Experts discuss how to spot and stop romance scams this week’s Scam Watch with James Walker from Rightly and Louise Baxter from the National Trading Standards Scams Team.
Scam of the week: Blackmail Scams
Have you ever looked in your junk email folder? Sometimes I scan mine for missed emails and have been horrified by some of the content that my email provider actually filters out for me. The graphic language and threats in emails from criminals, claiming a hacker has gained access to my devices and they have viewed all my internet browsing, is alarming, to say the least. Several online forums have filled up with reports of a new wave of blackmail emails.
What are blackmail scams?
Blackmail scams start with a criminal and it’s important we recognise these people as ruthless criminals, as someone who has hacked or claimed to have hacked your device.
They may tell you they’ve been monitoring your internet usage and have installed a virus or monitoring tool on your devices and can access all your equipment, webcams, mouse, keyboard, all your files, browser history and other equipment.
You may also be told they have looked at your photos, have access to your passwords, social media, and all your contacts.
The email often states you need to make a payment, often in cryptocurrency to a designated account.
There will be time pressures on this request. “SEND the currency within 48 hours” or they will release all your private information or expose you for looking at things on the internet you may not want your friends, family or colleagues in your contact list to know about.
The pressure and horrendous threats are geared up to push you into a hot state so that you make a quick decision out of fear.
The criminals may have an old password or may spoof an email, so this adds to the validity of the claims that your personal space has been hacked. Spoofing doesn’t mean your account has been hacked.
Other tactics used by criminals
Another tactic involves a criminal befriending you via social media platform and developing a relationship where they may send you images of themselves.
Is there a reason you are being targeted?
There is the possibility that you have clicked on a link and a hacker may have accessed your information through a download of malware (a piece of software that can upload viruses or extract data) on your computer. If you think this has happened do a scan on your computer and ensure you change all your passwords. Try to stay calm and don’t react to the criminal’s words.
Sadly, criminals traffic personal data over the dark web so your information may be sold to other criminals. It’s important you stay vigilant about any communication you are unsure of.
The good news is, that the more likely reason for you receiving this communication is that a criminal is looking for opportunities to exploit anyone. A sort of hit-and-hope methodology. The criminals play on the fact that they can create panic in people and this panic provokes a reaction.
What should you do?
If you receive an email like this, don’t panic. Change your passwords quoted in the email and check if any of your other passwords have been compromised using the Pwned Passwords checker.
If you check your passwords and they don’t come up as compromised, this does not mean it’s a good password, just that it’s not indexed on the above site. If you’re not already using a password manager, go and download one and change all your passwords to strong and unique ones. Most web browsers like Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge have free password managers that can be used and are secure.
Ensure your new passwords are secure and use a password manager to organise and securely store your passwords. Try not to use the same one for everything.
Scan your device for malware and ensure your anti-virus protection is up to date.
What to do
As with other phishing scams, our advice is not to engage, but forward the email to [email protected] and then delete it.
If the emails include a password you still use – change it immediately.
If you have been a victim of this type of scam report it to Action Fraud and to your bank if you have lost money.
If you need emotional support this is available from charities such as Victim Support by calling 0808 168 9111 or visiting: https://www.victimsupport.org.uk/.
Scambusters Mail bag
Question: I have seen loads on the news recently about scams and fraud. Is it really a big deal? Do people really fall for scams?
The latest information on fraud states that 40 percent of all reported crime is fraud. We believe only 5-15 percent of people report the fact they have become a victim of fraud. Millions of people fall for fraud each year, in the UK victims lose £9billion a year to fraud. It’s so important to be vigilant at all times and to look out for all the people you care about. There is a scam out there for everyone.
Never click a link unless you’re certain of where it’s coming from. You can try hovering your mouse over it to see where the actual link goes. However, remember criminals will often set up false websites to make their links look genuine. Check out the Free Website Scam Checker – Check a website by Get Safe Online.
Remember: If you have received a text, you think is a scam then you can forward to 7726 or take a screenshot and send it to [email protected] If you are receiving lots of unwanted phone calls or text messages you can also consider removing your details from data brokers, ensuring that you use a right to object to the processing of your data. You can learn more about this on Rightly to stop the sharing of your data exposing you to scams. And you can take a free training course on how to fight against scams on www.friendsagainstscams.org.uk. The more we talk about scams the more we take away the shame.
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