Several million cases of fraud and of computer misuse are reported to the police every year. It's staggering, but even more staggering is that so many of those crimes could have been prevented by making a few small changes in online behaviour.
To avoid becoming a victim of online crime you don’t need to be a computer expert. Developing a few good online habits drastically reduces your chances of becoming a victim of cyber crime, makes you less vulnerable and lets you use the web safely.
Visit Cyber Aware for step-by-step instructions on keeping your devices up-to-date with the latest security updates, and for more online security advice.
Online fraud, also known as cyber crime, covers all crimes that:
- take place online
- are committed using computers, or
- are assisted by online technology
To reduce your chances of becoming a victim:
- use a strong password or passphrase, which is at least 12 characters long and contains a mixture of letters, numbers and symbols
- never give personal or sensitive details out online or over email
- make sure all devices have up-to-date anti-virus software and a firewall installed
- keep software and apps regularly updated
- only download from legal, trusted websites
- only open emails and attachments from known and trusted sources
- look for the padlock icon in the address bar when paying for goods or services online – it means the website is trusted and secure
- check the address starts with https:// whenever you’re asked to enter sensitive information online
- avoid using public WiFi hotspots that are not secure or ask you for personal information to access it
- regularly back up your data
- control your social media accounts – regularly check your privacy settings and how your data is being used and shared
- be cautious of internet chats and online dating – there’s no guarantee you’re speaking to who you think
- be extremely cautious if you’re asked for money
You can also watch our videos for more useful advice and information.
Email and text scams
Be careful when opening emails and texts, especially if you don't know the sender. If an email or text is unexpected or seems unusual, even if it’s from someone you know, ignore it and contact the sender directly to check if they sent it.
Your bank, the police and reputable companies will never ask for sensitive or financial details via email, phone or text.
To protect yourself from scams:
- don’t open attachments or click on links in emails or texts from senders you don’t know
- never give out personal information, financial details or passwords in response to an email, when you receive an unexpected phone call or in response to a text message
- set up spam filters on all of your accounts
- don’t respond to emails or texts from unknown sources
- always go to a website directly, by typing out the address yourself, when logging into an account
Social networks are a great way of keeping in touch with friends and family, but be careful about how much personal information you share.
Once you post or share something on any social media platform it’s out of your control and could be shared and used by others, even if you delete it.
Make sure you:
- set your privacy settings to the highest level and check them regularly as updates can affect settings
- don’t add or accept ‘friend’ requests from people you don’t know
- where possible, block apps and social media sites from tracking and showing your location, to stop people you don’t know from following you
- think carefully about the images, videos and content that you share
- remember that if you wouldn’t do or say it in the real world, don’t do it online
How to spot a fake website
If an online offer looks too good to be true, it probably is. To help spot a fake site:
- sense check the domain name
- are the prices too good to be true?
- never pay by bank transfer – legitimate sites will accept payment via usual methods, such as bank card and PayPal
- read the terms and conditions, and policies, to check they're clear and fair
- read online reviews of the company and its products to check for customer satisfaction ratings (Trustpilot or Feefo, for example)
Back up your data
Ransomware is a type of malicious software that threatens to publish the victim's data or perpetually block access to it unless they pay a ransom.
Regularly back up all your documents and photos in at least one other place to minimise the risk of losing everything if you get a ransomware virus. You can back up data onto:
- a USB stick
- an external hard drive
- a cloud server
Tips for parents and guardians
The internet lets children connect with friends and learn new things. But there are also dangers to going online, and children can be particularly vulnerable.
Talking to your child is one of the best ways to keep them safe online. By understanding the risks and keeping yourself up-to-date on the latest technology, websites and social networks you can help your child enjoy the internet safely and securely.
To help protect your children online:
- keep computers and games consoles in family rooms where you can monitor activity
- install parental control software or activate parental controls through your internet service provider (ISP) to prevent access to inappropriate content
- ‘friend’ or ‘follow’ your child on social networks, so you can see how they're using them
- check age restrictions for websites or social networks to make sure your children are allowed to join
- advise your child not to post personal information or any images they wouldn’t want everyone to see
- check their social media accounts’ privacy settings, so their posts are only seen by friends and their location isn’t tracked
- avoid using webcams unless talking to close friends or family, and consider covering it when not in use
- monitor how your children use the internet and watch for any secretive behaviour
- encourage your child to be open about what they do online and who they’re talking to
- insist you go with them if they wish to meet online friends
- ensure the games your children play online are age appropriate
Report cyber crime
If you are currently being subjected to a live and ongoing cyber-attack then please contact us on 101.
If you suspect you’ve been scammed, defrauded or experienced cyber crime, the Action Fraud team can also provide the help, support and advice you need.
Further advice and support
Action Fraud – the UK's national fraud and cyber crime reporting centre
Cyber Aware – essential advice on protecting yourself online
National Cyber Security Centre – helping to make the UK safer to live and do business in the UK