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Online fraud – how to protect yourself

Published: 16 March 2023
Last updated: 31 May 2023

Our latest research shows that around nine in ten people have seen content online they suspected was a scam or a fraud. So, it’s important to think about how to protect yourself from potential risks.

Online fraud takes many forms, but there are some basic tips that could help to protect you from a range of methods.

Wait - is it too good to be true?

When it comes to online fraud, the phrase ‘too good to be true’ is often accurate. Often, fraudsters will tempt you in with goods or offers that seem better than anything you’ll find elsewhere. It’s this temptation of a bargain or a great deal that could lure a potential victim. If you’re offered a deal that sounds too good to be true, that’s your signal to be extra vigilant and double-check that it’s legitimate.

Double-check their identity

Confirm the identity of the person or organisation you’re dealing with – especially if they’ve contacted you out of the blue. Impersonation fraud is when criminals claim to be from legitimate organisations, with the aim of gaining your trust. Take time to find out more about who you’re in contact with – can you confirm whether they represent a certain company or organisation, for example? You can search for information on the Financial Conduct Authority website.

Don’t give out personal information

In some cases, online fraudsters don’t want you to hand over money straight away – they might not be asking you to buy something in an online transaction, for example. Instead, they want you to provide your personal or financial information. If they have access to these details, they’ll be able to use your identity fraudulently, or can use your financial information to get access to your money via your bank or building society account  . Also be careful about what personal information you share in your profiles and posts on social media, as this can also be seen and misused by others.

Don’t trust unknown attachments or links

Sometimes fraudsters can get hold of your personal or financial information even without your knowledge. They can do this by sending you attachments or links via email or text message. These can contain malware, which is malicious software that can allow them to get access to your device. Once they’ve done this, they can also access information and data that can enable them to steal your identity or get to your finances. Don’t click on any attachments or links that you can’t verify – especially if you haven’t been able to confirm the sender’s identity. Also check whether you h  ave anti-virus software installed on your device, as this can protect against some types of malicious software – and if you do, make sure it’s up to date with any updates installed.

Use a protected payment method

If you’re paying for something, use a payment method that offers protection for customers. Don’t transfer money direct to anybody – use a verified money transfer or online payment service, or make a transaction using your bank or building society account, which will require the person you're paying to provide their details. Most major credit card providers protect online purchases, and are obliged to refund you in certain circumstances. If you’re unsure whether a payment or transfer service offers this sort of protection, contact them to find out before you go any further. Action Fraud offers more information on this.

Report it immediately

If you think you’ve fallen victim to some sort of online fraud – or even if you’ve spotted a fraud but not been caught out by it - report it straight away. Tell your bank or building society   (or online payment or transfer service if you’ve used one of those), as they might be able to stop a payment being made if you report it quickly enough. Or, they might be able to recoup some or all of the money that you’ve lost. You can also report it to Action Fraud, which is the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cyber-crime. Also, if you see content online that you think relates to a fraud, report it to the platform so they can investigate and remove it.

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