Top-Tips for Spotting Online Scams
This month is the Office of Fair Trade’s Scams Awareness Month. According to the OFT at their Consumer Direct site, almost 3 million UK consumers fall victim to Internet, post, email, text and phone, costing in the area of £3.5 billion per year. So, in support of the OFT, I wanted to share some of our top tips to avoid falling victim yourselves.
The first step in helping you to stay scam-free is to recognise the types of scams that are out there. Here are the three most common types that come in email form (which I’m sure some of you have seen before):
- Phishing scams – These are email scams that claim to be from an organisation, like a bank, and they ask you click on a link which takes you to a Website that looks real but is, in fact, fake. When you log in with your account details and password on this fake site, the bad guys gain access to your private information.
- Lottery Scams – These are emails that tell you have won a local or foreign lottery and to get the money you have to pay processing fees and send personal details.
- Advance fee or fund transfer schemes – These are also called Nigerian ‘419’ scams where you receive an email, often times from someone claiming to be in Africa or Asia, and claiming that they have access to huge sums of cash but need your help getting it out of the country. In this scam, the criminal offers to send you a cashier’s cheque for £100.000 and you send him back a personal cheque for £90.000 and keep the difference. The scam is, of course, that the initial cheque is bogus but may take several weeks to clear, by which point the criminal is long gone with your money.
You know what? Your bank will NEVER ask you for a password in an email, you have NOT won the lottery and all you end up with for those huge sums is a ZERO balance in your bank account. I’ve been collaborating with our Spam Czar, Mark, and we’ve come up with these tips to help you avoid the scammers:
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is – If someone stopped you on the pavements and said he needed your help smuggling millions of pounds out of the country, you’d be pretty suspicious. We recommend the same type of skepticism when you’re online. If you didn’t enter that Sweepstakes or Lottery, there’s no way that you won. Be extra suspicious if someone offers to send you money up front — as honest as I’m sure you are, that wealthy prince who offers to buy your iPod for 10 times its value isn’t as gullible as he seems.
- Check the FROM line – One big giveaway is when a seemingly official message originates from a generic e-mail address. If your bank has something to say to you, it won’t come from ‘firstname.lastname@example.org,’ and when the Inland Revenue discovers an tax error in your favor, they won’t write to you from a personal account like ‘email@example.com’ Check the return address and make sure it looks legit (including looking for spelling errors!)
- Beware if someone requests personal information or any payment over e-mail – Yahoo! and other respected Internet companies will never request your username or password over e-mail, and neither will your bank, credit card company, or insurance agency. If a message is asking you to e-mail your sensitive information, that’s an immediate red flag. Likewise, legitimate companies will not request money up front for you to claim a prize you’ve won.
For good measure I’m including some of the choicest scam emails we’ve seen in the recent past. You can see the full-size version by clicking the thumbnail:
By arming with yourselves with the knowledge of what scams are out there and how to avoid them, you’ll be much safer online. As always, if you do see one of these scams, please do your part and click the “Spam” button inside Yahoo! Mail – it’s the single strongest way to let us know so that we can block these terrible messages. Here in the UK, you may also report the message to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andrew – Yahoo! Mail Team