As the U.K. lockdown continues, I am surprised at how much I’m adjusting to working from home on a daily basis (and maintaining my sanity…so far)! One of the biggest lifestyle changes this has introduced is an accelerated reliance on digital channels, both personally and professionally. What was previously a convenience is now a necessity and it’s reshaping how we interact with other people and within our environment. Online purchases and contactless transactions have become the norm and that shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone, since you shouldn’t be leaving home unless it’s absolutely essential. Fraudsters have taken notice and, in response, there’s a steady wave of cautionary messages around taking care when shopping online or clicking unfamiliar links in text messages and emails. My eternal rule of thumb is this: if you don’t recognise the email address or if it looks suspicious, or if you’ve never corresponded with them, then delete it (it’s crazy how many phishing attempts I receive from “banks” that I have never held an account with, trying to get me to disclose personal information or get me to click on a link). Unfortunately, a family friend was targeted by someone pretending to be a representative from their bank, advising that a fraudster was targeting her account. They convinced our friend to transfer £8,000 of her savings into a suspense account to “protect” it. Luckily, her bank reimbursed the funds, but it could have been so much worse – and it usually is! So how can you stay safe from real life scams?
  • If you receive an email from an unfamiliar address, consider the source. Many scam emails will have seemingly normal email addresses that only mask odd-sounding domains. For example, an email from your “bank” might look legitimate, but if the address doesn’t match (e.g. “[email protected]”), then it’s a scam.
  • Don’t click links in emails or text messages unless you can verify the sender. If you’re not careful, a single errant click can expose your personal information and once it’s compromised, you can’t undo it. Taking that extra time to check could save you a huge amount of time and hassle.
  • If you receive a phone call from someone stating they are from your bank, card issuer or another business and you are unsure whether it is actually them, hang up the phone. In some cases, you can cross-reference the source of the call from a genuine source (e.g. a bank statement, internet webpage, etc.). Then, call them from another device, because fraudsters will keep a phone line open for several minutes in hopes that victims will call back.
  • Don’t get pushed around. Fraudsters will attempt to add pressure by saying they need something to be done within a certain amount of time. This is because people are more likely to make decisions when facing this situation, instead of taking time to ask, “Does this sound right?” (one popular example I’ve heard is the threat of “If you don’t pay this fine now, it will increase or you could face legal action”).
  • Ultimately, the old saying rings true: if it sounds too good to be true….it probably is.
Using common sense to avoid becoming a victim of real-life scams is critical, but it’s not a guaranteed failsafe; even people in the fraud prevention space get fooled sometimes. Fraudsters are smart, ruthless and know how to take advantage of any misstep. Regardless of the lockdown, fraudsters will continue their scams, so stay safe and protect yourself. And if you’re like me and lucky enough to be based in Essex – the Florida of England – remember Baz Luhrmann’s advice: “wear sunscreen.”