Laurie Hood, our Financial Crime Specialist, shares his advice on how to stay safe when shopping or meeting new people online.

A year ago, I published my first Financial Crime blog post on the Starling Bank website. Reaching this milestone has allowed me to reflect on an incredible (and unbelievably fast!) 12 months. So much has been achieved in this time – including the Financial Crime blog series covering topics including investment scams, money mules and push fraud.

Here at Starling we’re as committed as ever to helping protect our customers from fraud. As we arrive at one of the most popular shopping periods of the year (again!), I couldn’t resist the opportunity to mark the anniversary with a follow up to last year’s blog post about staying safe online.

Understandably, the lead-up to Christmas is a busy time for us all – for a whole variety of reasons. Our thoughts and focus can often be elsewhere, so it’s no surprise that the festive period is also the busiest time for fraudsters.

Many of us will take part in a spot of online shopping – if not for convenience or savings, to get hold of those hard to find or obscure items. But whilst we browse our way through the festive online offerings, what should we be looking out for?

Ensure that the website is authentic

For those of you who are planning on taking part in Black Friday / Cyber Monday, make sure you know what to look for to ensure you don’t fall victim to a fake website.

Double check the domain name - is it a copy of a legitimate site? Does it have a subtle spelling error? It’s unusual for shopping sites to use .net or .org domains for trading.

Established companies should offer secure payment - be wary of any that request a bank transfer, as it will afford you less protection.

If you’re considering a purchase from a company you’ve not used before, do your research. Is it reputable? Is there enough information about the company on the website, if so, are there broken links or any spelling errors that would concern you?

Remember – it is possible to buy fake reviews, so if you haven’t heard of the website (or brand), do thorough research.

Counterfeit goods

Some goods (for example: trainers, jewellery, handbags, watches) can look authentic but aren’t. Don’t be immediately duped by a low price and make sure you check the reviews of both the seller/website and items, where available.

Be particularly wary of any low cost goods imported from areas where counterfeit items are known to be produced in bulk.

The sale of counterfeit goods can be used to fund criminal activity.

Unexpected emails or texts

You should be suspicious of any unexpected emails - particularly from your bank, delivery companies or government bodies (often demanding payment, asking you to login or access a link).

Sometimes, these may be littered with basic grammatical or spelling errors and may be generic, not addressed to you directly. You should always check the sender's email address, where possible, to ensure it isn’t a fraudster.

If you’re concerned about a communication claiming to be from a legitimate company or organisation that you have knowledge of, contact them directly using the publicly available information on their website.

If you’re concerned about any messages received from Starling Bank, get in touch with us through the app and our Customer Service team will be happy to help!

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is

Those of you who read my blogs regularly are likely to be fed up of reading this, and wondering how I keep fitting it in. But it continues to apply, and not just for those money-saving online deals.

We should also remember that the festive period can also be a difficult or lonely time for some. If there is a chance they can profit, unscrupulous individuals will target anyone they consider to be vulnerable.

One way this is being done is via Romance fraud (also known as Romance scams).

What is romance fraud?

Simply put, fraudsters may try to contact you (or, someone you know) using false profiles, through social media or dating websites/apps - in order to form a relationship, with the intention of requesting money or stealing your identity.

They may rely on emotional attachment, often to lie about funds being required for medical treatment or supporting a family member. Sometimes, they may invent other reasons for needing money, for example to release a sum of money which they will share with you, or to enable them to travel to meet.

Be wary if you’re communicating with someone that you don’t know or haven’t met, never send them money – it can be difficult for banks to get this back if it turns out to be a scam, as the criminals tend to withdraw or move the proceeds swiftly.

Other things to look out for, can include:

  • Perfect profile pictures that could have been stolen from a model, celebrity or another third party;
  • An insistence on communicating via social media and not the website/app where you initially connected;
  • Information from the other person that is contradictory or inaccurate;
  • An imbalance of personal questions - if they ask lots about you and don't share very much about themselves;
  • A limited social media profile with no history or no profile pictures.

Don’t be rushed into making a decision, stay in control and listen to your instincts.

If you’d like to learn more about protecting yourself against fraud or scams, our friends over at TakeFive have a fantastic website full of useful content.

Until the next time.

Subscribeto blog updatesarrow-rightGrow your businessHelpful free business guidesarrow-right

Related stories

Latest posts