Online scams: protecting yourself and your finances this summer

Online scams have increased with many households increasing their internet 'footprint'. Charlie Shakeshaft outlines preventative measures.

 Online scams: protecting yourself and your finances this summer

Make sure to protect yourself from the rise in online scams and financial fraud.

The rise and sheer volume of sophisticated online scams has increased the risk of people being exposed to fraudulent activity. The latest research from Citizens Advice estimates that a staggering 36 million UK adults were targeted by scammers in the first six months of 2021.

Part of the reason why more people are finding themselves exposed to fraudulent threats has to do with their growing digital profiles, confidence and “footprint”. Lockdown restrictions meant that consumers had no choice but to rely on online communication and digital tools as a means of continuing to accomplish their day-to-day activities. For some, this transition has proved challenging and left them vulnerable to having their data compromised.

According to Age UK, there has been an increase in the number of people aged 75 and over who are using the internet for shopping and managing their finances.  While this enabled them to continue living with some semblance of normality, it also meant that there was a large, relatively inexperienced cohort of new internet users, most of whom lacked knowledge of the basics of personal data protection and were unable to identify early warning signs of fraudulent activities. Many of them are just too trusting of others online.

We at IPS recently commissioned a YouGov survey to uncover just how online scams are affecting us all, as well as what preventative measures people are taking to secure their digital footprint. The findings revealed that while the majority of Brits are aware of online scams, they are not putting in place the necessary defences to protect themselves.

Presented with a collection of common security concerns, just over a third (34%) of those aged over 55 chose scams as the number one threat that makes them feel most vulnerable. For those aged between 18-24, a fifth (21%) say that online security is their top fear – beating other security worries like personal (25%), home (18%) and personal property (12%).

The National Crime Agency and Action Fraud estimates billions of pounds are being lost to scammers by individual victims each year. Yet, perhaps the most concerning stat to be uncovered from our studies is the fact that 54% of British people admit they spend nothing at all to protect their personal information online.

Herein lies the problem. People are simply not taking action to protect themselves online. As scams become more ubiquitous and sophisticated, there is a real risk that more Brits will find themselves becoming victims in the coming months if this does not change.

Scammers are becoming more sophisticated

Scammers are constantly changing their tactics. Whereas in the past, it would be simple enough to identify a fraudulent email through an audit of the links and the sender’s address, scammers are targeting vulnerable individuals and manipulating their trust through different communication channels.

Social engineering attacks are on the rise. Using software that enables them to convincingly impersonate trusted officials from legitimate businesses and organisations, scammers are able to effectively win the trust of their victims. What makes social engineering scams difficult to counter is the fact that many of them are led and managed by people, in organised gangs, instead of technology bots. This means tactics can readily change based on the behaviour and responses of their victims.

These types of attacks are commonly used as a way of stealing (or ‘harvesting’ as it is chillingly now known) people’s personal information and selling this on the dark web. Scammers can then buy this information to create fake accounts for phishing, vishing and smishing attacks – all of which they can turn into criminal revenue.

At the moment, we estimate there are to be over 10 billion personal online account details currently available to buy on the dark web. To find it out whether your details are already available for sale, free online tools such as the data breach checker can be used to see whether your email – and associated data – is currently for sale on the dark web.

Scammers are also smart when it comes to the hot topics they use to lure their potential victims. Since the beginning of 2021, awareness of interest and research into cryptocurrencies has again been growing. Capitalising on this interest spike in internet searches, cryptocurrency scams are multiplying. These range from fake brokers offering to facilitate a cryptocurrency trade to fake coin giveaways.

NatWest has reported a significant rise in the number of scams around the major cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum and Dogecoin. One of the most common scam tactics is the creation and promotion of fake celebrity endorsements of coins on social media, with malicious links to fake websites.

Stop. Check. Protect.

To ensure you are protected from scammers this summer, it is advisable to invest in online tools which can act as the first line of defence against fraudsters. Knowing which tools to consider first requires an audit of your online profile. Ask yourself about the security of your digital profile and where your current vulnerabilities might be.  What protection do you have in place, if any?

There are free tools available which can undertake this audit. By asking you a series of questions about your online behaviour and habits, these tools can then identify which areas need urgent attention. For example, IPS recently launched StopScamScore – a uniquely personalised audit and recommendation tool offering bespoke advice.

Ultimately, it is time for people to take their online security seriously and be pro-active rather than sitting targets. Online scammers will continue to change their tactics and come up with new ways of exploiting people’s vulnerabilities. While there are practical steps that can be taken, I recommend following a simple process – stop, check, protect.

Never commit to anything if you are asked to do something straight away. If someone is pushing for information, ask yourself: why the urgency? Often, those pushing for your personal details are likely to be scammers. Follow this by asking for a second opinion. Consult a friend or family member and give them an overview of your situation to sense-check your logic. Online forums and community groups are also helpful in questioning and reporting scams. Finally, make sure practical tools are in place to protect yourself. This could include using two-factor authentication, call blockers or password managers.

Actioning the above strategy and behavioural change will ensure you are better placed to protect yourself from online scammers and reduces the chances of your personal and financial information being targeted.

Related reading:

How to spot a financial scam and thwart the criminals

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