Tactics used by criminals to steal your information – and your cash – have moved on. Do you know what the latest threats are?
In days gone by, scam emails had a certain pure nobility – perhaps because those sending them were all, coincidentally, Nigerian princes.
They were over-the-top and very easy to spot. Their modern-day successors use every dirty trick in the book, though.
Here are some of the sneakiest…
1. Congratulations: You’ve got a new follower on Twitter, or on Instagram, or another social network
It may be because of the high quality of your tweets/posts. It’s not, though. It’s someone trying to get you to click on a malicious link.
Giveaway signs include an attractive, scantily clad profile picture, no one following their account, and a bio along the lines of “Sign up and watch my hot shows!”
2. Phishing, or ‘Smishing’
Luring people to reveal their personal or financial information by posing as a trusted source is one of the biggest scam genres. ‘Smishing’ is a subset of it – phishing by SMS. It works because many companies will now send text messages if, say, you add a new payee to your bank account.
The scammer sends a text out of the blue, asking you to confirm a transaction, and giving a number to call if you did not make the transaction.
Don’t call the number – it’s a ploy to get you to tell your banking information over the phone. In effect, it’s a phishing scam warning against phishing scams. If you ever want to check a transaction, call your bank directly.
3. Even Nigerian princes have kept up with the times
The traditional 419 or advance-fee scam had the prince exiled or kidnapped, in need of a little cash to get home.
The latest asks you to help Nigerian astronaut Air Force Major Abacha Tunde return from a secret Soviet space station where he has been stranded since 1990. But in truly modern fashion it includes a link to a convincing but fake governmental space organisation website.
4. Bogus boss
Many scam emails rely on social engineering – figuring out what will make a victim click a link on an email.
In this case, scammers will research a target then send emails pretending to be a boss either from their account or one that looks very similar, and asking for money to be transferred for an urgent business matter.
5. Copycat websites
These are a rich genre for scammers. Some are straight out-and-out replicas of well-known websites.
They use Google adverts to appear high in search rankings and look more legitimate. But clicking on them will download malware to your computer.
That might seem easily avoidable – but it’s also how intelligence agencies worldwide hack into computers.
Other variations include official-ish looking websites that will charge you for free services like changing your driving licence, or overcharge for replacing a passport.
By Tom Cheshire, Technology Correspondent, Sky News