate pharmacies and you don’t require a prescription. Alternatively, they advertise miracle cures to things like acne, arthritis, baldness and AIDS or they offer things like weight loss tablets and teeth whitening treatments.

They normally try to convince you by providing testimonials and images from satisfied ‘customers’ but there is no evidence to tell if they are genuine.

The seller’s identity can be hidden very easily meaning chances of getting your money back are very small. Also, there is the chance that your personal and banking details could be compromised- enabling a fraudster to have access to bank accounts or even steal your identity.

However, financial difficulties could be the very least of your worries. There is no proof that these drugs are what they claim to be even if they look like a legitimate and trusted company. They could, in fact, damage your health.

How to protect yourself:

  • Talk to your GP or pharmacist first- they will be able to tell you if a product is safe or effective. Never stop taking a prescribed medicine for one that you have found online- especially if you are managing a health condition.
  • Check that they are a registered pharmacy- they should be connected to a pharmacy at a genuine address- if they are, the details should be available to find on their website.
  • Note whether you are asked a series of questions before buying the product. Registered pharmacies are required to ask you questions regarding your health to check whether it is suitable for you- this is done in an online consultation with a doctor, pharmacist or health professional.
  • If they provide pictures of satisfied ‘customers’, check online to see if you can find the same picture used for other companies- if you can, you know it is not genuine.
  • Never give them your bank details or personal information over email.


Remote Access Scams:

computer being compromised

This scam works by a fraudster phoning you and pretending to be from a large computer or telecommunications company like Microsoft or from a technical support service.

They will explain to you that either your computer has a virus, your computer has been sending error signals, there have been problems with your internet connection or that your broadband has been hacked. They will then ask you to have remote access to your computer (which means they can control it) to see if they can solve the ‘problem’.

They will then try to persuade you to buy unnecessary software to fix your computer followed by your personal information and bank details. This software could then contaminate your computer with malware which steals any log in details or banking information you have on it.

At first, they will sound professional and calm to fool you into trusting them, however, if you don’t do what they ask, they become very abusive and persistent.  

How to protect yourself:

  • Never give anyone access to your computer unless you have gone to them directly and you completely trust them.
  • Remember, you can receive these calls even if you are not a customer of the company they say they are from, or even if you don’t have a computer! Hang up the phone immediately and don’t give them any information.
  • Never give details over the phone to someone you don’t know. Remember, they can say that they are anyone they want and you have no way of finding out.
  • Make sure your computer is up-to-date with anti-virus software and firewall.


Online Shopping and Auction Scams

bad shopping experience

Online auction websites and marketplaces like ‘eBay’ are a very popular way for people to trade online. Most sellers and buyers are genuine; however, fraudsters are using these sites to their advantage to sell people low quality or non-existent items, or to buy items without paying.

You may buy something from one of these websites and you’ll find that either it arrives very late, it’s very poor quality or broken, it is different from the original description in some way or it’s a completely different item to the one you ordered in the first place. You may sell something and then realise that the customer’s payment hasn’t gone through or they make up some excuse as to why they may receive their payment later.

Also, the seller may say that they require some personal information and your bank details for the transaction to be successful which, if they gain, they can use to defraud you. Alternatively, they may completely redirect you to a website that they have created themselves which looks virtually identical to the auction website. They will then use this to capture the details that you enter for themselves.

You may also receive ‘phishing’ emails claiming to be from the website, asking you to update or re-enter your account details because your account has been suspended.

How to protect yourself:

  • If you are redirected to another website, make sure you check the address in the address bar. Fraudsters are sneaky and make it very similar to legitimate website- an example could be ‘’.
  • Check for the seller’s feedback- websites like eBay offer this service. See whether other people have bought products from them and what their experience was like.
  • Make sure you read the website’s terms and conditions and see how you are covered and what their returns policies are.
  • Never pay for products by money transfers or click on any links that the seller provides for you. Use a secure payment company like PayPal which protects your money and payments. 


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