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Top digital scams of 2016 and how to avoid them

We reveal some of the most prevalent scams of 2016 and how to avoid falling victim to them.

[Update 10 May 2016] – We have removed our advice on the ‘stock photo payment’ issue – please see below for more details.

With scams getting ever more elaborate the best way to avoid falling foul is to have your wits about you. That’s why we’ve prepared a digital scams overview, detailing the most common tech-related scams of 2016 and how to steer clear of them.

Have you been duped by digital fraud in the past? Let us know about it in the comments section and support our campaign.

Best Buy security software – keep your PC protected online

Microsoft PC support scam

Our customer service centre logs multiple calls and emails every month from subscribers who claim they’ve been contacted by Microsoft. One of the most common ways that scammers find success is by cold-calling would be victims under the pretence that they are support staff in the employ of Microsoft.

They’ll tell you that your computer is somehow vulnerable to exploits, or else already being exploited by hackers, and that they’ll be able to fix the fault for a fee (often hundreds of pounds). The ‘fix’ usually involves remotely logging into your PC, which puts your email and online banking passwords at risk (amongst other things).

It’s rare that we can provide a true, black-and-white answer to this sort of thing, but here it is: Microsoft will never ever call you regarding your computer. If you ever receive a call from someone claiming to represent Microsoft hang up immediately. Staying on the phone to them is nothing more than a waste of time. Under no circumstances should you give out any personal details to the scammer on the other end of the phone.

Netflix payment details re-request

This is a relatively new scam where an email is sent to you – seemingly from Netflix – that asks you to confirm your preferred payment details. The email will have the Netflix logo and look genuine enough, however, if you fill out your credit card information as requested it could leave you falling victim to card fraudsters.

Netflix simply won’t send you an email asking you to confirm your payment details but, if you’re in doubt, a good way to check the source of an email is to take a look at the full address of the email sender. The chances are that an iffy email will have a sender whose name is made out of random numbers and characters rather than an actual name.

Google Maps listing scam

In this scam cold callers will ring businesses pretending to be part of Google Maps and claiming that Google is now charging for company information to be included on the service.

This is of course not true and Google does not charge to include a business’s details on Google Maps. In fact, any seller pretending to be another company could well be guilty of committing a criminal offence – especially if the company is providing false information about the company they are calling on behalf of, omitting information or persistently calling you.

Free iPhone or iPad scam

Sadly, it’s very unlikely that clicking the adverts you see all over the web advertising a free iOS device will result in the delivery of said free iPad to your door. What’s more likely is that clicking these links will direct you to a product auction with the ‘chance to get a cheap iPhone’.

Worse still, there have been reports that these auction sites will automatically place bids on your behalf once you’ve entered your payment details. This means you’re much more likely to get a vastly more expensive iPhone rather than a cheap one.

Fake eBay invoice scam

A common eBay scam sees scammers listing a high-value item, such as a TV, at a rate that’s below the market value. Once they get interest from potential buyers they will de-list the item and wait for those buyers to contact them about its availability.

The trick here is that the scammers will claim to sell the item through eBay and even send eBay-headed invoices. But, despite invoices looking the part, there’s every chance that your cash will actually move to accounts outside of eBay meaning you have no right to claim your cash back if the item is faulty, is the wrong type or fails to turn up at all – with the latter being the most likely outcome.

Users of eBay are actively encouraged to report offers to buy or sell outside of the eBay website because of the potential fraud risk. It runs a money-back guarantee to protect buyers against scams like this, but only on transactions made through its website. However, if you transferred the money using a credit card, you could get your money back through section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. If you used a debit card, you could also be able to reclaim your money using the chargeback scheme.

Make money from home scam

Similar to the scam above, except you may well receive emails offering it as well. Ignore any claim that you can make an exorbitant amount of money working from home. Should you click the link/respond to the email, you’ll be asked for your personal details. These may not include bank details, but it can still be harmful releasing personal data like your name, email and physical address to malicious strangers.

As the old adage goes, if something seems too good to be true, it usually is – this certainly includes money for nothing.

HMRC phishing email

A refund from the taxman is a rare treat indeed, but beware that any email you receive advising of a rebate from HMRC is certain to be a scam – no matter how genuine it looks.

HMRC has confirmed that it will never send notifications of a tax refund or ask you to disclose personal or payment information by email. If you are suspicious of an email purporting to be from HMRC, forward it to its specialist team to investigate at phishing@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk.

Stock photo payment claims

[Update 10 May 2016] – We have removed this advice because there is insufficient hard evidence that this is a scam. You should always seek the relevant rights and permissions and make any necessary payments to use a copyrighted image or photo before publishing it – or any other content that you do not own, or have not taken or created yourself. 

If you are contacted by a company that claims you have infringed copyright, do not ignore it – do what you can to verify the claim and engage with them to establish the best course of action. If you have reason to believe the claim is not legitimate, for example if they are claiming copyright over images you took or created yourself, please report the issue to Action Fraud.

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