Common scams and how to avoid them

The world is full of nasty people trying to pull one over on you and the internet is no exception, and to be quite honest, probably the worst place of all being a ripe playground of unsuspecting targets.

You can protect yourself from a lot of these scams with just a little bit of a knowledge and awareness to be able to spot when things are a bit “phishy.”

Phishing

Sorry for the pun, phishing is probably the biggest scam out there. You receive emails from countless companies a day, most of them legitimate, maybe you accidently signed up for a newsletter when you bought that top from the Debenhams website or still get pestered daily with offers from T-reds after buying those shoes 3 years ago.

But there are people who email you pretending to be companies you’ve purchased from or could be interested in, trying to get hold of your personal information to steal money from you.

They’re getting increasingly cleverer and far more refined. In the early days it was blatantly obvious.

The emails would have looked nothing like the company branding, be from completely random email addresses, and quite often have been poorly spelt as they invariably were from overseas where English wasn’t their first language.

These days they’re getting very clever, buying web addresses very similar to the real ones that at a glance you wouldn’t spot and matching the business aesthetics precisely.

Three top tips to protect yourself from this:

  1. NEVER click a link embedded in an email – unless it’s a recipient you trust 100% and have had several correspondences with. Links can install viruses and key loggers that will report your personal information to its author. Or take you to a fake site which looks like the official site related to the email but built solely to farm your information.
  2. Check the email address it’s come from – if you’re at all unsure to the legitimacy of an email address, google it. Most dodgy emails will be reported to tech support forums frequently and if they’re innocent you’ll find their websites.
  3. NEVER provide any personal information via email unless previously requested elsewhere. A lot of websites will ask you the verify your email by sending you an email to click. This is acceptable as you’re expecting it. But never respond to requests out of the blue.

And final thing about phishing. Your bank will NEVER EVER ask for your personal details via email. 99% of emails appearing to be from a bank will be fake.

Often saying things along the lines of “there’s been unusual activity in your account click here to check your statement”.

Phone Scams

These scams in particular, prey on the vulnerable groups of the old and the young in particular.

You’ll get a phone call from someone pretending to be a tech support person from either a private IT firm such as PC World or BT Openreach, familiar and therefore trusted names, telling you that you have something wrong with your PC and they can help you fix it over the phone.

All lies. Hang up at this point.

There is no way anyone can tell if there is something wrong with your PC unless they’re sat in front of it using it.

All they’re trying to get you to do is go to a website and download their virus to steal your information.

Boobytrapped emails

Emails which look innocent enough but are actually carrying spyware, malware, viruses, key loggers, Trojan viruses and ransomware in attachments or links.

Sometimes embedded into the email message itself. For the most part these emails can be defeated by just deleting them without clicking on the attachments etc. For the rest, that’s what you have firewall software and anti-spyware software for.

I recommend Spybot Search & Destroy for spyware hunting. It’s a good, reliable, free and easy to use bit of software you can schedule to scan your pc regularly and remove any nasties it may find.

If these viruses manage to sneak through, for the most part it’s not too big a deal. Your firewall, spyware and virus scanner software will deal with the majority of it, which you should be running at regular intervals.

I’ve got mine scheduled to run every Tuesday evening, just long enough to go make a cuppa.

Ransomware

Ransomware is another matter. Should you be unlucky enough to get caught by this scam/virus, it often means restoring your PC to factory settings, deleting everything off your computer. It is a growing problem which is affecting more and more businesses as well as individuals.

If you see a suspicious email with a link or attachment on it DO NOT OPEN IT! And never ever ever ever open a .EXE file from a source you dont know.

Ransomware will completely lock your computer down giving you no control over it. You won’t be able to access the web, open programs or anything that could combat it. The only option that will be given is to pay the creator of the ransomware to send the release code.

You can either pay and hope it doesn’t happen again or you can lose everything on that pc and start over.

A rather vicious scenario in which neither side feels like a victory.

Hopefully this article will be of use and help you navigate the wonders of the digital world a little more safely.

Ross Tibbles

Author: Ross Tibbles

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