Scams are becoming more sophisticated all the time and if your mind is on other concerns it’s easy to act in the moment. Many fraud campaigns rely on the victim feeling pressured, frightened or shocked to distract them from their usual rational thought processes which might otherwise prevent them from acting before thinking. If you receive an email or text claiming you’re being investigated, the shock of it means you’re less likely to think twice about clicking on the link.
However, there are plenty of ways to stay safe online and keep your money and your personal information right where it should be.
Update your passwords
We always face this conundrum when setting passwords: it’s got to be memorable enough that we won’t forget it and have to reset our password every single time we log in, but obscure enough that it couldn’t be easily guessed.
Most websites now ask for passwords to contain a minimum of 8-10 characters, including at least one uppercase, at least one number, and a punctuation mark. But we’re afraid Smith2009! isn’t going to cut it. If your surname is Smith and you’ve spoken about your 11-year-old daughter on social media, it’s a guessable password.
Here are a couple of memorable yet hard-to-guess methods of setting passwords which we’ve been recommended by IT managers and have reliably used over the years:
- Pick a line from your favourite song. Use the first letter of every word in that line, plus a random number and punctuation mark. For example, a line from Bohemian Rhapsody as a password might be: Sswydtf9! This creates a password that looks like a nonsense, random string of letters, but one that you’ll recall with ease. Plus, you get to sing the line in your head every time you enter your password, which is a nice bonus.
- Your childhood phone number, the postcode of your first house, or the number plate of your first car (but strictly not your current ones!). Everybody seems to remember theirs, and it’s personal enough that a stranger on the internet couldn’t figure it out.
Never click on links in email communications claiming to be from your bank
If your bank contacts you via email – which many do regularly and legitimately – they will rarely ask you to follow a link to their site. If an action needs to be taken on your account, the email will usually ask you to log in to your account or call them, not to click through a link.
When you receive any communications from your bank that require you to check your account, open a new tab and go to the login page yourself. Don’t go via a link in an email. Where possible avoid going via a search engine. The safest bet is to access your login page via typing the address in directly, or using a saved bookmark link.
Look out for scams claiming to be from HMRC, Royal Mail or any other delivery service
It’s very easy these days to dress up an email – and even a sender address – to look convincing at a glance. However, it’s always worth digging and checking before clicking on links from any emails you’re not expecting. They could be what’s known as a ‘phishing scam’, which is a fraudulent attempt to obtain your sensitive data such as usernames, passwords or credit card information.
Common scams that go around regularly are:
- Emails addressed from Royal Mail. These claim that you have a package due to be delivered to you, but that you need to pay fees or confirm details before it can be delivered, with a link to supposedly correct it.
- An email which looks like it comes from HMRC. These usually state that you are eligible for a tax refund and requesting your bank details to complete the transfer.
Royal Mail doesn’t communicate in this way for packages due to be delivered to you (why would they have your email address?), and HMRC would never contact you in this way about a potential refund. The head of e-crime at Mimecast says, “Do not respond to any electronic communication in relation to monies via email. And certainly do not click on any links in any related message.”
And, finally, one way to stay safe offline too:
Don’t advertise your large purchases, gifts, or location to thieves
Have you ever seen Home Alone? Thieves are opportunists. If it’s obvious you’re away for an extended period or that you’ve got brand new expensive goods in your home (that huge Samsung TV box sitting out on the curb for recycling is a bit of a giveaway) you inadvertently make yourself a prime target.
Yes, it’s an effort to break down boxes properly or to take oversized ones to the tip instead of leaving it out for collection, but at least you won’t be providing potential thieves with a nice kerbside catalogue of the new contents of your home.
Hopefully you have learned a thing or two about staying safe online. We would encourage you to pass on this information, or share this article with your friends and family, so that they can stay safe and secure too.