Understanding Technology

How to protect yourself from data theft online

· 6 min read

Data theft is an ongoing problem in the UK and worldwide. Fraudsters and cybercriminals are always finding new and innovative ways to steal our money, data and identities.


Data theft is an ongoing problem in the UK and worldwide.

Fraudsters and cybercriminals are always finding new and innovative ways to steal our money, data and identities.

In 2019, the ONS reported that 1.8% of the population suffered from some form of cybercrime.

These stats rose alarmingly during lockdown last year, and ITV revealed that, between March and July 2020, there were 36,555 victims of fraud over the age of 55.

Together, fraud victims reported losses of nearly a quarter of a billion, up from £47m across the same period the year before.

Pension fraud takes up a large percentage of this, totalling an estimated £14.6 billion to date, according to ThisIsMoney.

Cybercrime is a problem for everyone, and protecting yourself both online and offline is essential in this day and age.

By abiding by a few golden principles and practices, you can effectively reduce your risk of data theft and fraud.

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Beware of fraudulent adverts on social media

Social media may feel like somewhat of a safe haven - surely posts there are subject to some form of screening?

However, social media adverts are a hotspot for cybercrime and a growing area of concern for cybersecurity. Which? reported that 1 in 10 of all scams emanates from social media or search engines such as Google.

These fraudulent adverts are very hard to spot and only 42% of individuals surveyed by Which? said that they could tell a scam ad from a real one.

Fraudulent adverts might come in the form of offers, deals, limited-time sales, or anything else that requests personal details or payment information without sending you to a trusted website first.

How to Spot Dodgy Adverts

Fraudulent social media adverts masquerade as genuine services, brands or businesses. Some of these could appear totally benign and innocent, e.g. newsletters for hobbies, will writing, pension services or deals on products that might appeal to you.

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The trick is to never input personal information without visiting the site directly from within a secure web browser. It’s much easier to authenticate a site from your PC and not your phone.

You should always look up the brand or business on Trustpilot or another official review site before inputting personal information or making purchases.

Which? has an excellent guide on how to spot fake adverts.

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Be careful who you talk to online

Whilst that heading may seem a little on the paranoid side, it pays to be aware of who you’re talking to online and to err on the side of caution when someone contacts you from out of the blue.

When my mum joined Facebook, she was added by a fair few people from the past (no old flames as far as I could tell!). Some she knew, some she didn’t.

Many online scams are very targeted, personal and often involve direct communication. It’s entirely possible that someone could create a fake profile for someone you know - or used to know - and use it to try and scam you or steal personal details.

Remember, you don’t need to give your life’s information away for someone to steal your identity. Just a few details can help fraudsters achieve their goals.

It might seem far-fetched, but sadly, there have been many high-profile fraud cases where criminal gangs have infiltrated the personal lives of elderly individuals using fake profiles and other targeted techniques.

As my mum would say, “there’s nothing like a telephone call anyway!”

Manage your passwords

Password management is a tricky one.

Forgetting passwords is not exclusive to older people - you can take that from me personally!

Once sites start asking you to create password variations - a capital letter here - a special character there - you’re bound to forget some.

And then you have those annoying logins which require you to input digits from your ‘memorable information’ (Lloyds Internet Banking springs to mind, anyone?!).

But, writing down forgettable passwords on paper is not a great idea, especially if they’re post-it noted to the top of your monitor (tempting as it may be).

If you choose to do this, you need a quality filing system - treat your password like other sensitive financial and personal information. Investing in a safe or locked filing cabinet is ideal.

Either way, do not leave your written passwords freely exposed.

Whilst it might seem unlikely anyone will ever see or find your written password reminders, you’ve got to plan for the unknown.

Can it be viewed through a window? Could you put it in your pocket, purse or wallet and lose it somewhere without knowing?

You also can’t discount that your passwords would make a nice little bonus for anyone who breaks into your home if it were to happen.

Password Software

Internet browsers have password managers that allow you to store passwords in the browser, so they’re automatically applied when you log in to something online. This has its own risks as you’ll need to make sure your PC itself is properly password secured.

LastPass is a better option - you’ll have one master password that lets you access your password ‘vault’ where all your other passwords are saved.

Only use the tools you need, and understand

There are tons of next-generation tools out there, including ApplePay and Google Pay, challenger banks such as Monzo and Starling, and many other financial gadgets.

The tech-savvy might be interested, but for the most part, it’s worth being sceptical of what you set up on your PC and phone.

This goes for the families of older individuals, too - it’s worth being cautious about what you set up for your parents, grandparents, and other family members.

I try and follow KISS - Keep It Simple, Stupid! As someone who considers themselves tech-savvy, I do find myself sceptical of any new technology that I simply don’t need, and it can be difficult verifying whether your data is safe anyway.

If you don’t need it and you’re not going to use it, don’t bother until you do.

Keep your personal information and data close to your chest when you’re online.

Keep your eyes and ears open and your brain engaged - and stay vigilant at all times!

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Sam Jeans
Sam Jeans
Sam is an experienced writer and audio producer with a passion for health, science, music and playing the drums. When he's not writing, he can often be found digging through history textbooks, scientific journals and boxes of vinyl records.