Staying safe online
More and more people are using computers, smartphones and tablets to get online. It’s a great way to look up information, do your shopping, stay connected with loved ones, and even make new friends. The internet has lots of positive aspects, but there are things you need to look out for. These include viruses which can damage your computer and online scams.
What are online scams?
Online scams take place when criminals use the internet to try to con people into giving them money or their personal information. It’s estimated that £670 million is lost every year by victims of the most common online scams.
The most common online scams to look out for include:
Computer viruses (sometimes called malware) are rogue programs which can spread from one computer to another. You may be sent an email with an attachment which when you click on it will release a virus. Criminals can then use this to take control of your computer, or the virus may scan your computer for personal information. It can also slow your computer down, send out spam email or delete files.
You may even get a phone call from someone claiming to be from a well-known software company like Microsoft, saying there’s a problem with your computer and needing to get access to your it, including your personal details. Legitimate IT companies never contact customers in this way. This is a common phone scam – hang up straight away.
Be cautious when entering your credit card details and personal information on a shopping website. Read our information about safe shopping online to find out how to spot an unsecure website, so you don’t risk having your bank details stolen.
Scammers can create fake websites which look official requesting you to provide personal or financial information. For example, a fake bank website may be set up asking you to update your account or security information. Often they will look very similar, and only a few tiny details may be different.
There are also websites which are set up to look like a copy of a service offered by government websites. For example, there are websites which offer to help you apply for a passport renewal or a new driving licence. Although they are not necessarily illegal, these websites charge extra money if you use them rather than going directly through the official government department. If you aren’t sure about which website to use, go through GOV.UK, the Government’s official website, to find what you need.
Scammers will send bogus emails in the hope that people will enter their personal details. They may direct you to a fake website, trick you into thinking you’ve won a lottery or prize, or pretend to be someone you may know who has been stranded somewhere and needs money. Some emails may also have a link or file attached for you to click on or open. These are sometimes called spam or junk emails. Opening these links or downloading the files may be harmful to your computer.
If you see a suspicious email, don’t reply with your details or open any links or documents. Delete the email straight away. If the email claims to be from an organisation, phone them directly using the phone number found on their official website and ask them.
Scammers can use social networks such as dating websites or chat rooms. 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. These tricks are hard to spot, 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 careful if the person starts moving away from the chat room or dating site to communicating by email or text message. 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 information too quickly.
False and misleading claims may be made about medical-related products, such as miracle health cures, and fake online pharmacies may offer medicines cheaply. However, the actual medicine delivered to you can turn out to be poor quality, and even harmful to your health.
Check if an online pharmacy website is legitimate by clicking on the ‘Registered Pharmacy’ logo on the website's home page – this should lead to the General Pharmaceutical Council website.
What should I do if I think I’ve been a victim of an online scam?
Scammers are constantly finding new ways to trick people and online scams are changing 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.
If you’re worried that your computer is not working properly or think that it may have a virus, then talk to a computer technician.
Contact Action Fraud
Contact the police then Action Fraud if you’re worried something might be a scam, or you think you’ve been scammed. The information you give to Action Fraud can help track down the scammer
How can I protect my computer and stay safe online?
As well as being aware and cautious of common online scams, there are a few simple steps you can take to protect your computer.
Step 1: Install security software (e.g. anti-virus, anti-spyware and firewall)
Step 2: Keep your computer updated
Step 3: Protect your wireless network
Information on each of these steps can be found in our information leaflet:
For more information call Age Cymru Advice on 08000 223 444