If online fraudsters get hold of your banking or personal details, they can spend your cash and open accounts in your name. Find out how to stay safe with our top 5 tips.
From security leaks and Trojan horses to phishing scams, viruses, worms, fraud and data swapping, the internet can be a fraudster's paradise.
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t manage your finances or run your household online - you just need to know how to keep your bank details and your money safe.
Here's what you need to do to stay safe online:
Staying safe online requires preparation, and the first step is making sure your computer is up to the job.
You need an up-to-date anti-virus and a firewall as the absolute minimum, although more comprehensive protection like anti-spyware is advisable.
Most major banks offer free security software designed to protect your banking details. This is definitely worth using, too - Trusteer Rapport is the most widely recommended by major UK banks.
Mobile devices can also be targeted, so if you're browsing on the go, you need to be confident that your phone or tablet can keep your details private.
Thankfully, most major internet security services now offer mobile versions of their software. Banks and building societies are beginning to provide useful, secure mobile apps that provide more protection than logging on via a web browser.
However good your bank’s mobile security is, always use a secure wifi connection when you’re out and about. Don’t use public wifi networks to make any transactions; switch wifi off and use 3G,4G or 5G instead.
Tablets and phones are also easier to steal (or lose) than your computer at home, making them easier to fall into fraudsters’ hands. Set up features like Apple’s ‘Find my iPhone’ or Google’s Find my Device, which enables you to track and freeze your phone if it’s lost.
Also, make sure you’re familiar with security features on your online banking app. Depending on your bank, you may be able to instantly freeze your account, get real-time spending notifications and freeze specific purchases.
If you’re making a transaction on a website you’ve not used before, it’s healthy to employ a good measure of caution.
Check out the following red flags which could suggest it’s not a legit site:
Poorly written content - with spelling or grammatical mistakes
Unrelated images appearing on the site
Out of date security certificates
Incorrect URL, have you been redirected elsewhere?
Invalid contact details or no contact details at all
For more help, read our 5 ways to check a website is legit
You should always check you are on a secure HTTPS connection before sharing your banking details.
Thankfully there is an easy way for us all to tell when you are browsing on a secured network – the HTTP: at the start of the web address will change to HTTPS: . This stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure, and it ensures that your personal details are not being snooped upon.
If you have internet security or antivirus software, that will also indicate when you are browsing on a secure internet connection, giving you additional reassurance.
Major banks and retailers will only ask for your bank or card details from a secured internet connection.
Phishing scams are an easy way for fraudsters to steal your banking details, personal information or download a virus onto your computer.
These scams work by convincing you to share information, such as your bank details, with what you think is a legitimate company or organisation.
Fraudsters typically ‘phish’ with scam emails, but you may also get scam text messages, WhatsApp messages or phone calls. Phishing links may also be included on forms on fake websites.
In most cases, the scam communication will purport to come from an organisation that you trust. This could be your bank, doctor, solicitor or government department.
To stay safe online, it's imperative that you're on guard against phishing scams and don't take the bait.
If you aren’t sure whether a message is genuine, contact the organisation yourself. Just be sure to get contact details from the official website and don’t use any information or links provided in the message.
Also, keep in mind that banks will never ask you to supply confidential information online.
For more help spotting scams, read our guide to checking a website is legitimate.
Another sensible precaution is to use a credit card for all your online transactions. This will help you keep track of your purchases and make it easier to spot fraudulent transactions quickly.
Using a credit card rather than a debit card also provides extra protection because it keeps the money in your current account safe. If someone does get their hands on your details, they can't bleed your account dry; and the card itself will have anti-fraud measures in place (plus procedures for dealing with fraud victims).
Of course, you'll also benefit from Section 75 protection on purchases over £100, so you'll get your money back if something goes wrong with your purchase.