The UK Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) estimated that online fraud cost internet users £3.5bn in 2010.
Fraudsters are using increasingly sophisticated methods, such as fake websites, e-mails asking for personal details, and even opportunist phone calls to victims claiming to be from a reputable computer support helpline warning of risks if remote access is not provided (and, in some instances, money not transferred) immediately.
How can it be avoided? There are steps that you can take:
- Never give your personal details (date of birth, address, or bank, credit or debit card details) to someone you don’t know.
- If someone calls claiming to be internet or computer support, remember that legitimate support businesses will not call you unless you have a contract with them.
- If you do have a support contract and someone calls you, ask them to quote your account number and say that you will call them back on the phone number you have in your records.
- Remember the security questions that you get asked if you call your bank or even doctor’s surgery – ask appropriate questions before giving any information to anyone who calls you. Take a number to call them back so you can go online and Google them, not only to find out if they seem legitimate, but also to see what other people say about them; internet users are extremely loud when things go wrong, so use the information they post.
- Don’t give remote access to your computer to anyone you do not know.
- Don’t put any information on the internet that you use for any passwords (for example, don’t put your full date of birth or middle name on your Facebook profile).
- Your bank will never e-mail you asking for personal information or account details; if you receive one, delete it and report it to your bank.
- If someone calls out of the blue claiming to know that your computer is slower than it was and offers help, don’t believe them. IT performance usually deteriorates and slows over time.
- Make sure you have anti-virus software and firewalls active on your computer.
- Check your bank and credit card statements regularly. If you don’t recognise a transaction, contact your bank or credit card company straight away.
- Pay online with a credit card where possible – it’s easier to cancel a transaction if, for example, you never receive your goods. You generally get the money back and the credit card company will claim against the fraudster.
- If you doubt the legitimacy of a website, e-mail or phone call, call your local Trading Standards or the Office of Fair Trading. If they doubt someone’s legitimacy, go along with their advice.
The above may seem sensible enough – the overarching theme is to take care and use common sense. However, remember that not everyone will be as computer-sophisticated as you – warn your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and anyone else you think might be vulnerable before it’s too late.
Paul Gershlick (pictured) is a partner and Simon Weinberg is a solicitor in the TMT team at Matthew Arnold & Baldwin LLP.
This was first published in December 2011