Staying vigilant: how to protect yourself from the latest scams in 2022

Woman looks concerned at her laptop at Cyber Resilience Centre, Devon

It's important to be sceptical when unexpected emails are sent to you, especially when they come with links or attachments - they could be fraudulent. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Have you recently received a strange email or text from a seemingly trustworthy source? Or a note through the letterbox requesting money to re-deliver a package? 

The tactics and sophistication of fraudsters, particularly those using online methods, are becoming increasingly difficult to spot. This is why it’s vital we learn more about how scammers operate, the tell-tale signs of fraud and how to protect ourselves against it.  

We spoke to Mark Moore, director of the South West Cyber Resilience Centre and a serving superintendent in the Devon and Cornwall police, about the most virulent cybercrime threats and how to avoid them. 

Man holds credit card whilst typing on laptop at Cyber Resilience Centre, Devon

Fraudsters rely on quick decision-making and a sense of urgency, so it's always best to take a step back to double check before entering personal information. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Q: What are the most common scams? 

A: Fraudsters will often use current events to catch individuals and businesses off guard – during major outbreaks of Covid-19 we saw urgent text messages being sent to people offering a PCR test for payment, or to enter their bank details to book a vaccination slot.  

As more people began working from home, we saw an increase in Microsoft Office related scams that mainly targeted businesses. By clicking what appears to be an office application and downloading the software, criminals would then be able to steal files and sensitive information from the company database.  

It’s extremely important that we question the origins and intentions of any emails or texts that we receive, as fraudsters rely on quick decision making and spreading panic, to catch people out and get what they want.  

Q: What scams should people look out for this year? 

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A: Cybercrime is a difficult entity to pin down, largely due to the constantly changing methods and increasing effectiveness of fraudsters who are good at covering their tracks. Despite the absence of fully reliable statistics, we have noticed that crime seems to be shifting greatly from the physical world to the online sphere.  

Phishing is one of the most long-standing threats to our financial and online security – these unwelcome emails pave the way for malicious malware and other dangerous software. When you receive an email that contains a link or attachment, it’s always good practice to assume it’s not genuine. Question the origin of the email, whether you were expecting an attachment and take your time to examine the text. 

Q: Why are scams becoming a more prevalent threat? 

A: There’s always been an assumption that fraudulent communications are easy to spot for most people, and that it’s the older generation who are most at risk. This is certainly not the case now and it’s up to everyone to stay vigilant against criminals. There are several professional, effective scams that are frequently catching out people in their 30s and 40s.  

The days of poor grammar and “send money quick” scams are no more. Scammers now have the skills to implement marketing campaigns to fool people, utilising technologies accessible on the dark web. These campaigns are pretty inexpensive in comparison to the potential income from the scams, and pose a major threat to small businesses across the country.  

Close up of man using smartphone at Cyber Resilience Centre, Devon

It's not just important to keep in mind your online defences and systems, as criminals can reach you by sending fraudulent texts to your phone. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Q: How can we strengthen our cyber security? 

A: There are several things that individuals and small-scale businesses can do to protect themselves. Setting up a two-step authenticator is a simple step that can provide a big boost for your online security, but having back-up passwords can also make a huge difference. Clicking a fraudulent link might result in the scammer having one password, but if you have several different ones then it limits the damage that criminals can do. 

For smaller businesses that are often the target of modern scams, having proper online defences is absolutely essential. Upgrading to the latest version of Windows and other online programmes ensures that they will be updated regularly – older versions of these products are left unpatched and vulnerable to fraudsters. 

We recommend that business owners limit the access of sensitive documents and files to only a few individuals, install wide-reaching security measures and keep in mind the threat posed by insider crime. The best defence against cybercrime is to be sceptical of incoming communications that you aren’t expecting and to have up-to-date security systems in place. 

The South West Cyber Security Centre offer guidance and support to help small businesses and charities bolster their online defences. They provide a free monthly programme of the most common cyber threats and help to review the security of your systems and processes. 

To learn more about how to avoid online scams, visit swcrc.co.uk or have a read of the information on the Heart of the South West Trading Standards website.