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5 common online scams

To help you stay alert while using the internet, read about these 5 common online scams:

1) Computer viruses

Computer viruses (sometimes called malware) are programmes designed to break into your computer. Fraudsters often hide viruses in email attachments, photos and other files you can download from the internet. The virus can take over your computer and give control to criminals, or it can scan for your private information, send out spam email or host illegal websites. See our page on protecting your computer for more information about anti-virus software.

You may even get a phone call from someone claiming to be from a software company like Microsoft, saying there’s a problem with your computer. This is a common phone scam – hang up straight away.

2) Online shopping

Be cautious when entering your credit card details and personal information on a shopping website. Read our information on safe shopping online to find out how to spot an unsecure website, so you don’t risk having your bank details stolen.

3) Fake websites

Scammers can create fake websites which look like official ones, such as bank websites. Often they will look very similar, and only a few tiny details may be different. Scammers will try to direct people to their fake websites through email scams, and hope that people will enter their personal log-in details, providing the scammers with the information they need to access your accounts.

There are also websites which are set up to imitate or duplicate a service offered by government websites, and do so for additional fees. For example, there are websites which offer to help you apply for a passport renewal or a new driving license. Although these are not necessarily illegal, these websites charge additional fees to people who use them rather than going directly through the official government departments. If you are in doubt about which website to use, go through GOV.UK, the Government’s official website, to find what you need.

4) Relationship scams

Some people use social networks such as dating websites or chat rooms to scam people. Once they’ve gained your trust, they’ll start asking you for money, often by telling you an emotional or hard luck story.

Trust your instinct. If something feels wrong, it probably is. Most sensible and logical people can fall for this kind of trick, so it’s always worth talking to a friend or relative about it, especially if things seem to be moving fast. Never send the person money or give them your account details. Be wary of moving from talking on a chat room or dating site to communicating by email. If you arrange to meet, make sure it’s in a public place, tell someone else where you’re going and don’t give away too much information too quickly. Read more about protecting your privacy on social networks.

5) Health scams

Unrealistic claims may be made about medical-related products, such as miracle health cures, and fake online pharmacies may offer medicines cheaply. However, once bought, the medicine can turn out to be poor quality and some can even harm your health.

Check whether an online pharmacy is legitimate by clicking on the ‘Registered Pharmacy’ logo on the website's home page – this should lead to the General Pharmaceutical Council website.

Have you been the victim of a scam or virus?

Fraudsters are constantly finding new ways to fool people and online scams are evolving all the time. It’s not unusual for people to get tricked, so don’t suffer in silence and don’t be embarrassed to report it. Contact Action Fraud if you think you’ve been scammed. The information you give to Action Fraud can help track down the fraudster.

If you’re worried something might be a scam but you’re not sure, it’s best to seek advice and not proceed until you have done so. Talk to a friend or family member, talk to Action Fraud, or contact Age UK Advice on 0800 169 65 65.

If you are worried that your computer is not working properly or think that it may have a virus, then it may be best to seek advice from a computer technician. Find your local IT repair shop in the phone book, or search online for nearby services that can help to fix computers. If you have anti-virus software then it may pop up with instructions for you to follow, but if you are not sure then seek expert advice.

Further information


Our Information guides are short and easy to digest, giving a comprehensive overview of the relevant topic. Factsheets are longer with more detail, and are aimed at professionals.

You can download other guides in our series from publications

For more information: Call Age UK Advice: 0800 169 2081

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