Scamwatch: phishing messages

Criminals are targeting Britons with bogus emails and calls...

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Stay one step ahead of the fraudsters with our series of articles giving you the lowdown on the scams they use to trick people out of their hard-earned cash - and how to avoid being taken in by them.

This week, we zone in on so-called phishing scams run by criminals looking to use your personal details to commit fraud.

How does it work?
Phishing scams generally involve bogus emails, instant messages, letters or text messages that are designed to look like legitimate communications from companies and organisations.

They can also involve phone calls from individuals posing as an employee of your bank, for example.

Some phishing emails and messages also include malicious attachments or website links that are designed to infect your computer, tablet or mobile phone with a virus that allows the criminals to monitor your private activity.

According to anti-fraud website Get Safe Online, more than half of people in the UK have been a victim of an online crime, and 15% of people have been victims of hacking attacks on their email accounts.

How can I avoid being caught out?
The aim of phishing scams is to get hold of your details - anything from your address to your credit card number - and then use them to defraud you out of money.

So be very wary of any messages asking for your login or personal details. In fact, never respond to - or click on a link within - a suspicious message.

Instead, call the company or organisation in question on a separately sourced number and speak to them directly to confirm that the message is genuine.

Ways to spot phishing scams include looking out for spelling mistakes and grammatical errors and being wary of messages that are addressed to a "valued customer" rather than your name.

I've been defrauded. What should I do?
It takes just 82 seconds for cyber-thieves to ensnare the first victim of a phishing scam, according to a recent report from security company Verizon.

But you can prevent, or limit, your losses by contacting the relevant organisations to change compromised passwords and block any resulting transactions as soon as you realise you may have been targeted.

Anyone who has been the victim of internet crime should also report the problem to Action Fraud (0300 123 2040).

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