How to spot and avoid three common online scams

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You’ve most likely heard of the inheritance scams where a “long lost relative” claims that you are about to come into a large sum of money, in exchange for your account details. While these scams are more well-known and, arguably, easier to spot, scammers are getting increasingly sophisticated.

New Zealanders lost $33 million to online scams and fraud  in 2018 – triple the amount stolen the previous year, according to a Netsafe report released in April 2019. This total is from 13,000 reported instances of online scams and fraud.

To help you know what to look for – and what to do if it does happen to you – Canstar Blue has compiled a guide on three common online scams to watch out for.

1. Phishing email scams

Phishing scams are far from new to the scene when it comes to online scams. But scammers have learned a few tricks of the trade in fooling even the most switched on of internet users. Phishing is when someone tries to get you to hand over personal information, commonly bank account numbers and passwords, so they can impersonate or defraud people. Increasingly, scammers are often adding in branding and logos of legitimate organisations, which can make these scams even harder to spot. Aside from the classics, aka “you have won xxxx sum of money”, phishing scams can use scare tactics and pretend to be a lawyer who will take legal action if you don’t hand over your personal details. Or, a new sneaky scam involves telling people they have had a subscription cancelled, say Netflix, for example, and that the user has to update their bank details.

So, what telltale signs can you look out for to spot a phishing scam? Here are some key pointers from Netsafe.

  • Remember legitimate organisations like banks will never ask you to send them your password.
  • If you’re unsure if an email is from a legitimate organisation, you can contact them to ask. If you do contact them, make sure you go through their official contact channels – don’t use the phone numbers, websites or email addresses included in the email.
  • You can also try an internet search using the names or exact wording of the email to check for any references to a scam – many scams can be identified this way.
  • Be cautious of emails saying you’ve won prizes from competitions that you don’t remember entering.
  • If you’re still unsure if an email is legitimate, you can contact Netsafe for advice.

2. PC Tech support scams

Netsafe says it receives thousands of reports from across New Zealand of people getting cold called by scammers who pretend to offer help with a slow or infected computer. Scammers then use this to try and gain access to your computer and glean your personal information. The PC tech support scam is another classic, but it still catches out some people. Here’s what you can look out for to help identify a PC tech support scam.

So, what can you do if you have been duped into handing over access to your computer? Here are some steps to take, as provided by Netsafe.

  • Turn off your computer and disconnect your device from the internet immediately. You can do this by powering the device off and turning off your WiFi router at the power point. This will stop the scammers from having remote access to your device.
  • Change all your passwords using a different device so the scammers can’t use your account. This includes passwords for your banking, social networking, email and trading accounts like TradeMe, as well as other accounts like TAB, etc. Read Canstar Blue’s earlier guide on how you can remember passwords.
  • Run a full security scan to see if there is any new malware. If the scammers had access to your device, they may have installed malware on it. Malware is a piece of software that can be put on to a device to damage, harm or gain unauthorised access to a computer system. If you think there may be malware on your device, talk to an IT specialist who can confirm if there is and get rid of it for you.

You can use a free online virus-scanner to look for threats on your computers.

  • If you’re still concerned that something may have been loaded onto your device,then disconnect the device from the internet and do not log back on until you have had your hard drive re-formatted and your operating system re-installed.  This requires some specialist technical skill, so you might have to contact a computer hardware specialist. Just remember to backup any essential files first.

3. Fake invoice scams

Fake invoice scams are almost a 2.0 of the “update your details to this fake subscription service”. Fake invoice scams are when someone tries to get an individual or person to pay a fake invoice, such as for a product or service that has never been requested, or for a payment they are expecting to make. Just like in the case of the phishing scam, fake invoice scams will often use some pretty convincing branding and logos to replicate communications from legitimate organisations. These scammers will often target administration or accounts functions of a business. If you work in these departments and receive a large number of invoices, this can make it even harder to spot a fake invoice scam.

Here are some tips on how you can avoid fake invoice scams:

  • Be on the lookout for invoices for goods or services that you didn’t order or a call from someone claiming to be your regular supplier.
  • If you notice a supplier’s usual bank account details have changed, call them to confirm that the invoice is legitimate.
  • Make sure you call the supplier using the phone number you have on file, or look it up on their website or in the phone book. Don’t use the contact details on the invoice you are unsure about, this is likely the scammer’s.
  • If you are making a large payment, double check with the source that you have the correct payment details.
  • Limit the number of people in your business who are authorised to make orders or pay invoices.
  • If the bank account looks like it’s an overseas bank account, or you have any suspicions about the payment details sent to you, investigate further. As the old saying goes, trust your gut.

Now that you know how to spot common online scams, now’s a good time to think about whether your broadband connection is working for you. The good news is, you don’t have to wade your way through any potential fake emails from providers! Canstar Blue rounds up customer satisfaction ratings on providers, to help you choose a product and provider that works for you.

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