Online fraud has reached epidemic proportions with the five most common scams in the UK totalling 130,202 cases in 2017, more than the populations of towns such as Watford (125,707) or Exeter (124,610).
As part of its Beat the Scammers campaign, TalkTalk – which has had security failings of its own in the past, paying a record fine of £400,000 for security failings that led to the company being hacked in October 2015 – has worked with Action Fraud to identify the most common online scams.
Here are TalkTalk’s top five scams in the UK last year and how to beat them:
1. Online shopping and auctions – 66,874 cases
Shopping and online auction fraud is where a product bought on an internet auction site is either misrepresented online or not delivered. Scammers will accept an electronic payment, but the goods will not arrive, and the sites are found to be bogus and untraceable.
Scam prevention tip: Ask yourself: – is the deal too good to be true? The chances are that if it sounds too good to be true – it probably is. Look at online reviews across several sources, such as Trustpilot, Feefo or Sitejabber, which aggregate customer reviews. This will stop you being duped by fake reviews that may feature on their own site.
2. Computer software service fraud – 45,731 cases
Computer software service fraud consists of cold calls from bogus ‘tech support’ teams claiming the victim’s computer has a bug. The scammer will ask to remotely access the victim’s computer to fix it, at a charge, or simply ask for credit card information to ‘validate the software’. The caller will claim to have fixed a bug that didn’t exist, while charging the victim a fee. Fraudsters often use the names of well-known companies to commit their crime, as it makes their communication seem more legitimate.
Scam prevention tip: Most reputable firms will not ask for payment when calling you. When in doubt – hang up and call back on the customer service number provided on the company’s website.
3. Email/social media hacks – 9,743 cases
Email or social media hacks are when a scammer gains unpermitted access to email or social media accounts. A common tactic is to contact a family member or friend via a victim’s email or social media account and ask to borrow money and send it to an account that belongs to the scammer.
Scam prevention tip: The most important step to keep email or social media accounts secure is to use strong passwords – and not the same password across all accounts.
To create a strong password, simply choose three random words. Numbers, symbols and combinations of upper and lower case can be used to increase the strength. Make sure you can remember it though!
4. Personal computer hacks – 6,004 cases
A personal computer hack is where a scammer gains access to a home computer connected to the internet. This access often comes from phishing emails, directing users to enter personal information at a fake website. Once fraudsters have gained access, they will look to access online banking or generally modify the computer in a way that makes it difficult for the owner to use.
Scam prevention tip: Sadly, common sense alone won’t protect your computer from hackers. You can look out for telltale signs phishing emails with things as simple as poor grammar, but you will also need to ensure your computer is kept updated, a good anti-virus software is installed, and you use the latest version of your web browser
5. Extortion – 1,850 cases
Extortion, in this instance, is when a scammer gains access to private content, such as photographs, and demands money to be paid immediately or it will be sent to family and friends or made public.
Scam prevention tip: The first step to avoid such a situation is not send anyone content you wouldn’t want to be shared further, even if you think you know the person really well. Otherwise, keep your computer secure with strong passwords and good anti-virus software.
According to combine data from Action Fraud, UK Finance and CIfas, the 10 police force areas targeted most with these scams last year were:
London Metropolitan – 20,094
West Mercia – 9,043
Thames Valley – 5,090
Greater Manchester – 5,058
Devon & Cornwall – 4,448
Hampshire – 4,105
Kent – 4,008
West Midlands – 3,964
Essex – 3,956
West Yorkshire – 3,894
Commenting on the initiative, Donna Moore, head of scam prevention at TalkTalk says: “Scams are becoming increasingly sophisticated crimes that affect the whole country on an unprecedented scale.
“As an internet service provider, we feel it is our responsibility to ensure that the public are armed with the knowledge that may help them identify a scam and therefore not fall victim themselves.”