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Don't get fooled by online scams

Date: 31st Mar 2010

Stay safe online this April Fools’ Day

On the first day of April hundreds of pranks are played, and people go out of their way to trick each other in the name of fun. There are usually a few made-up stories in the newspapers too, just for harmless entertainment.

But not everyone gets into the spirit... fraudsters and scammers often disguise their criminal intentions behind the innocence of April Fools’ Day fun. So how do you know what’s a scam and what’s genuine?

One of the biggest ways people get conned is through email. Messages telling you to look at a funny April Fools’ Day video will fill inboxes, along with lots of other themed items. Some of these could contain viruses which will corrupt your hard drive or steal your information. Scammers are only after two things: your personal details and your money.

Don’t open anything you don’t recognise
The golden rule with email is don’t open anything if you don’t know who it’s from. Set your email account up so you can preview messages and be really careful if there are any attachments or links, as this is where the harmful stuff could be hiding. Delete any suspicious emails and then remove them from your deleted items folder too.

Unless you’re really sure, don’t reply. If you do, the fraudsters will know you’re a real person and keep sending you stuff. Some scams are fairly obvious, like those telling you you’ve won the lottery somewhere overseas, or where someone’s asking you to send money to help them get home, but others aren’t so easy to spot.

What about emails from respectable companies?
You need to be really careful here too. You could fall for an email which looks to be from your bank, utility company, an online shopping site or even a government department, but is in fact a fake. None of these organisations will ever email you asking you for sensitive personal information or account details, so be wary of any email you receive which asks for this type of information. This is known as phishing. You can read more in our email security guide.

Sometimes fake emails will try and direct you to a spoof website. If you have to enter any sensitive information on a website, make sure it starts with ‘https’. The ‘s’ stands for secure. Also click on the padlock symbol so you can view its certificate. Official sites will always use proper English, so if the site you’re on is packed with dodgy spelling and littered with grammatical mistakes or is badly worded, click off it as quickly as you can.

If you’re unsure whether an email or website is fake or not, call the company it says it belongs to and ask them.

Check URLs
Just because a link says it leads to somewhere, it doesn’t always mean it does. Rest your cursor over the link (but don’t click on it) and a box will pop up showing you the link destination. Is this the proper address? If not, the sender may have something to hide.

Some dodgy links may also contain small spelling differences or symbols that real sites don’t. For example:, mbna@banking, or If you’re unsure whether the URL is right, use a search engine and access the site that way. But be careful not to get caught out by spoof sites - they could show up in the results too. If you’ve visited a site before, the link will always be a different colour to ones you haven’t visited. That’s a good indicator that it’s genuine.

Don’t fall for hoax phone calls either
There’s a well-known scam doing the rounds where someone from ‘Windows’ calls you claiming there’s a virus on your computer. They then tell you to go onto a particular website and follow some instructions so they can take control of your system and plant all sorts of nasties there. If you get any of these calls put the phone down. As a rule, when you talk to people over the phone and they say they’re from a particular company, they should carry out thorough security checks before discussing anything, and be happy to have you call them back − just make sure you find the number for yourself.

Keep your anti-virus software up to date
An easy way to protect yourself online is to install anti-virus software on your PC, and keep it up to date. Software companies send updates as they react to whatever’s new in the world of the cyber criminal, so if you get a message telling you to update your software, make sure you do it.

Consider using a credit card to buy online
Buying online with a credit card gives you some protection on goods and services valued between £100 and £30,000, so if anyone tries to rip you off or things go wrong, you’ve got somewhere to go for help. Credit cards also come with loads of online security features built into them too, including round-the-clock account monitoring. You won’t be liable if your card is used without your knowledge or consent, so long as you notify your lender immediately. But it’s up to you to be careful when using your card online and not just rely on your provider to sort it out.

Look after your own security
A big part of staying safe online is looking after your own security. So make sure you keep your details safe - never share them with anyone. Use strong passwords and change them regularly. Remember to check your bank and credit card statements too, so you can identify and act if you notice an unauthorised transaction.

If you move house or change circumstances make sure you tell us − and other companies you have accounts with - so they can contact you if they notice anything suspicious.

Don’t get fooled
April Fools’ Day only happens once a year, but scammers will try and fool you 365 days a year. So stay vigilant and be cautious so you don’t get caught out.

You can learn more about our online security and protection at: