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The ultimate guide to avoiding online fraud in 2020

Protecting family from online scams

The Covid-19 pandemic has given us the opportunity and challenge of introducing older family members to the pleasures and pitfalls of the internet. But avoiding the predators is a long-term task. And it won’t be an easy one for anyone who isn’t constantly up-to-date and alert to the latest attempts to steal their data and their cash.

This article looks at where the greatest risks lie, and offers advice to help you protect yourself and your family from the scammers.

Where we are today

In today’s technological age, the internet has become paramount to the way we live our lives. It has opened us up to so many possibilities and allows us to conduct tasks that previously would have taken much longer and a lot more effort. For example, it’s now possible to do a grocery shop, check our bank account, book a doctor’s appointment and communicate with friends, without even having to leave the sofa.

The issue? The internet has also opened us up to a whole new range of security threats and online fraud attempts. Many scams look to con personal data or money out of people, while others go as far as online identity theft. In fact, between March 2018 and March 2019, there were an estimated 3.8 million incidents of fraud in the UK and this figure doesn’t appear to be slowing down.

The good news is that there are ways you can help to protect yourself and your family against online fraud. By recognising the signs of a scam and by putting effective security measures in place, you can help to keep everyone’s personal information safe when they’re online.

In this guide, we’ll take you through some of the best ways to avoid online fraud and enjoy the internet as intended, while keeping the risk of being conned out of cash at bay.

Make sure every device has security software

First and foremost, one of the best ways to protect yourself and your family from cybercrime and online fraud is to make sure everyone has all the right security measures in place. Though it might feel time-consuming (and require a certain amount of budget) to set up security softwares such as firewalls, anti-virus and anti-malware software, it is worth it in the long run. It might initially take you a few hours to get set up, but it can take 100-200 hours for victims of online fraud to recover funds or information. So it’s a no-brainer really!

There is a range of different security systems available and a number of different packages can give you all the security features you need. Some are free, others come at a cost. But for anyone who holds a lot of sensitive information on their devices or shares financial or personal detail via the internet, it can be worth investing in a top-of-the-range package to keep safe from online fraud.

 Put a strong password policy in place

Following on from this, another important part of your security efforts is going to be to make sure everyone has a strong personal password policy in place. It might seem obvious and we’re pretty used to logging in with passwords these days, for everything from our smartphone to our Facebook page, but it’s vital that seasoned and new users understand the importance of creating strong and unique passwords. If they don’t, they might find fraudsters are able to hack their accounts, steal their money or even pretend to be them online.

There are a number of ways to put a strong password policy in place. Firstly, as tempting as it can be, try to avoid using the same password for everything! We’re all guilty of it because it’s hard to remember multiple passwords, but it really can make us a target for cybercriminals.

If people are worried about forgetting their passwords, they could invest in a password manager. Again, there are free or paid for options. These create 100% unique passwords for the user and store them all in an encrypted vault that can only be accessed with a master code. This way, users can create strong passwords for each account without having to actually remember them off the top of their heads.

It’s also a good idea to use two-factor authentication whenever possible. An example of this might be when you try to set up a new payment online and you are sent a text with a code in it, just to confirm it is definitely you that is trying to set up the payment. Many devices and accounts have this option and it makes it harder for fraudsters to access online accounts. It also means the account owner will be alerted if someone is trying to log into their accounts and they can quickly take action.

Stay up-to-date on the latest scams

A great way to stay ahead of the game is to stay up-to-date on the latest scams. There are plenty of websites and resources out there which share frequent updates of the latest phishing emails or fraudulent activity going on, so check these out and get educated. Being armed with this knowledge means you’ll be more alert to cybercriminal activities and be able to share the information with family members.

Recently, for example, there has been a lot of online scammers using the Coronavirus pandemic as a way to try and con money out of people. Posing as the NHS they ask for money via bank details in exchange for testing kits – something which a genuine member of the NHS would not do. But by being aware that this is happening, you can arm yourself and family with the knowledge should someone email or ring asking for financial details.

Knowledge really is key when it comes to keeping everyone safe and avoiding online fraudsters.

Check privacy settings

Social media is a great way to connect with people. It helps old schools friends get back in touch, long-lost relatives to reach out  to one another and even acts as a way for employers to reach out and offer you an exciting new job role. All pretty great stuff.

Except for the fact that we’ve become a nation of overshares.

Remember when we used to go on holiday we’d leave a light on to give the illusion that someone was still home, and even have neighbour pop round every now and then so it still looked lived in?

But now, some of us are not just sharing photos from our time away but geo-tagging ourselves in at the airport or holiday hotspots to let everyone else know where we are and where we’re going. It’s almost like we’ve gone full circle!

Now that’s not to say that no one should not use these fun features on social media if they really want to, but if they also want to avoid online fraud, it’s important that they check their privacy settings. Is their Facebook or Instagram profile private or can anyone see what they’re sharing? If they have got a public account, it might be a good idea to switch settings so that only friends can see what they’re sharing.

Whats’ more, though you might not think much of it, a selfie outside our house, a photo at a restaurant with our bank card lying on the table or a picture from our birthday celebrations gives cybercriminals a lot of information about us. From one online profile, they could get someone’s full name, date of birth, where they live and possibly even some of their financial details. So everyone needs to think about it and make sure their social media profiles are set to private.

Learn the signs of phishing emails and be wary of unsolicited attachments

Phishing emails are one of the biggest causes of online fraud and sadly millions of people fall for these scams each year. By getting educated and learning to spot the signs of a phishing email (even the most sophisticated ones, and trust us, cybercriminals are getting better and better at these!), you and your family can better avoid being the victim of online fraud. Some of the most common signs of a phishing email include:

  • It contains numerous spelling and grammatical mistakes in the email
  • It includes suspicious links or unsolicited attachments that the recipient never requested
  • The domain name is misspelt in the email
  • The email address it was sent from seems suspicious – e.g [email protected] – remember, companies will always send emails from their legitimate company email addresses
  • The email is threatening – they are threatening legal action or trying to create a sense of urgency
  • They ask the recipient to share financial or personal details via email

Of course, this is a non-exhaustive list and there are other tell-tale signs that something might be wrong.

So as a general rule, if something feels strange, it’s best to contact the company or governing body directly and ask if they sent the email. They will not only be able to confirm whether it’s real or a scam, but they’ll also be able to flag it and stop these cybercriminals from doing the same thing to others.

What’s more, no one should ever give away personal details over email. A legitimate business will never ask for these details via email. So if someone asks for pin codes, passwords or  financial details, it’s most likely to be a scam.

Remember, if it seems too good to be true it probably is

Following on from this and another sign of online fraud or a phishing scam are offers of huge discounts or sums of money.

There are plenty of these scams going around because fraudsters know we can’t resist a bargain! So if you or your family member receives emails or communications from a strange or unsolicited source offering major discounts on products or services, they need to be wary. This is also true for emails claiming they’ve won a prize or lump sum of cash.

One of the best ways to spot and therefore avoid this type of online fraud is to ask ourselves, ‘Did I ever sign up to this company’s newsletter or enter this particular competition?’ If the answer is no, then it’s probably a scam.

These types of communications may send over links to click on to receive a personal discount.  Never click on these links as this offers them an opportunity to direct you to an unsecured webpage or to infect your device with malware. So always remember, if it seems to good to be true – it probably is!

Check bank statements frequently

A key piece of advice in this guide is to check bank statements and online transactions frequently. It’s all too easy for us to lose track of our money, especially in the era of contactless payments. But it’s important we stay on top of our finances and keep an eye out for any suspicious behaviour or transactions.

Online fraudsters might be using our accounts to make online purchases or to take money from our bank. The quicker we can spot any fraudulent transactions, the quicker we can put a stop to this, change our passwords and get them out of our accounts.

Unfortunately, if you or a family member notices strange behaviour on their bank statements, this means they’ve likely already been a victim of online fraud. At least it gives us a chance to put a stop to it before they take too much. It can also make us more alert to these cybercriminals in the future and give us the push we need to bolster our security efforts. Either way, it’s always good to keep on top of  spending and ensure nothing untoward has been going on without our noticing.

Be aware when using public Wi-Fi

Public Wi-Fi can be great. It helps people stay connected when they’re low on data, to reply to emails or to upload their latest selfie to their Instagram story. But it also leaves us vulnerable to cyberattacks and online fraud. Man in the Middle (MIIM) attacks allow cybercriminals to intercept a connection and see what someone is doing online. This also gives a criminal access to any information being shared at that time.

As such, we should always be wary when using public connections. Try to avoid using these to log into personal profiles or online banking systems. Also avoid sharing too much, whether that’s financial or personal information. Personal details should only be entered into a site from home, using a secured Wi-Fi connection.

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