Understanding the difference between frauds and scams

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Understanding the difference between frauds and scams

Following the extraordinary malware attack on the HSE in recent days, there is a lot of discussion about cybersecurity.

For most people, the type of cyber-crime committed against the HSE (and Department of Health) are unlikely to be perpetrated against the majority of people. However, lesser forms of crime can (and do) happen all the time.

There are lots of similarities between frauds and scams, and probably the biggest similarity is no one should be a victim of either one! However, in today’s world, when it comes to protecting your finances and your financial wellbeing, it’s really important to understand the differences between the two and how best to avoid them.

Definitions: Frauds vs. Scams

Colloquially, the terms “fraud” and “scam” are often used interchangeably to refer to any kind of financial wrongdoing. However, a fraud usually refers to a broader and more serious crime. When it comes to scams, these are usually one type of fraud.

A good example is senior citizen fraud which is common and also, can result in financial devastation for some. Under the broad category of senior citizen fraud, specific scams include home repair scams, in which victims are duped into non-existent home repairs and billed for tens of thousands of Euro; romance scams, capitalising on victims’ desires to find a companion; and tech support scams, wherein criminals attempt to gain remote access to a computer or moile phone.

Other types of fraud include charity and disaster fraud, credit card fraud, impersonation fraud and investment fraud. In order to protect ourselves and our loved ones, it’s a good idea to speak up about the overarching problem of fraud in general, as well as to discuss specific scams to look out for – while keeping in mind that scammers are revising their strategies all the time.

Common Frauds and Scams

Unfortunately, even during the coronavirus pandemic, there has been little let-up in criminal activity. Scams involving tales of personal misfortune and woe continue to be used to trick unsuspecting people to part with their money.

Digital or cyber fraud is a very broad category encompassing many of the most common types of scams, such as phishing emails, malware, and identity theft via a compromised email account. While not all internet fraud can be avoided – especially where large-scale data breaches are concerned – it is possible to protect yourself from internet scams by taking a few simple precautions. For example, never open emails or online messages from senders you don’t recognise, and beware of sender addresses that look official but include one or two odd characters or a spelling mistake. If you receive any digital communication asking for money, personal information, or directing you to download an attachment – proceed with caution and don’t act in haste. Scammers rely on victims’ panic to cloud their judgement, so if you feel any kind of pressure, this is a good sign that a scam might be afoot.

While online fraud is a common way for scammers to find new victims, it’s equally important to be on the lookout for scams taking place on more traditional communication channels. Whether it’s a phone call from a strange number or a piece of post an organisation that sounds legitimate, the best course of action is almost always the same: don’t act fast, don’t share personal or financial information, take the time to verify who’s contacting you, and if you need, re-initiate the conversation through an official channel to get more information.

What Happens Next?

If you or a family member has been impacted by a fraud or scam, contact your bank, credit union or credit card company to check if any funds have been stolen from your account (or in the case of your credit card, illegally charged to your account). No matter what kind of fraud or scam you’re facing, it’s always a good idea to say something to someone you trust, as soon as possible.

You can help other potential victims by reporting the fraud to the An Garda Siochana who regularly publish updates on frauds being perpetrated against the public including unwanted calls, and other consumer issues currently affecting people – this can be a really useful resource if you want to learn more about what scams to watch out for.

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