How to avoid online scams

An arm is reaching out of a phone and dropping an envelope into a laptop, representing online scams

Unfortunately, we all know someone who has been affected by an online scam. There are now so many ways you can become a victim and so many different types of scams to watch out for. So, let’s run through the details with the experts at Boxphish, helping you work out what you need to watch out for and most importantly, how you can avoid scams online.

What are online scams?

In general, online scams count as anything where someone tries to steal money or information from you online. Remember your mate who woke up one morning and had an email from Netflix asking him to change his password or risk being locked out? That was an online scam. Or that time your mum got a text from the NHS trying to get her to click through to view updated coronavirus restrictions? That was a scam too. And even when you got a DM from your cousin on Instagram asking how you and the family were doing – it seemed pretty friendly and legit, but you guessed it – another online scam.

What we’re basically saying, is that fraudsters will try all sorts of different methods to try and trick you into handing over your personal information through scams online. So, make sure you keep your wits about you!

Most common types of scams

  1. Phishing: we’ve already published a guide called, what is phishing which tells you what to watch out for, so we won’t go into too much detail here – but remember: think before you click. If something you read in an email sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  2. Fake antivirus software: this is a very common scam that you are most likely to come across as a pop-up advert. In this attack, cybercriminals are trying to get you to download malicious software, thinking it’ll resolve your slow computer or issues with your operating system.
  3. Get rich quick schemes: this is a sneaky one, as who doesn’t want a few extra quid in their bank account every week? They’re essentially the online version of pyramid schemes, where a network of scammers will create a fake company or page and post about how much money they’re all making and guess what – so could you! Except you can’t. They’ll get you to sign up and submit your personal or financial information, then disappear without a trace, armed with the gear to commit fraud in your name.
  4. Smishing: this is similar to a phishing attack, but more of a threat targeted to mobile devices – essentially, it’s SMS phishing, fraudulent messages sent either by text or through WhatsApp. A fraudster will launch an attack pretending to be someone you know, just “with a new number” and attempt to get you to divulge personal information.

How to tell if someone is scamming you online

As with anything, there are key ‘red flags’ that you can watch out for. The obvious ones which (hopefully) you’ve heard before are spelling mistakes, grammatical errors in what should be professional communications and sudden requests for payment.

But you should also keep an eye out for urgent or threatening language – things like your account will be closed or you will lose access are key buzz phrases that fraudsters use to try and get you to panic and act without thinking. Something else to consider are distraction techniques – a scam will often be disguised by a pretty picture or some interesting graphics to entice you in. Don’t get distracted by the flashing lights or too-good-to-be-true promises, use your common sense and always think before you click.

How to avoid scams online

The best advice you can follow to avoid falling for an online scam is just to take your time. Treat everything with caution and remember to carry out these simple steps:

  • Use proper passwords, never using the same password more than once and if possible, using both a password manager and multi-factor authentication (MFA).
  • Try to avoid using public Wi-Fi if you are accessing your bank accounts or making online purchases, as these can be less secure and easier for a cybercriminal to access.
  • Keep your devices up to date and regularly run reputable anti-virus software.
  • If in doubt, don’t click. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

What to do if you’ve fallen for a scam

Don’t beat yourself up – even with all the best practises in place, some internet scams can slip through the net. It’s already happened this year to Usain Bolt, and in 2022 the story of the Tinder Swindler went viral, all stemming from an online scam.

If you’ve clicked or downloaded something you shouldn’t have, delete the software immediately and run a full virus scan. If possible, report the incident to an associated IT support team.

If you’ve inputted your bank details and think your account could be compromised, contact your bank immediately and either freeze or cancel your cards.

If you’ve shared your password with anyone, or entered it into a suspicious website: change the password for that account and any others that use it immediately, and ensure multi-factor authentication (MFA) is set up as an extra level of security.

Been scammed online? How to get your money back

If you’ve actually transferred money to someone who you believe is scamming you, the best way to get your money back is to report the incident to your bank. Give them as much detail as possible, the date, time, amount, details of the scam etc. and ask for a refund. Not all banks will be able to do this, so it’s not certain you’ll get it back, but sometimes they can help. If not, they will at least open a fraud investigation which should help stop this from happening to you or anyone else again. If you’ve been scammed on another service like eBay or PayPal check the T&Cs, sometimes there are money back guarantees in place provided that you’ve used the proper channels when paying. At the very least they will want to block the scammer from using their service again in future, so as rubbish as it is losing your money at least you’re helping stop it happening to someone else.

Read more about how you can stay safe online here.

The Mix would like to thank Boxphish for their expertise and support with this article.

Next Steps

By Holly Turner

Updated on 21-Mar-2023

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