Social media can be a great asset, especially for those who are isolated, whether by distance from family, or away from friends because of Covid-19.
But just because you've seen or received something on social media – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp or any of the other messaging and communications platforms – doesn’t mean it’s true.
The reality is, a message from an old friend (or someone seeking friendship) could be a criminal somewhere on the other side of the world, who has hacked somebody’s account and is pretending to be someone they are not.
One shipmate recently received an urgent message from a friend in the middle of the night who said he had been rushed to hospital and needed funds. Being a kind-hearted soul, the shipmate sent hundreds of pounds to the account number he was given – but it was a scam. His friend was fine and nowhere near a hospital – but the money had already been spirited away, out of reach, as the friend’s account had been compromised without his knowledge.
Security experts have noticed a lot of fraudulent activity around the Covid-19 pandemic – maybe people offering to obtain a government grant for you (turns out to be a loan – they keep the money, you get the bill) or sign you up for Universal Credit but they take the cash leaving you to clear up the mess.
You should always take a moment to pause and think about any message that strikes you as odd or unusual – why would somebody ask you to invest in a foreign fund? Is your mate really in hospital? Have you really won an overseas lottery that you never actually entered?
That old-adage of ‘if it seems too good to be true, it probably is’ still holds true in the digital age. Apply the same common sense to cold-callers or phone-callers – they have their own plausible techniques to try to get their hands on your hard-earned money.
It sounds frightening, but there are some simple rules of thumb when trying to avoid online scams.
Take a look at Age Concern’s advice at https://www.ageuk.org.uk/information-advice/money-legal/scams-fraud/ for details of what to look for and how to stay safe from fraudsters.