Online crime facilitated via the internet has mushroomed in growth over the past few years. Cyber scams that are fraudulent in nature and facilitated by modern technology are also growing vigorously. Victims of cyber crime and scams often lead to very distressing outcomes for the individual victim both financially and in relation to their self-esteem and mental health.

According to a recent article in the Economist, in Britain, in 2019 there were 3.8m incidents of fraud, mostly online, representing a third of all crimes committed. That is a truly astonishing figure so how do you avoid becoming a statistic in this crimewave?

Of course, technology does help but it is not the whole answer. The basics are making sure you have an up-to-date antivirus package with a robust firewall and that your package is regularly updated. It should try and protect against malware (malicious software) being installed on your device though that also requires a human element for protection.

There are more methods of keeping safe and for a detailed but understandable description, check out this excellent UK based website Get Safe Online. There is a lot of information and support here and in the news section, there is a discussion about job scams, which are sadly quite common.

There are some good password managers out there that might make your digital existence harder to hack and don’t forget the simple but effective two-factor authentication. Your technology may have been compromised and you don’t know it. For example, check out  to see if your email address or phone number been subject to a data breach. Although having good technology is part of the answer, it is not the full solution.

Victims of cyber scams or cyber crime 

It is the human link that many fraudsters and criminals will try and probe and exploit because that is seen as a potential weak link in the chain. It is easy to be flustered by receiving an email, phone call or text message with a panicking message (deliberate of course) that for example, your bank account has been breached and you must take immediate action.

Or you are slyly directed to a false website and drawn into making a financial transaction and your recipient has deceived you into thinking that you are transferring money into legitimate and “trusted” business. I suspect many of us know or heard about people who have been victims of such scams or cyber crime and some of the stories are truly awful.

So, you are probably a bit anxious and worried about using digital technology but there are ways to practice safe activity online when using a smartphone, computer or tablet device. One excellent starting point is Scam Spotter, which is supported by Google. Though it is an American based website and scamspotter talks about dollars, the sentiments apply worldwide. The home page is easy to read and highlights the three golden rules then click on “learn the scams” and read on.

Another excellent and UK source of support against scams comes from the consumer advocate, Which?. Within this excellent resource, there are links on how to protect yourself from scams, how to get your money back and you can receive also alerts about scams. There are also details on how to spot and recognise different types of scams.

Increasingly we are seeing “spoofing scams” where criminals are using phone numbers that appear on your phone as a genuine caller ID (it could be a fraudulent call impersonating your bank, for example). Trying to imitate a genuine institution which may lower your guard when you answer the call and again, always beware. In fact Ofcom, the UK telecommunications regulator has highlighted this very issue.

It is not only individuals who are at risk from cyber crimes and scams. Recently the Irish Health System was attacked by ransomware. It comes as no surprise that other healthcare facilities have also been targeted. Commercial organisations have also fallen prey to ransom demands.

It is easy to become anxious about using digital technologies when conducting financial transactions and lose trust in this method. However, being aware of cyber crime and scams and learning from trusted resources can you make you more aware of the risks and in turn take suitable preventative action. Nothing is foolproof and it is easy to get conned or compromised in some way. Simply be aware and if in doubt, seek proper advice before taking any action.

Dr Harry Brown is a GP, Leeds and Medical Editor of GM Journal