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How to spot typical online scams

Online theft costs around $1 trillion (£600 billion) a year. A majority of these crimes are carried out by large, well-organised criminal gangs who trick people into parting with personal information such as bank account details. Here are some of the most common online scams, and tips on how to avoid them.


  • Nigerian email scam - This scam is reportedly Nigeria's third largest industry, bringing up to $1 million a day to fraudsters. You receive an emotional email from someone in Nigeria asking for help to get out of the country. In return they will pay you large sums of money. However, they first ask for your bank details to pay for legal fees and transaction costs. In the end you lose a lot of money and get nothing in return.Tips: the best thing to do with these emails is to delete them. Never send your bank details to someone who contacts you out of the blue.


  • Lottery scam - An email arrives in your inbox with news that you've won a large amount of money. The catch is that you have to pay a 'processing fee' before you can collect the money, which can be thousands of pounds. If you pay it, you will never get anything out of it.Tips: real lotteries don't ask for processing fees. Check with Consumer Direct if the lottery is legitimate.


  • Phishing emails - This is one of the most common online scams. You receive an authentic-looking email from a financial institution informing you there has been an 'unauthorised transaction on your account, or that they couldn't 'verify your information'. It asks you to click on a link in the email and enter your personal information. You have in fact been taken to a bogus website, where your information intercepted by criminals.Tips: if in doubt, phone the financial institution to verify the email. Remember that all secure websites should start with https://, so run your mouse over the link in the email to see if it's legitimate.


  • Disaster relief scams - In the wake of a natural disaster you might receive emails soliciting donations from charities. These are in fact fake charity appeals that send victims to fake websites to enter credit card or bank details.Tips: charities rarely ask for money and bank details by email. It's best to go contact the charities directly by phone, or visit their website. Check with the Charity Commission to ensure the organisation is real.


  • Fake parking tickets - People in the US have been conned into downloading malicious software from a website address printed on fake parking tickets. Tip: do not download any software before checking it out properly.




The lesson to take away from this is to never provide your personal information or bank details up front, especially to a person or company that contacts you out of the blue. If in doubt contact the company directly by phone to verify the information you received. If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.


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