Are you safe from online scams?

In the wake of the HMRC phishing attacks, it is vital to understand how to be stay safe online. Felicity King-Evans looks at the steps you can take to keep online fraudsters at bay...

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Felicity King-Evans: “Hello, welcome to RevenueandCustomsCashback.CON, a convincing website promising you one of those tax rebates you’ve been reading about.

Here, a realistic but fake HMRC website will collect information about your credit cards and bank account, your mother’s maiden name, and some other information you don’t want to share, and pass it straight along to the criminal who built the site!”

We’re all a lot more careful online these days and most of us know that we haven’t won the Nigerian lottery and that no one really wants to transfer millions of dollars into our account.

But it’s still very possible to be caught out – especially when there’s a big financial story like the tax errors just now. People want to know if they’re receiving a rebate or owe more money, so they’re particularly susceptible to fraudulent emails.

So what do you need to know to stay safe online?

The tax man will not contact you by email or phone, they will only write to you about your rebate or demand status.

Emails should be ignored and forwarded to phishing@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk. It’s best not to open these emails in case they contain viruses and, whatever you do, don’t click on any links in these emails.

And the same goes for emails purporting to be from your bank. But avoiding phishing attacks is just one aspect of staying safe online.

Be careful about providing any personal information like your address or phone number online, and use a nickname rather than your real identity.

Encourage your children to use moderated, child-friendly chat rooms and to be very careful if they decide to meet someone from the internet – urge them to discuss it with you first and take an adult with them.

Christmas is coming and many of us are turning to the web for convenience and bargains. But it can be hard to keep safety in mind at all times, especially if you’re chasing down whatever weird and wonderful toy is this year’s Christmas bestseller.

Here are some tips for safer shopping:

Buy from reputable companies or, if you’re shopping on an auction site, only buy from recommended sellers.

Check the retailer has a physical address and phone number if you need to contact them.

Look for a padlock symbol in the bottom right of the browser window, and check the web address begins with https as these both indicate a secure page.

Don’t be fooled by padlock images on the actual site, it’s very easy for a fraudster to add one.

Unfortunately, if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Some websites want you to register before you can use them, and that’s fine. However, never give up really personal information and find out what the company plans to use the details for first.

You don’t want to be buried in spam and junk mail because your information was sold without you realising.

As long as you’re careful, shopping online is safe, easy and can help you save money by finding bargains.

But you have a responsibility to take steps to keep your own PC virus free. Installing decent anti-virus software and protecting yourself with a firewall isn’t just about convenience.

While most banks and building societies will reimburse you if your account is hacked, you do need to show that you’ve taken steps to protect yourself.

On top of that, a protected PC also means your computer can’t be hacked and pester your friends and family with spam and viruses.

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