Liam Croke: Congrats! You’ve just won $1m...or maybe not

A survey carried out late last year from Eurostat found that nearly 60% of Irish internet users had bought something online in the previous 12 months. The survey discovered booking holidays was our most popular online purchase (43%) with clothes and shoes the second most popular (26%).

A survey carried out late last year from Eurostat found that nearly 60% of Irish internet users had bought something online in the previous 12 months. The survey discovered booking holidays was our most popular online purchase (43%) with clothes and shoes the second most popular (26%).

Unfortunately, I regularly hear from readers who tell me how they have been ripped off by various scams online they believed initially to be true, resulting in them losing substantial amounts of money.

There are many scams that have been doing the rounds for the past number of years that still prey on people’s naivety, like Ponzi schemes, the Nigerian 419 scam, mailshots telling you you have won a prize and so on

But there are new scams that I have heard people have already fallen victim to, so you need to be aware of them so you won’t fall victim to them.

The first one is where con artists are targeting restaurants.

Criminals posing as a representative from the restaurant’s bank are calling to the restaurant advising them that there is a problem with their Visa or Laser machine.

They are being told that if anyone is proposing to pay electronically they should call a number the criminal gives them who will then speak with the customer and “verify” that the paying customer is OK by asking them a number of security questions first and then once they have got enough information, they ask to speak again to the restaurant’s employee and advise them to put the transaction through.

Having the person’s personal information, the criminals then call their bank pretending to be the person, answer correctly the security questions the real bank asks them and then transfer money from the person’s account they just scammed to their own account.

I guess if you are in a restaurant and you only have your Laser orVisa card on you, it could be awkward and uncomfortable for people when presented with this problem the restaurant is having.

It might look to other diners that there is a problem with your card or something so you might have no problem giving as much of your information out so you can get out of there as fast as possible.

You don’t want to make a scene by refusing to give out this information because what is the alternative? And you are probably just relieved the payment has gone through, not realising you have just been scammed.

Another one doing the rounds is called the “Microsoft Scam”. This is where you either receive a call from someone telling you that your computer has a virus or a pop-up message will appear on your screen telling you the same thing.

The representative of the company will then offer to help you and they will ask if their security team can take remote control of your computer. And if you let them they may be able to get access to your personal details, bank details, passwords etc. that they later may not even use themselves but sell on to a third party.

Another scam – and this is one I have come across myself – is the copycat website.

How many times, if you type in a question or name to a search engine, do you use the first link you see at the top of the page – but how do you know the site you are directed to is real?

Criminals have become very sophisticated by mimicking very well-known sites like banks or government sites and trick people into using them without realising they aren’t the website they think it is.

They pay money to become a sponsored link at the top of search engine lists, adding to an impression that they are legitimate.

And let me quickly tell you about one more scam I came across recently. A couple from County Limerick wrote to me telling me how they were scammed into thinking they had won $92,000 in the Canadian lottery.

They were telephoned and told of their win and asked to send $462 by Western Union to cover “taxes” on their win. The call they received to tell them of their win was from a person who said they were ringing from a call centre on behalf of the lottery company.

They said that the money they needed to send would cover taxes due as they were legally not allowed to touch their winnings. They were given a number to call back and guess how the call was answered? “Hello! Canadian Lottery ...”

Apparently this couple have not been the only ones scammed, because according to the Canadian embassy they have received numerous calls from similar people.

They said that the Canadian Lottery would never ask winners to send money to claim winnings. The scammers ask for money to be sent by Western Union by the way so that it cannot be traced.

My advice is to remain vigilant at all times. If you get unsolicited calls or you are being offered something that is too good to be true, it probably is, so stay away.

Report anything suspicious to the gardai and get straight onto your bank or credit card company if you have given any personal bank account details to someone who you have any doubts about.

Finally research carried out recently by target.com, found that 40 million people have had their credit card numbers stolen since the beginning of the year.

And it looks as if cyber- attacks are set to continue. Only in the past couple of weeks we have seen high end data breaches of large companies, where the data stolen i.e. personal records and financial information being sold on the black market within a matter of days.

Only very recently eBay advised its 145 million users to change their passwords following a major hack.

So, one of the best ways of preventing your exposure to identity theft is if you regularly change your money account related passwords.

If you could set up a reminder to change your passwords every three months and use different passwords for different accounts and sites you have rather than using the same password for everything.

And rather than having to come up with new password names every three months, there are plenty of sites available that will generate a password for you – I recently changed my passwords and used the site www. www.freepasswordgenerator.com to come up with the new ones.