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It is a sad truth that there have always been unscrupulous opportunists in the world. From snake oil salesmen to street corner conmen, this class of criminal tries to trick you into parting with your well-earned money. Online, their method of choice is phishing scams. Therefore, it is important to know how to avoid their carefully laid traps.

What are Phishing Scams?

Phishing scams are a type of cybercrime that have become increasingly prevalent as digital communication expands. These changing methods mean that scammers are using digital phishing scams now more than ever. They involve criminals posing as reputable companies or people to gain access to your accounts. There are several ways in which these cybercriminals try to trick you, including phone calls, text messages, and emails.

When cybercriminals target you for phishing scams, their goal is always to take something from you. They may even lock you out of your accounts to cover their tracks.

The Impact of Phishing Scams

Cybercrime and fraud can lead to massive financial losses. Sometimes these can be lifechanging, resulting in debts or even bankruptcy. Other times people can lose access to valuable data or have their accounts shut down. Furthermore, the stress of falling for phishing scams can have a negative impact on mental health.

In the first half of 2021 alone, criminals stole more than £750 million through online fraud. Thanks to intervention by the authorities – and savvy internet users – they were blocked from stealing a further £736 million in the same period.

Types of Phishing Scams

There are several types of phishing scams that you may be targeted by. All are designed to convince you that they come from a genuine source. Their goal: to trick you into sharing personal information or sending money to a scammer’s account.

Email Phishing

If you have an email account, then chances are you have seen at least one example of email phishing scams. These can come in a variety of forms. Some will pose as your bank, others as a business you have bought from in the past, and there will be some that look like regular adverts. Popular choices with scammers are PayPal or Amazon. What they all have in common is asking you to click on a link.

Often these email phishing scams will try to appear official and urgent. They may tell you that there has been a problem with your account, and you need to log in to fix it. Clicking the link may take you to a fake version of that company’s website where you will be asked to enter your email, password, and possibly other personal data. Instead of being logged in, however, you will be giving your details to scammers. Alternatively, it may trick you into downloading a harmful file containing a computer virus.

In other cases, you may be asked to update your payment details. This will often be connected to an email claiming you haven’t correctly paid your taxes or there has been a problem processing an order. Similarly, when you fill in your banking details you are actually giving that information to scammers.

Text and Messaging Phishing

Also known as “smishing”, phishing scams by text involve scammers sending you a text message (SMS). They may also try contacting you by direct message on social media or on WhatsApp. This message will contain a link or ask you to call back using a phone number. Like email phishing scams, a “smishing” attack will try to appear as a genuine contact. They may pose as your bank or as a mail delivery service like Hermes, for example.

Most text and messaging phishing scams will try to trick you with urgency. They will pose as the fraud team or tell you that there is unpaid postage on a package. Their plan is to put you under pressure, so you do not take the time to think about the content of the message. In other cases they may pose as someone you know or a celebrity you follow and invite you to follow a link.

The links in these texts will lead you to fake pages. In some cases, they may also cause viruses to be downloaded onto your device. Like email phishing scams, the pages you open may ask for personal information. Similarly, if you are asked to call a number, the person at the other end will pose as an employee of the company and ask for account details. You may also be asked to provide card details.

Voice Phishing

Have you ever received a phone call claiming you are owed compensation for an accident you didn’t have? You may have been a target of voice phishing scams. Also known as “vishing”, these scams are well-coordinated, often involving teams. They will pose as a genuine customer support service, claiming that there has been an issue with your account, or you are owed money.

Like other forms of phishing scams, the goal of “vishing” is to trick you into sharing personal information. They may also request that you send money or provide them with bank details. They will generally follow scripts designed to sound as official as possible.

As part of a “vishing” scam, cybercriminals will use a combination of time pressure and the reassurance of talking to a person to convince you to cooperate. They may even talk you through an online process. In some cases, they may have multiple people who talk to you, implying they are part of a customer service team. This is all designed to convince you to share your personal information with them.

In some cases, voice phishing scams are also attempting to record your voice. They will get you to provide the answers to your security questions so they can call your bank and pose as you. Always be suspicious if someone starts asking for personal information over the phone. If you are unsure, hang up and call using the official number on the company’s webpage.

Identifying Phishing Scams

Millions of scam messages are sent out every day. Most are ignored or reported. However, scammers only need to trick one person to be successful. Therefore, it is important to recognise the signs of phishing scams so that one person isn’t you.

One of the tell-tale signs of phishing scams is poor spelling and grammar. Because cybercriminals send out so many fake messages every day, they do not tend to take the time to proofread their emails and text messages.

There are other signs, however, that may be marginally more subtle. Scammers will try to make their emails and texts look as genuine as possible. However, you can usually find hints that they are fake in the sender’s email address. Often, scammers will be using free, disposable accounts to perform their phishing scams. If you receive an email claiming to be from Amazon, for example, but the email address ends in “gmail.com” or “hotmail.com”, you can be confident that it’s not genuine.

It is important to check email addresses carefully, however. Some scammers create fake domains for their phishing scams. Sometimes these will appear very similar to the real name. They may write “PayPa1” rather than “PayPal”, for example.

If there is a sense of urgency in a message it is likely to be fake. Companies tend to try to stop you from panicking rather than scaring you into action. If in doubt, you can always type in the web address yourself or contact the company using their official information. This is a safe way to check whether there is an issue with your account.

Finally, you should always be suspicious if there are attachments or links in an email.

Recent Phishing Scams to Be Aware Of

Unfortunately, cybercriminals are always thinking of new ways to catch people out. They will stop at nothing to get their hands on your money. As technology evolves, and our methods of communication expand, new fraud techniques are certain to emerge. Here are some of the most recent methods they have been using.

Royal Mail Texts

The pandemic saw a major increase in online shopping, which proved to be an opportunity for scammers. A popular method has been sending fake Royal Mail texts claiming there has been a problem delivering a parcel. Most often they will claim that there is postage that needs to be paid for or they will ask you to visit a fake redelivery page.

The most significant red flag here is that Royal Mail do not send texts for unsuccessful deliveries. Nor do they request payments by email or text. The only time you will receive a text asking you to make a payment is if there is a customs fee on something you have ordered; in this situation, you will receive a grey card in the post as well.

If there has been an unsuccessful delivery, Royal Mail will leave red card through your door with instructions for arranging redelivery. Never click on any links in these messages.

Royal Mail have a list of examples of phishing scams for you to look out for.

TV Licence Scam

In recent months, scammers have been trying to use our TV Licences as a source of income. A series of emails have been received by people across the UK claiming that they have not paid for their TV Licence, or that they are due for a refund. According to these emails, all you have to do is follow a link and fill in your bank details.

The reality is that TV Licensing will never process your licence fee in this way. Furthermore, there are certain things they will not ask for. TV Licensing ask that customers pay close attention to the sender of any emails: genuine emails will be from “donotreply@tvlicensing.com”.

TV Licensing also include your name and part of your postcode in official messages. Scam emails, in general, are much less personal and will address you as “Dear Customer” or similar.

You can find more information on avoiding the TV Licence Scam by reading TV Licensing’s "Helping you avoid TV Licensing scams" guide.

WhatsApp Impersonation Scam

Sometimes it seems there truly is no limit to how low cybercriminals will stoop. One of the most recent methods of choice has been impersonating loved ones to ask for money. This has been particularly prevalent on WhatsApp.

Users across the UK have received messages claiming to be from their sons and daughters. They say they have a new number, and then ask for money, claiming that they have been locked out of their accounts and need to pay a bill. In some cases, they create scenarios involving bailiffs to increase the pressure.

These phishing scams are designed to capitalise on the parental instinct to help our children. However, even if the message seems urgent, always contact your loved one by other means before doing anything. It is important to confirm that they are who they say they are. Ask for a voice message, or for them to call you, to make sure.

Omicron Contact Scam

Scammers are also quick to latch onto modern crises. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, cybercriminals have started sending out fake track and trace messages. These phishing scams claim that you have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for Omicron. As a result, you need to follow a link to arrange a PCR test. You will be asked to provide banking details to pay for this test. However, this link is not real, and is in no way affiliated with the NHS. Moreover, the NHS will never ask you to pay for tests.

It is yet another example of the insensitivity of scammers. In a time where families have lost loved ones, they are still attempting to capitalise on grief and fear.

How to Report Phishing Scams

When you receive a scam text or email, you may be wondering what to do next. Do you just delete it and move on or is there somewhere you should send it?

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) investigate cybercrime such as phishing scams on behalf of the government. Their goal is to track down the scammers and put them out of business. You can help them accomplish this by reporting any scam messages you receive.

Phishing emails should be forwarded to report@phishing.gov.uk and texts should be forwarded to 7726.

If you are concerned that you have been the victim of an online scam or fraud, you can call 0300 123 2040 for help.

What to Do If You Think You've Been A Victim of Fraud

Vigilance is key when it comes to phishing scams and avoiding fraud. Unfortunately, sometimes we still get caught out. A scam may be particularly convincing, we may just be having a bad day, or we may even click on something by accident. The important thing is not to panic.

Your first step should always be "damage control". For anything relating to your bank, contact them as soon as possible. Your bank will be able to protect your account and keep your money safe. If you have transferred any money, inform the police immediately on 101. As soon as you recognise that you have given away personal information, update your login details on your accounts. Taking these steps will minimise the risk of scammers stealing information or money.

If you think one of your accounts may have been hacked, the National Cyber Security Centre have a step by step guide to recovering an online account.

You should also inform Action Fraud of any scams you encounter, especially if you think you are a victim. They can be called on 0300 123 2040 or you can report the scam using their website.

In the event that you have accidentally downloaded a malicious file, scan your computer with your antivirus. This will locate the malicious file and delete it before it does any further damage.

For additional support and advice in the case of fraud, you can call the following helplines:

Safety at Home from Lifeline24

Avoiding phishing scams isn’t the only way to stay safe. Your physical wellbeing is just as important as your finances. If you are having trouble moving around at home, or just want some extra peace of mind, a personal alarm from Lifeline24 could help.

With our personal alarm service, help is always the press of a button away. If you have a fall or feel unwell, activating your pendant alarm will alert our professional Response Team. They will then arrange for your emergency contacts to attend your property.

For additional reassurance, why not consider our fall detector plan.

To find out more about Lifeline24’s personal alarms, check out this detailed guide. If you have any questions, please call 0800 999 0400 to speak to our friendly customer service team. Alternatively, you can contact us using our simple form.

Finally, be sure to read through our blog for more helpful and interesting content.

 

Have you seen any phishing scams that we haven't mentioned? Let us know down below. The more scams we know about, the easier it is to avoid them.

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