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 Affordable website maintenance and support for  small businesses and individuals

Free advice!

I’m often asked if something, usually an email or phone call,  is a scam.  As a strong believer in the benefits the internet can deliver, the fraudsters devaluing it with scams and spam make me angry.

The simplest guidance is that if you are suspicious you are right to be.  90% of scams are readily identifiable as such. The other 10% are scams too just a bit less obvious.
Successful scams rely on:

  • Credibility – it’s easy to copy the design of an email from a genuine business, including their logo, web email and postal addresses.  The aim is to get you to click something, one of those addresses or to download an “important” document.  It’s all made harder by the fact that genuine businesses do exactly the same.
  • Temptation – an offer to provide something at an unusually competitive price (or free). 
  • Offers to do the impossible – “We can get you onto the first page of Google search results” even at significant cost and effort nobody can deliver that. If it looks too good to be true it’s a scam.
  • Urgency –  Only 3 left at this price; Offer closes in 30 minutes; On-screen count-down timer until end of sale price offer
  • Validation – 5 sold in the last hour; A customer in [your town] has just bought…; Endorsed by [celebrity name]; Rated First by [well known consumer review source]; Winner of [possibly fictitous award by prestigious sounding organisation] 
  • Fear – some confidential data will be made public, your bank account has been hacked…

Be on your guard:

  • If you recieve a communication of any kind from someone you don’t know and who you’ve not asked to contact you.
  • If there is any urgency to their request.
  • If there’s any payment involved, however small.
  • If an email has a button to press or an attachment to open don’t unless you are 100% certain of the sender, you are expecting the email and it is personalised.  Even then, if you have any concern whatsoever,  check back with the supposed sender.
  • Even if an email appears to come from a known contact, if it’s unexpected and includes a payment request (especially involving urgency), a link to click, an attachment to open, a phone number to call it’s far better to check than to be scammed.
  • If an email is advising you of a change of email, phone or web address, that could be the start of the process to steer you into a scam.
  • If you are asked to share any confidential information about yourself or anyone else.
  • If  you are asked to grant access to your PC or mobile phone.
  • If you are asked to look at “log files” on your PC (these record common routine minor errors, the caller tells you the errors indicate a serious problem, this is a pretext to get you to download malware or to give them access to your PC).  
  • Threats to share your confidential data with friends, family, employers, HMRC, the Police unless you pay a fee.
  • If an offer seems too good to be true – it is!
  • “Boiling a frog” – it’s commonly stated (please don’t try this!) that if you immerse a frog in cold water and gradually heat it up, the frog won’t jump out but will end up being boiled alive, whereas if you dropped it into hot water it would immediately try to escape. There is an analogy with how many successful scams work (including but not only, romance scams). A trivial contact gradually develops into some kind of trust-relationship, the alarm bells should start ringing when that trust is used to request that you make a small financial transaction on behalf of the other party.  It will escalate.

The advent of Artificial Intelligence allied to the highly sophisticated skills of the crooks scams are becoming daily more convincing.  Given the many thousands of pounds a successful scam can deliver to the fraudsters there’s no wonder they are prepared to go to such lengths. Soon the scams will feature AI generated moving images of friends or family speaking using AI generated copies of their voices. Photos and segments of speech posted on social media provide the source material for the AI systems to “learn” from.

Some checks you can make:

  • There are websites that deal with common scams. A Google search for a short phrase from a suspicious email may find reports of it being used in scams.
  • Contact any other party apparently involved but by using a different channel of communication (e.g. if you received a call on  mobile, check using land-line or  WhatsApp). Do not rely on any contact details or instructions in the original communication.
  • Use something to verify that a friend, family member or colleague you are communicating with is not being impersonated. In conversation something like “do you remember…”. That could be a genuine shared memory or a fake question “Do you remember our trip to Antarctica” that will deliver genuine surprise from the legitimate contact. 
  • Have an agreed “safe word” amongst your close family.

Still not sure if someone’s trying to scam you? Ask us to check it out.