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Avoiding fraud

You get an email from a foreign prince promising you a portion of his vast fortune – we’re talking millions here. He says he needs your help to gain access to the money and has chosen you for your discretion and reliability. All he needs is for you to pay the legal fees, and then you’ll both be rich!

It’s a scam that goes all the way back to the 16th century and in its current form has cost the UK economy millions of pounds. Phishing and other email scams have been on the rise, so it’s more important than ever to know the signs and protect yourself online. Most now are a lot smarter and much harder to spot that the old Prince ploy. Always be very suspicious of anything that you are not actually expecting.

One of the best protections online is a strong password, but nowadays it seems like they need to be the length of a dictionary and include about 8 different alphabets in order to be considered secure. There are plenty of solutions to help you create a secure password that you can remember:

• Write your own code. Replace letters with numbers or symbols  e.g. f@m!1ybui1d!ng50ci3ty
• Make a passphrase specific to you e.g. 1<3tFBS! (I love the Family Building Society!)
• Use the website colour or logo as a prompt to distinguish different passwords e.g. FBSgreenLa5agn3
• Invest in a password manager software to store all your passwords securely, meaning you only need to remember one to access them all

This advice may not be unfamiliar and many companies and organisations usually require a complicated password in order to register. But it is really shocking how many people still use Password or 12345 or their birthday 01011972. It can take hackers seconds to get into your account if you use these simple passwords.

However, even the most complicated password can’t protect you if you fall victim to some of the many online scams, so it’s always good to be aware of the latest techniques scammers are using.

For example, many people are choosing to book their holiday accommodation online and as such scammers are using the services to deceive and steal from holidaymakers. Be careful when choosing a villa or apartment on these sites and ask these questions:

• Is the owner verified?
• Has the owner been a site member for a long time?
• Do they have references and contact information?
• Does the property have any reviews?
• Does the price look sensible for the property?

If the answers to these questions are no, be very cautious. A red flag for you should be if you enter into communications with the owner and they ask you to pay anything by bank transfer. I recently was trying to book a lovely villa on a sunny Spanish Isle when the ‘owner’ requested I pay to a bank account in Switzerland because – apparently – the booking website’s payment system was down, despite there being nothing to this effect on the site itself… mmm, suspicious methinks.

The moral of the story is, on the internet, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. No matter how much of a bargain you think you’re getting, you should never be sending money outside of the website’s terms. And if you do get asked to do this, report the owner so they can’t do it to anyone else.

Another popular email scam for fraudsters goes a little something like this:

This is an official notification from HM Revenue & Customs.

We have determined from the last fiscal year that you are eligible to receive a tax refund of £348.92.

If you want to claim this online, please click here.

It doesn’t have to be HMRC. It could be from PayPal, eBay, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, DVLA or any number of online stores, government bodies, supermarket chains or high street retailers. The purpose of these emails are to get you click on a link and enter your personal information, such as bank account information or username and password. They hook victims in by either promising money or threatening a loss of money if you do not act now.

There are three things you should ask yourself:
1. Does the email seem legitimate? Does it make sense for this firm or organisation to be emailing you about this? Does it make sense grammatically and look professional?
2. Is the email address legitimate? The email may say that it’s from ‘Service UK HMRC’ but you should view the actual email address to check the sender.
3. Do the claims made seem legitimate? Is there any contact information to discuss the claims made in the email? If you don’t have a PayPal account, an email from PayPal claiming you owe money should not be trusted. If the email says you only have a matter of days or hours to act, do not trust it.

If you are still not sure, you should be able to find some contact information on the official website to make a query. If you are unfortunate enough to fall foul to one of these scams, you should change your passwords immediately and notify the website of what has happened. And one final thing. Never, ever click on ‘unsubscribe’ in a suspicious email as it could be a link that instantly installs some nasty code onto your pc causing your online banking details to be hacked, for example.

These two methods of online fraud are one of many that scammers use to steal money from innocent people. Be on the lookout and, when in doubt, stick to the side of caution. Most of all, never give sensitive information to strangers via email. At the Family Building Society, we won’t ask you for your account details by email and we’ll never ask you for any usernames or passwords. As a security measure, we will only send funds to bank accounts that we have confirmed are held in your name.

For more information on protecting yourself from fraud visit our cyber security page.

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30 Church Street
Surrey KT17 4NL
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