MAKING CENTS: Know the scams and be wary of tempting online offers

Alarm bells should always ring if you are contacted out of the blue, writes Gráinne McGuinness.

Today is Safer Internet Day, an EU wide initiative aimed at keeping young people safe online. Parents are understandably concerned about the dangers their children face on the internet but can be complacent about their own vulnerability. Being an adult does not make you immune to the threat posed by online scammers, who use constantly-evolving tactics to steal from web users.

In 2016, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) received more than 300 calls and emails to their consumer helpline relating to scams. Some of these were in person or by phone but consumers were also targeted by email, online or through social media sites.

“Consumers can protect themselves from scams in a number of ways,” Áine Carroll, director of communications and market insights at the CCPC said. “The best way is to be vigilant — know what scams are currently out there and remember that there are always new variations of existing scams appearing.”

Alarm bells should always ring if you are contacted out of the blue, you have won a prize but never entered a draw, you are asked for money up front or you are asked for your bank account, credit card details or other confidential, information. Don’t divulge that information even if it appears to be from your bank or another reputable organisation, such as the Revenue.

Any kind of pressure on you to respond within a certain timeframe is also a major warning flag, scammers will try to get you to make a decision in a hurry. If a consumer has the time to think over a situation, they will see the flaws. Scams offering people under 55 access to pension schemes or investment opportunities for older consumers often fall into this category.

Another type of scam are third party sites offering services such as European Health Insurance cards, driving test bookings or travel visas. The language used suggests they are the official site but in reality they will charge you spurious and unnecessary ‘administration fees’.

Always double check that you are on the official website of the organisation, a google search can often have scam sites return at the top so check the actual web address.

IT security company ESET Ireland last week warned about an example of the type of multi-layered fraud scammers use. It references Farmville, which was once the most-played game on Facebook. Analyst Urban Schrott explained: “It all starts with an email, claiming to come from PayPal and claiming a payment is being processed to FarmVille on Facebook.”

The email suggests the user is due a refund but that the payment is on hold. It includes a link that appears to redirect to PayPal. But the link leads to a forged PayPal website with a Brazilian address. Users are asked to log in with their PayPal details and then told there is a problem and they need to enter all their bank details. The user is then told the refund is being processed but in reality the scammers now have all their information.

ESET Ireland advises anyone receiving this email, to flag it as spam and avoid clicking any links or attachments in such emails.

The specifics of that particular example highlight the importance of Ms Carroll’s advice: “Always be wary of tempting offers and ask yourself why a company would be contacting you and asking you to verify your personal information.”

If you fear you have been scammed, contact your local Garda station immediately. If you handed over your credit or debit card details, you should contact your bank or credit card company immediately.

The CCPC also ask that: “Consumers who have been affected by scams should let us know and we can help spread the word so others are not. This can be done by contacting us on Lo-call 1890 432 432. Building awareness about scams helps to prevent other people fall victim.”

You can also check out the CCPC’s register of current scams at www.consumerhelp.ie.

DEAL OF THE WEEK

The Expressway service is currently running its Big Red Seat Sale, with seats available from as little as €5.99 one way. The value fares are offered on 22 major routes nationwide.

€5.99 will get you from Dublin to Kilkenny or Clonmel and from Limerick to Abbeyfeale or Killarney.

If you want to travel from the capital to Galway, Wexford, Waterford, or Cork, you can get there for just €8.99.

The same price will also get you as far as either Derry or Belfast.

Expressway also offers a service to Dublin Airport from Ballyshannon or Monaghan for €8.99.

A trip from Cork to Dublin Airport costs just €12.99, or €10.99 from Kilkenny.

The promotional tickets must be purchased at www.expressway.ie and customers will receive a booking confirmation via email. This must be either printed off or displayed on a mobile phone when boarding. Tickets must be purchased for travel on or before February 26.

  • If there are any consumer issues that you’d like Gráinne to address or if you have problems that Gráinne could help with, she can be contacted at makingcents@examiner.ie 


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