Free WiFi alert as fraudsters try to steal your money – & their tactic ‘seems legitimate’

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Households are currently experiencing a £693 energy bill hike and the price cap is expected to hit £3,200 by October, which will put further pressure on families. Recent research carried out by Action Fraud found that fraudsters are exploiting this hike in energy prices with many mentioning one of the ‘big six’ energy firms in their scams. Cases of these crimes have risen by 10 percent this quarter compared to the same period last year, with January seeing a 27 percent year-on-year increase alone.

Vonny Gamot, Head of Consumer EMEA at McAfee, discussed how social media platforms have “exacerbated” the proliferation of cost of living scams.

Speaking exclusively to Express.co.uk, Ms Gamot explained: “The cost of living crisis signifies a time where people are being hit by higher bills and increased costs – both of which mean they are looking to find as many ways as possible to save money.

“Social media platforms have exacerbated these scams, but it’s always been a popular channel for fraudsters. More than half of the global population uses social media, and being opportunists, they know how to use these channels to gain personal data, or trick people into revealing valuable information about themselves.

“You post updates about your life, where you live, your job and your friends on social media. All of these details are a valuable commodity to cybercriminals, and with social media shopping on the rise, financial details linked to accounts only makes it a better target for scammers.”

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Ms Gamot emphasised how scammers have adapted their operations and techniques over the pandemic and into the cost of living crisis – and it seems signing up for free Wi-Fi should be done with care.

She explained: “Email scams are the most common, with 96 percent of phishing attacks occurring this way, while text message scams, where fraudsters try to encourage people to click links to malicious websites, are also prevalent.

“Equally, scammers might call you or leave a voicemail message impersonating a trusted source. Something we’re seeing more and more is scammers creating a malicious ‘free Wi-Fi’ hotspot that appears to be legitimate to access peoples’ phones and computers.”

Giving examples as how cost of living scams are appearing on social media platforms, Ms Gatmot outlined how scammers provoke visceral reactions to get people to divulge their private information.

She added: “We’re seeing several approaches on this channel; firstly, passwords based on common features such as your birthday, street name or pet’s name, which scammers can easily find out.

“Second is through competition win notifications. People may receive a message that they have won a competition, often something they didn’t enter, and fraudsters will ask for your bank details to finalise the prize.

“And, lastly, while there are plenty of valid fundraisers and petitions on social media, we often see scammers duping users by inspiring a strong emotion – using fear, anger or sadness – so people open up their wallets.”

However, Ms Gamot believes there are still things people can do to avoid falling for the social media scams.

“Luckily, consumers can change a few habits to stop social engineers in their tracks,” Ms Gamot said.

“Firstly, scammers often target people who act rashly because of strong emotion, so slow down before responding to that urgent message or clicking a link, consider whether it might be a scam.

“Many of us have likely had active social media accounts for years, so people can begin to review their friends and followers online and remove any unknown or suspicious accounts. Lastly, always create a strong, unique password.

“It might seem unnecessary to create individual passwords for different accounts, but scammers use this to gain access to all your accounts.”

The fraud expert also shared what people should be aware of when looking out for scammers online.

“The key things to look out for when faced with a potential malicious phishing scam is lack of personalisation, unusual URLs, incorrect spelling and when the message is telling you to act urgently,” she said.

“On an individual level, safeguarding your online footprint requires a combination of robust security architecture along with good user hygiene, such as strong passwords and multi factor authentication.”

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