5 online scams – and how to avoid them

Cybersecurity, News

Research shows that almost three in four UK adults have fallen victim to scams¹. With crime rates rising alongside the cost of living crisis², the experts at Independent Advisor VPN share how to spot, and avoid, online scams.

James Milin-Ashmore at Independent Advisor VPN comments: “It’s clear to see that the cost of living crisis has driven a rise in crimes such as theft and fraud. Some people turn to these crimes as a way to make ends meet whilst others prey on the vulnerability of those struggling with the current cost of living. With victims losing an average of £1,730 per scam¹, it’s important to understand how to spot, and avoid, them.” 

Types of scams and how to avoid them:

Investment scams 

Investment scams are fraudulent schemes that promise a high return on any outlay. These investments often come with little or no risk and may seem too good to be true. They are especially popular during times of financial vulnerability, with the scheme marketed as a good way to make money quickly when, in reality, the victim is investing in a stock that either does not exist or has no real value.

When considering investing, make sure to thoroughly research the company and only use official platforms. Remember, it’s unlikely you’ll see incredible gains in a short period of time, and it’s not difficult for hackers to clone a specific website or service. 

Romance scams 

With the rise in dating apps and connecting with people online, there has also been an increase in romance fraud. This type of fraud costs the average victim £11,500³ and often involves the scammer creating a fake online dating profile. Once they gain the trust of their victim they divulge fake stories of financial hardship, illness or investments before eventually asking them for money.

The main rule of thumb is that you should not send money to people you meet on the Internet, especially to someone you have never met in person. Trust your instincts, if you feel even slightly uncomfortable or find the request suspicious, do not send any money and report the user to the platform. If in doubt, ask a friend or family member for impartial advice. 

Overpayment / Tax rebate scams 

These scams often involve a text or email informing the victim that they have made an overpayment or are due a tax rebate. These messages will contain a link to click on to claim back your money. It’s important to remember that you will be informed of any HMRC tax rebate or overpayment via an official letter, and banks will never ask you to share your payment details.

If you are unsure whether a rebate is real, contact HMRC through official platforms, where they should be able to advise you. It’s always tempting to assume that these messages are legitimate, but scammers are preying on desperate users while aiming to empty their bank accounts in the process. Fake sites tend to copy the look and design of the genuine HMRC site, and referrals from the public of suspicious contact are up 14% compared to the previous tax year. As such, these scams are growing increasingly prevalent. 

Fake charities 

Scammers often exploit people’s generosity in times of crisis by creating fake charity websites or collection pages, usually accompanied by a made-up story of hardship. Any money collected will be pocketed by the scammer instead of being used to help somebody.When donating money to a charity, make sure to check their registered charity number, this will help clarify whether it is a scam or not. The same goes for social media sites, which are often inundated with users looking for high-end goods. 

Get-rich-quick schemes 

Scammers are likely to entice people with get-rich-quick schemes during times of financial hardship. The scheme will market itself as a way to earn money quickly but will actually involve hefty upfront costs before you begin to ‘earn’ said money. These scams are usually a way for scammers to have people willingly hand them money so make sure to research any sort of job or opportunity that is advertised in this way. 

James continues: “Installing a VPN can help you avoid being scammed by blocking suspicious websites and warning you about potential threats, as well as helping to prevent identity and credit card fraud by encrypting any transactions and hiding your IP address. This ensures that hackers and scammers cannot trace purchases back to you.  It is also important to install malware removal software that can detect, prevent and remove infections such as worms, viruses and trojans.”

“Most importantly, it’s smart to be aware of the latest common scams, while aiming to change your behaviour accordingly. Don’t click on random links, avoid unsolicited online messages, and use your common sense if someone you don’t know is asking you to hand over money or your personal information.’

Chris Price
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