RSN™ Guide: A to Z of Online Fraud

Most people now have access to the internet. We use our home computers, phones, and other devices to shop or bank online, keep in touch with friends and relatives, and lots of other everyday activities because we find it convenient and easy. But the same is also true of fraudsters.

With all the convenience the internet brings, it is important to be aware of potential online risks. Here are the A-Z of online fraud to help you recognize some of the most common scams.

A – Application Fraud (Identity Theft)

Application Fraud is when an account is opened using fake or stolen documents in your name, using the account to withdraw cash, get credit, or find other ways to defraud you. Spot the signs: You get letters or emails confirming new cards or loans you didn’t apply for. You’re paying for a subscription or Direct Debit you don’t recognize, such as a contract for a mobile phone you don’t own.

B – Banking Online And Card Fraud

The use of online banking or banking apps on smartphones and tablets has grown. People use them at home or when they are out and about. To stay safe while banking online you must protect your password and personal details to stop criminals from accessing your accounts. Stay safe by choosing passwords and memorable words with great care, always log out when you’ve finished and never use publically available WI-FI networks for banking.

C – Computer Software Service Frauds (Technical Support Scam)

Fraudsters often use the names of well-known companies to commit their crime. For example, they’ll pretend to be someone from Microsoft or Apple contacting you and telling you there is a problem with your device and they can help you solve them. The criminal will ask you to complete a number of actions on your computer; they may even be able to download what is known as ‘Remote Access Tool’ which gives them access to everything on your computer. To stay safe you should never allow anyone to remotely access your computer.

D – Due Diligence Or Do Your Own Research (Phishing Scam)

If you are approached online by somebody you don’t know or are being asked to change details of a payment out of the blue, stop to think and do some research. Oftentimes simply using a search engine to search for the person’s name with the word SCAM after it will bring back results if other people have encountered the person. Likewise, try to gain other information from the person contacting you like an address or phone number and search that to verify who they are. Never trust pictures sent to you online, use Google to conduct a reverse image search to see if the picture you have been sent has appeared elsewhere on the internet.  If you are in any doubt don’t go through with a transaction.

E – Email Scams

Phishing refers to the process of deceiving recipients into sharing sensitive information with an unknown third party (cyber-criminal). Typically in a phishing email scam, you receive an email that appears to come from a reputable organization. To protect against phishing attacks, its good practice not to click on links in email messages. Instead, you should enter the website address in the address field and then navigate to the correct page, or use a bookmark or favorite link.

F – Facebook Fakes

People often don’t realize how much information they are giving away on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media channels but your details are valuable to criminals and can be misused by them, or sold on to others. If your data is obtained by criminals it may be used to obtain credit cards or bank accounts in your name, as well as numerous other financial products. Be wary of the personal information you post on social media and ensure you check your privacy settings.

G – Government Agency Scams

Government agency scams are when fraudsters send out official-looking letters or emails to ask for money or personal information. The correspondence gives the impression that they are from a government department and imply they have some form of authority. The letter or email might advise that you must register in order to comply with some kind of legislation – for a fee. Other alternatives include asking you to pay a fine for breaches to the law or requesting bank details to claim a tax rebate.

H – Holiday Fraud

Millions of people book their holidays online. Whilst you can get some fantastic deals fraudsters take advantage of this. They advertise flights, accommodation and other travel services that are not provided or don’t exist. Often, you will only become aware you have been scammed when you arrive at an airport or even worse your destination and find no booking has been made! Remember; always pay by credit card or the third party payment service advised by the website. Be suspicious of any discount offered for paying by bank transfer, or request to complete the booking offsite. Think: can I trust the advert? How do I know the booking exists?

I – Identity Theft

Identity theft happens when fraudsters access enough information about someone’s identity (such as their name, date of birth, current or previous addresses) to commit identity fraud. Identity theft can take place whether the fraud victim is alive or deceased. If you’re a victim of identity theft, it can lead to fraud that can have a direct impact on your personal finances and could also make it difficult for you to obtain loans, credit cards or a mortgage until the matter is resolved.

J – Jobs / Recruitment Fraud

Most people apply for a number of different jobs throughout their working lives. As technology advances, so do the techniques fraudsters use to exploit job seekers during this process. The majority of frauds involve the ‘recruiter’ demanding some kind of payment or fee for DBS (Disclosure Barring Service) checks, training, certification or work permits. The job advert which has attracted applicants is often fake and the recruiter stops communication once payments are received… or asks for more! Remember, never provide personal details such as your bank account, Social Security or National Insurance number, date of birth, driving license or utility bill information during an application process or on your CV. Do some research to check the company exists and if they are really advertising the role. Think: why am I being asked to make upfront payments?

K – Keylogging (Malware On Your Computer)

Keylogging is the process of secretly recording keystrokes by an unauthorized third party. Keylogging is often used by malware to steal usernames, passwords, credit card details and other sensitive data as you type it into the keyboard. Keyloggers are easily downloaded, and can infect machines simply through a visit to a site such as YouTube, social networking sites like Facebook, and other so-called “legitimate sites.” That information can then be used by the thief for fraud and identity theft.

L – Loan Scams

Loan scams happen when a victim is asked to pay an upfront fee for a loan. A person will typically reply to an advert for a fast loan and will have their application approved regardless of their credit history. Before they receive the loan, they are told they must pay an upfront fee to cover insurance for the loan. Once this fee is paid, the victim does not hear from the company again and the loan is never received. Loan scams are a type of advance fee fraud. Fraud has been committed when money has been lost.

M – Mandate Fraud (Payment Diversion Fraud)

Mandate Fraud is where fraudsters obtain details of direct debits, standing orders or account transfer details and amend them to transfer monies to other accounts. This method is also commonly known as “Payment Diversion Fraud” in which an email is sent from a fraudster purporting to be a trusted colleague or customer requesting a ‘one off’ payment be made to a new bank account.

M – Money Mules

A money mule is someone who receives money for a scammer, usually a victim that is still believing the scam or living in denial. They then forward the money to the scammer engaging in criminal money laundering. Scammers use money mules so that other victims will have a local destination to send money to, reducing suspicions and increasing the probability of more money stolen.

N – Nigerian 419 Scams

This is one of the oldest of African based scams, where a large amount of assets (inheritance, gold, precious stones, or another commodity) is being offered but you need to pay some smaller amount up front.

O – Other Advance Fee Fraud

Advance fee fraud is when fraudsters target victims to make advance or upfront payments for goods, services and/or financial gains that do not materialize.  The scam typically involves promising the victim a significant share of a large sum of money, in return for a small up-front payment, which the fraudster requires in order to obtain the large sum. Types of advance fee fraud to be aware of include Career opportunity scams, Clairvoyant or psychic scams, Cheque overpayment fraud, Dating or romance scams, Fraud recovery fraud, Impersonation of officials, Inheritance fraud, Loan scams, Lottery, prize draw and sweepstake scams, Racing tipster scams, Rental fraud, West African letter or 419 fraud, Work from home and business opportunity scams, Vehicle matching scams

P – Pension Liberation Fraud (Early 401K Payout Scam)

Pension Liberation fraud occurs when an individual is contacted and persuaded to ‘liberate’ their pension early, this results in the fraudsters taking the pension pot and the victim being left without a pension and also in some cases owing money to HMRC. Always ask for a statement showing how your pension will be paid at retirement, and question who will look after your money until then. Speak to an adviser that is not associated with the deal you’ve been offered, for unbiased advice. Never be rushed into agreeing to a pension transfer and before you sign anything, call The Pensions Advisory Service on 0300 123 1047.

Q – Question Everything

Always question if something is genuine online in case it’s a scam. Adopt a position of healthy cynicism and really think through what is being proposed to you. If the interaction involves sending money make sure you are extra cautious. Discuss things with a friend or family member as they can look at the situation from a new perspective and may spot a fraud. Is there another way to verify an email or text message? Can you make a phone call to the sender from a trusted phone number, or visit them in person? Ensure your password is strong, using three random words e.g. ‘boatfishtulip’. Have a strong separate password for your email account, if available set up 2 factor authentication. Use anti-virus software on all devices and update regularly. Back up your important data regularly using an external device or cloud storage service. And secure your tablet or smartphone with a screen lock.

R – Romance Scams

Dating online is now one of the most popular ways for new couples to meet, with millions of people finding new relationships, romance and love this way. Unfortunately, amongst the genuine profiles are fake profiles set up by fraudsters. They are after your money, not your love. They are masters of manipulation, playing on your good nature and emotions to ultimately steal your money. Remember: never send money to someone you have not met in person, or receive/transfer money on their behalf. Be wary of making contact outside of the dating website you initially made contact on. Think why are they so quick to declare their love for me? How do I know they are telling me the truth? Talk to family and friends for advice, even if the other party is asking you to keep the relationship secret.

S – Shopping And Auction Sites

Online shopping can save you time, effort and money. Millions of people use websites such as eBay and Auto Trader to buy new or second-hand goods for competitive prices. These sites give you the opportunity to purchase a huge choice of goods from all over the world. However amongst genuine buyers and sellers on these sites are criminals who use the anonymity of the internet to offer goods for sale they do not have or are fake. Remember to stay on site, be wary of paying by bank transfer or virtual currency and be wary of too good to be true offers.

T – Ticketing Fraud

Getting tickets to see your favorite band, football team or theatre production can be extremely difficult as tickets sell out quickly. Fraudsters take advantage of this by offering tickets for sale that do not exist, are fake or are not transferable and can only be used by the person initially purchased them. When you arrive at the venue you will not get in. Protect yourself by using your credit card to pay and only buy tickets from the event promoter, venue box officer, official agent or a reputable ticket exchange site. Be suspicious of requests to pay by bank transfer and be wary of paying for tickets where you are told someone will meet you at the event with your tickets – they may not arrive.

U – Underreporting Of Scams

There is a high level of under-reporting of fraud by individual victims and businesses. Often when someone is a victim of a fraud they are not certain if a crime has been committed or how to report what has happened to them. Many scams go unreported by victims because of personal embarrassment. It is likely that if a fraud has been committed against you someone else may have suffered a similar crime. The more individuals report, the more likely it is that fraudsters will be arrested, charged and convicted. In fact, it is estimated by SCARS that less than 5% of scams are reported to governments – the result is significant under-prioritization of resources and law enforcement attention.

V – Virus

Viruses are malicious computer programs that can spread to other files. Viruses can have harmful effects such as displaying irritating messages, stealing data, or giving hackers control over your computer. Viruses can attach themselves to other programs or hide in code that runs automatically when you open certain types of files. Sometimes they can exploit security flaws in your computer’s operating system to run and spread automatically. You might receive an infected file in a variety of ways, including via an email attachment, in a download from the Internet, or on a USB drive. (See Parasitic viruses, Email malware W – Wi-Fi hotspots – Publically available WI-FI connections or ‘hot spots’ are great for accessing the internet when you are not at home or work. Not all WI-FI connections are secure and they can be used by criminals to intercept your data. If you connect to a publically available WI-FI you don’t know who else is on the network.

X – Xtra Time

Scammers build pressure by trying to rush you into making decisions. By catching you off guard and creating a sense of panic they put you in a state where you aren’t able to make your best decisions. No purchase or transaction is so important it has to be done immediately if you are unsure. Take time to think over a decision, hang up the phone or come away from the email and do something else before calmly returning to the decision you needed to make. Take time to talk a friend, trusted colleague or family member who will be able to help you make better decisions.

Y – Young People (Teens & Millennials)

Young People are often targeted by fraudsters to become their ‘money mules’. This is where the criminal uses their money mules bank account to transfer the proceeds of crime. Young people and students are particularly vulnerable as fraudsters know they are often short of cash. Criminals may approach them with what looks like a genuine job offer, asking them to receive money into their bank account and transfer it onto someone else, keeping some of the cash for themselves.

Z – Zombie

A zombie is an infected computer that is remotely controlled by a hacker. It is part of a large group of compromised computers called a botnet. Once a hacker can control the computer remotely via the Internet, the computer becomes a zombie. Zombies are commonly used to send spam, launch denial-of-service attacks and infect other systems.

If you believe you have been a victim of fraud you must report the scam and scammer to:

  1. Your local police. Yes, they will not be able to arrest the scammers (in most cases) or get your money back, but your report still matters. In the U.S. you may be able to claim your loss on your income taxes or insurance with your police report. If necessary tell the police you just want to report it for insurance purposes. It also allows you to take advantage of local Victims’ Assistance resources that may be available.
  2. Your national police (such as the FBI on
  3. Into the SCARS Scammer Reporting Network that distributes scammer reports worldwide – report them on

Acknowledgement: Portions reprinted from the Yorkshire Police.

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