Online scams

Scams are happening more and more through the internet and email. You’re more likely to fall victim to fraud or cyber offences above any other crime. Learn about the different types of online scams and how to avoid them.

Online scams through emails and websites

There are many different types of online scams such as bogus ‘free trial’ offers, bogus emails, counterfeit goods. Below are some of the most common.

Copycat government websites

Some scams involve websites designed to look like official government websites such as HMRC.

They charge you a fee to process or renew official documents like passports or visas, which you can do yourself for free or cheaper.

Sometimes a fee is charged but the application is not processed at all.

Dating and romance scams

Scammers use dating websites, social networks and chat rooms to get personal details or money from people. Romance scammers don’t prey on a specific gender, sexuality, race or age.

What you should do

When online dating, start off with a reputable website. Look out for someone asking lots of questions but not giving any detail about themselves. Don’t ever hand over any money or send them valuable goods and never let anyone you don’t know or trust transfer money into your bank account.

‘John’ from Northern Ireland was a victim of a romance scam. Hear John’s story.

Holiday frauds

Scammers target online holiday booking and accommodation sites to scam unsuspecting customers into paying for accommodation that is not available or doesn’t exist.

Often the victim only becomes aware they have been scammed when they arrive at their accommodation or destination and find no booking has been made.

Mandate fraud

This happens where two people are in email correspondence and a scammer hacks an account, creates a very similar duplicate and inserts bank account details and asks for payment, resulting in the scammer getting the money.


Pharming is when hackers redirect the traffic from a genuine website to another, such as a fake ecommerce or banking site.

This is a difficult scam to protect yourself from as although you've entered the right address to bring you to a particular site, you're still sent to a fake one to try to get your personal information.

Phishing emails

A common trick scammers use is to send you a fake email pretending to be from your bank or another organisation you trust like HMRC or PayPal.

This email will ask you to visit a website and log in with your account details. The site looks just like your bank’s website, but is really a fake site set up by criminals to get your details.

You can find out more information about online scams at the link below.

Read some of the scams that have been reported in Northern Ireland at the link below. New scam updates are posted regularly.

Protecting yourself from online scams

Make sure any websites you use are secure. Reliable websites starts with HTTPS, not HTTP.

Once the page has loaded, make sure the website address that you have entered hasn’t changed to a slightly different spelling.

Use safe and secure WiFi connections.

Keep virus protection software up-to-date.

Make sure all accounts have a strong password. Don’t use the same password for multiple accounts and change them regularly.

You can find out more about how to protect yourself from online scams at the link below.

Preventing and reporting scams

You can find advice on how to protect yourself and others from becoming a victim of a scam as well as information on how to report a fraud at the links below.

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