Online Scams & How To Spot Them

In this post I’m going to be going through some of the most common ones and giving you an idea of how you can spot them, so that you don’t fall victim and end up losing out.

Phishing emails

This is scam you are most likely to come into contact with. These are usually sent to gain personal information such as passwords, bank details, credit card information for the purpose of identity theft. They are usually disguised as emails from genuine companies with a link to a website to ‘update your personal information’. Most companies will not ask you to update your information through email; they will do so when you login to their actual site.

How do I spot them?

  • The from address: the name may look like the company that it claims to be from but the actual email address will be strange.
  • The greeting: scammers are getting better at including names in emails however not all of them do, it will just say ‘Hi’, ‘Hello’ ‘Good morning/evening’ if the email was genuinely from the company they will have your name and so will address you directly.
  • If the email directly asks you to update/ re-enter your bank details or personal information, it is very likely that it is a scam as genuine, reputable companies will not ask you to do this over email.
  • The presentation: Are words spelt correctly? Is the grammar correct? Is it set out properly? If the email looks bad it probably is.
  • Another indicator is the branding on the email i.e. the logo, contact details, links. The logo may be low quality and you could check on the company’s actual website to compare
  • Legitimate links: DO NOT click on the links directly from the email! if it is from a big company go directly onto their website and compare the URL. If the link on the email is to log in to your account to see a message, open up a new tab and go directly to the website and login to see if the message is actually there.

Below is a screenshot of an email I have received recently. They addressed me by my email address (which is what I have covered) but you can also see some of the telltale signs that I’ve listed above.

HMRC fake email

If you are still unsure, contact the company that the email claims to be from and ask them. They will be able to tell you if they have sent the email. On most email accounts you can then report the suspect email as a phishing scam.

Fake PayPal/Credit Card

Now, while this does fall under phishing, I’ve put it separate because I have received quite a few of these recently and so have plenty of other people that I have asked. Fake PayPal emails usually consist of ‘Someone has sent you a gift of £12,000, click here to accept’ or ‘Unusual login activity on your account, login to resolve the issue’.

How do I spot them?

The same criteria applies when spotting these fake emails as in the phishing email section above. However, another big indicator that the email is a scam is if you don’t have a PayPal account or credit card either linked to that email address or at all. PayPal are trying to tackle these emails and so if you do receive one and you feel that it may be a scam, you can forward it to, you can find full instructions on how to do this on the PayPal website by clicking here.

Greeting Card Scam

An email arrives claiming to be from a friend or family member with a link to an e-card. Clicking this link will usually lead to a web page filled with viruses and malicious software that will then infect your device.

How do I spot them?

  • The sender is from someone you do not know
  • Spelling/grammar mistakes
  • Mistakes in the email i.e. it says you sent an e-card to them
  • Strange link (e.g. www.)
  • Strange email address

Lottery winning scam

It is pretty obvious from the name but this is usually in the form of an email claiming that you have won a large sum of money and you need to enter your details in order to receive your prize.

How do I spot them?

The main sign that the email is a scam is if you have not enter any competition/lottery/prize draw that the email claims to be from (you cannot spontaneously win something that you haven’t entered). The points mentioned above on how to spot phishing emails also apply. There are other things specific to lotteries that are red flags:

  • No actual lottery will randomly select email addresses or phone numbers
  • There is usually a strict time limit to claim so that you feel it is more urgent
  • If you have to pay a fee to receive your prize, it is a scam
  • A lottery approaching you, this will not happen! if you win, you will have to go to them to claim your prize.

Scareware scams

These trick recipients into downloading malicious software. Usually with pop-ups that resemble windows system messages saying that there are various problems with your computer and wants you to purchase software to remove/fix them.

How do I spot them?

  • You are being told to download something from a website you haven’t visited before and the website doesn’t look real
  • Your computer/internet connection suddenly becomes slow
  • You can’t access files

Nigerian Scams

Sometimes called Nigerian 419. They offer you a share of a large sum of money in return for helping them transfer it out f their country. It usually comes with an elaborate story and is through email, social media or text message asking for your bank details in order to transfer.

How do I spot them?

  • You will be contacted out of the blue asking for help (usually to transfer money out of a country)
  • There will be a long, elaborate, sad story as to why the money needs to be transferred
  • You will be offered a financial reward, usually a large sum for helping
  • The message will be polite but will be poorly worded
  • They will ask for money via a money transfer service.

Sick Baby Scam 

You’ve probably seen them on social media, an image of a sick child and by liking/sharing/donating that child will receive the life-saving operation/transplant they need.  They sometimes also draw people in by saying that the social media platform will match all donations.

If you are unsure of whether it is a scam of not, don’t like/share/donate and just report the post.

Relationship Scams

The scammer will usually pose as a desirable partner on dating sites but they could make contact through social media and email. They will gain your trust and express strong emotions towards you. After a couple of months they may begin asking for money or ask you to buy and send products that are valuable. They may even say that they is a medical emergency in their family and they need money for surgery.

How do I spot them?

  • After contacting you a couple of times, they will ask you to contact them more privately i.e. email or text.
  • What they tell you is different from their profile e.g. the photo doesn’t match the description, they say that they are well-educated but they cannot speak good English.
  • They start asking for money/valuables

There are quite a few warning signs, there is an article on showing what to look out for, you can check it out here.

If there is one I haven’t mentioned but you would like more information on, let me know in the comments and I’ll be happy to add it to the post for you.


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