Column: Online Scams

The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 28th September:

The online world is second nature for many of us now.

It’s where we get our news, how we communicate with friends and family, and most of us are familiar with the benefits and risks associated with depending on it so much.

Unfortunately, however, I’m increasingly contacted by constituents who have been taken advantage of by online fraud and scams.

Fraud itself is nothing new – in fact the first laws tackling fraud were set out in ‘First Statute of Westminster’, way back in 1275.

But the nature of fraud has changed drastically over recent years with the advent of the internet in particular, and online scams are increasingly sophisticated and convincing.

They can range from being tricked into providing money and personal details to what people think are friends or banks, being hacked, email intercept fraud, or simply paying for items that never arrive from fake sites.

I was recently told by a victim about one such appalling incident of online fraud as a constituent was messaged privately on a popular online social networking site by an old friend who asked for money.

Unfortunately, my constituent only discovered after they had transferred some of their hard-earned savings that the message was fake and their friend had been hacked.

It’s a shocking practice, but one that really can affect anybody. 

Many people reading may be convinced they’re unlikely to be the victim of an online scam, and a recent survey by the Take Five campaign to stop fraud found that around 80 per cent of people claim they can confidently identify a scam.

But that same survey found that only 9 per cent of people could accurately do so when presented with the kind of scams being used online today, such are their sophistication and simplicity.

And though the amounts lost can often be small, the National Audit Office estimated that around £10bn was lost by individuals to fraud in 2016, from around 1.9m cyber-related fraud incidents.

So I urge everyone to take every precaution online, and contact my office if necessary for advice on how to avoid being the next victim of cyber fraud.