As part of European Cyber Security Month, we thought we’d share what we know about scammers and pass on some simple advice about how you can avoid being scammed.
Scamming is nothing new!
Con artists been around since the 1820s, using the technology and tools of their time to convince you to part with your cash or personal details.
Victor Lustig (1890-1947) – famous for selling the Eiffel tower not just once but twice! – used early 20th century mechanical technology to baffle his victims. He claimed to have invented a machine that would print money and would demonstrate it to his victims, while lamenting that it could only print one $100 bill every 6 hours. The victim, predicting huge profits, typically paid $20,000-$30,000 for the machine only to discover that it would print just 2 more bills (which of course Victor had pre-loaded) by which time Viktor was long gone.
But nowadays we know better, don’t we?
To us, Viktor’s Money-Making Machine might seem like an obvious scam, but it isn’t so very different from some of the ‘bit-coin-mining’ schemes being peddled today.
The most common way for scammers to contact you is by email – something called phishing. But beware of any unsolicited message, whether it’s delivered by email, text, instant message, in the post, or by phone.
And scammers employ just a few basic tactics to get you hooked
- They offer something that’s too good to be true! The dream job, the perfect flat, or that bursary award.
- They don’t leave you time to think it through. You need to act quickly, to check if it’s genuine.
- They are very convincing. They will have answers to all your questions.
Some common scams
The ‘You are a winner!’ email.
If you didn’t buy a lottery ticket or enter the competition, you can’t have won it! And if you did, make sure you check the official website or channels – don’t trust any details in the message itself.
The Tech Support call.
They’ll tell you ‘your broadband could be faster’ or ‘your computer has a virus’, then ask you to go to website so that they can access your computer. Of course, once they have access, they can steal any information you have on it.
The Online Dating fraud.
Many ideal ‘potential partners’ are fake and, after gaining your confidence, will request money for ‘the air fare to meet you’, or for ‘emergency medical treatment’.
The Social Media advert.
That great apartment holiday in Ibiza? It probably doesn’t exist. Or if it does, it’s being sold to multiple people.
The Ticket scam.
You’ve seen tickets advertised for that sold out gig. Beware scammers who don’t actually have tickets, or who are selling counterfeits.
The perfect property.
That flat, right on campus? Scammers often advertise and even show flats with amazingly low rents and demand a ‘deposit’ to keep it for you. You won’t get the flat, and you’ll never see your money again!
The bank scam.
A phone call, text or email from your bank asking for your full password or PIN? Banks will never do this, nor will they ever ask you to transfer money to another account to ‘keep it safe’.
The delivery scam.
Any courier who wants additional payment on delivery and insists it can only be taken by card is a fraudster. They’ll use a fake card reader to store your card details and PIN, then empty your bank account just minutes later.
What can we do to avoid being scammed?
These examples show not just the huge variety of tricks scammers use, but also the lengths they will go to in order to get at your money or identity. But there are some simple steps you can take to avoid being scammed:
- Stop! Don’t act hastily – that’s what the scammer wants you to do.
- Who are you really dealing with?
- It’s easy for scammers to fake ‘From’ addresses in emails, or the number a phone call or text is from.
- Is it too good to be true?
- You can’t win a competition you didn’t enter! Think before you act.
- What could you lose by responding?
- To phone your bank, always call the number on the back of your bank card rather than the number in a text message or email.
- Who are you really dealing with?
- Connect. Only if you’re sure the communication is genuine, and if you’re comfortable with what you might lose if the communication is a scam, go ahead – with caution.
Remember scammers are very convincing, and they often manage to strike just at the opportune time. So, everyone will be caught out at some point.
When you do get caught out, don’t be embarrassed. Where there has been a crime (e.g. you’ve lost money), report it to the Police. See the Action Fraud website at
If you’ve given away login credentials or bank details, change your passwords and stop payment cards immediately. Tell the organisations involved, e.g. your bank or the University.
You’ll find additional advice on IT Security in Toolkit at www.abdn.ac.uk/toolkit/skills/it-security/.