How to avoid scams
A scam is an illegal or dishonest scheme that involves theft or fraud. Scams target people of all ages and backgrounds. They can come in many forms including an email, a letter, a website or a phone call.
Whatever the method, a scam is about tricking you into parting with your money. They are becoming more and more sophisticated and difficult to spot.
Scams can be incredibly convincing but this document helps you recognise a scam and protect yourself against them.
Sadly, during the coronavirus pandemic, fraud and other scams are increasing.
Gardaí have issued a warning in relation to a number of COVID-19 related scams. Examples include:
- Online shopping scams involving sought-after items like face masks and hand sanitiser
- People calling to your house offering services in relation to Covid-19, including services for medically-related tests
- Phishing emails with an attachment claiming to contain vital information about the virus and asking you to open the attachment
- Hoax websites asking you to make a donation to a fake charity supporting a coronavirus cause
The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection has also issued warnings about fraudulent texts telling people they are due a COVID-19 Pandemic payment and asking them to click a link.
For information on how you can protect yourself from scams - see below.
Common types of scams
You are asked to pay deposit by bank transfer to secure a house or apartment from a fake accommodation site
Antivirus software scams
An email or phone call from a company that says your computer has a virus and they can repair it by installing software to take over your computer. The software allows them to access your personal information or they may insist you pay them before they turn the controls of your computer or files back over to you.
Someone asks you to make a donation to a fake charity or pretends to be from a real charity
Scammers posing as legitimate sellers on classified websites to trick you into payment for fake goods or services
Websites that offer services from government departments or local government but are not official sites, promising to make a process faster or easier for an excessive price
Someone knocks on your door and offers you a product or service, convincing you to pay cash up-front for a service that is never provided
Fake ticket scams
Fraudsters using the secondary ticket market to sell tickets that don’t exist
Free trial scams
An advert that promotes a product or service by inviting you to try it out for free or for a very low cost. When you sign up, you may be signing a membership or subscription service that locks you into costly repeat payments
Holiday rental scams
Fake websites and email offers for holidays or villas that do not exist. They require you to pay money directly into the fraudsters account
Getting you or your business to invest in a questionable financial opportunity promising a high return or guaranteed profit. Examples are investment in forestry, biofuels or exotic overseas properties
Loan and credit scams
A company ‘guarantees’ you a loan in return for an upfront fee
Malware or ransomware
Software that is installed by scammers on your device that allow them to access your files, track what you are doing or demand payment to ‘unlock’ your computer or files
Mobile phone scams
For example, missed calls scam where a scammer calls your phone and hangs up quickly. If you call the number back and it’s a scam you could be paying premium rates for the call without knowing
A bogus email, for example pretending to be from your bank, trying to trick you into sharing your personal and financial information
Prize and lottery scams
Asking you to pay some sort of fee to claim your prize or winnings from a competition or lottery you never entered
Romance and relationship scams
Fraudsters using dating sites, apps or social media to request money, gifts or personal details
Scammers send you a threatening email claiming your computer and webcam have been hacked and you have been recorded watching pornographic videos. They demand payment for the footage not to be released
Social media scams
Fraudsters use social media for scams including quizzes phishing for personal details, scammers posing as friends asking for money, ads for ‘free’ vouchers and products or services claiming a celebrity endorsement
How do I know if it's a scam?
Some scams can be quite obvious, while others can be more elaborate and difficult to recognise. Knowing what to look for and how to avoid scams is the best way to stay safe. Look out for the following signs of a scam:
- Unsolicited contact from a company out of the blue
- A deal that seems too good to be true
- You are asked to share personal details
- You are being pressurised to respond quickly or transfer money quickly
- You have been asked to pay by unusual method, for example through a transfer service like Western Union or virtual currency like Bitcoin
- Contact details are vague
- Misspellings or grammatical mistakes
- You are asked to keep the offer quiet
How can I protect myself?
There are many things you can do to protect yourself from scams. You should always:
- Know who you are dealing with
- Be alert for suspicious behaviour
- Protect your personal information
- Protect your money
Know who you are dealing with
Research the company who has contacted you to make sure it’s a legitimate business. You should check:
- Terms and conditions, so you know exactly what you are agreeing to.
- Contact details such as phone number, email, and physical address. Beware of websites that only have a contact form and no other contact information.
- Online reviews, to find out about other people’s experiences. Don’t just use one source of reviews as these could be fake. Check reviews on social media channels or independent online resources like Trustpilot.
- You can check a charity is registered with the Charities Regulator.
Be alert for suspicious behaviour
Listen to your instinct and if something feels wrong then it is usually right to question it. Always ask yourself ‘is it safe?’ and take the following precautions:
- Be careful of offers that seem too good to be true
- Don’t click on or download anything you don’t trust. You can check where a link is going before you click on it by hovering over it.
- Don’t let anyone remotely access your computer
- Check the website is secure by looking for a closed security padlock symbol in the browser window bar (where the website address is located). Click on it to check foran encryption certificate. The website address should begin with ‘https://’ - the ‘s’ stands for ‘secure’.
- Watch out for spelling or grammatical mistakes which are a sign of scam
- Be suspicious of any discount offered for paying by bank transfer
Protect your personal information
Your personal information is valuable to criminals and can be misused by them or sold on to others. Take these steps to protect yourself:
- Don’t give out any personal information over the phone unless you made the call. If you are worried about giving credit or debit card details to a charity during an unsolicited call, you can call the charity back on their main office phone number
- Be careful of unsolicited phone calls, emails or texts saying they are your bank, particularly if they are asking for personal information such as date of birth or passwords
- Don’t give out personal information in an email or when chatting online
- Think carefully about the personal information you post online
- If you get a request for personal details don’t respond straight away
- Never enter personal information on a public computer
Protect your money
There are simple steps you can take to protect your money from scams. You should:
- Never send money by bank transfer unless you are absolutely certain you are sending it to someone you know and trust. Sending money by bank transfer is like sending someone cash and generally once you send it, it’s gone.
- Always use a secure method of payment such as a credit card, debit card or other payment services such as PayPal (that offer a payment protection scheme)
- Limit the number of places where you store your payment information online or use a secure digital wallet
- Keep online banking software and banking apps up to date and always download updates when you are prompted
- Keep an eye on transactions on your bank statements regularly and report suspicious activity to your bank or credit card provider straight away
If I’ve been scammed
If you think you have been victim of a scam, you should take the following steps:
- Stop all contact with the scammer straight away
- Do not send any more payments
- If you paid by credit or debit card, tell your bank or card provider immediately
- Report the incident to your local garda station, it is a criminal matter
- Gather any records you have about the scam (emails or other communications)
- Protect your devices by resetting your passwords and update your anti-virus software
- Report the incident to consumer protection agencies, for advice and to help prevent other people being caught in the same scam
Can I get my money back?
You might be able to get your money back after you’ve been scammed. Whether you will get your money back depends on what happened and how you paid the scammer.
Unauthorised transaction on your account
Money can only be taken from your account if you authorised (or allowed) the transaction. If you notice an unauthorised transaction on your account, contact your bank immediately.
In most circumstances, your bank must refund you for an unauthorised payment.
You bought something from a scammer with your debit card, credit card or PayPal
You can ask your bank or credit card provider to reverse the transaction through a process known as chargeback. The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission has more information about chargeback.
You transferred money to a scammer using bank transfer
If the money was sent by bank transfer this will make it very difficult to trace but the faster, you act the better.
You used a money transfer service
It is unlikely you will be able to get your money back if you paid through a wire service such as MoneyGram, PayPoint or Western Union.
If you paid by vouchers or gift card
It is unlikely you will get your money back if you used vouchers or gift cards to pay the scammer.
You can read more in our document on online safety.
The Banking and Payment’s Federation Ireland’s (BPFI) FraudSMART initiative has some useful resources on protecting yourself from fraud.
The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) has more information about how to watch out for scams.