5 ways to protect yourself from financial crime in a cashless era

5 ways to protect yourself from financial crime in a cashless era
Image source: Getty Images.

According to the NFIB Fraud and Cyber Crime Dashboard, reports of online shopping fraud in the UK jumped from 5,900 cases in 2019 to 89,800 reported cases in 2020. All types of financial crime are exploding – but how can you protect yourself?

From Instagram scams to charging people for COVID-19 vaccines or vitamins, or even claiming to be from the NHS Test and Trace, criminals are inventive. In ‘the new normal’, everyone and everything is online – including the criminals.

Enter your details into a website, then a few days later your new gadget or groceries arrive at your door. Put your details into an investing app, save for your future without leaving home. What could be more convenient? Unfortunately, criminals feel the same way. Here are five ways to protect yourself from financial crime.

1. Protect yourself online

While hacking is less common than fraud or other social engineering tricks, online safety is still critical. It’s nothing new; the basic principles of cybersecurity haven’t changed for years. Follow these tips to protect yourself online:

  • don’t carry out financial or private transactions on a public internet connection;
  • use strong passwords for all of your accounts;
  • keep your software, operating systems, antivirus and firewall up to date;
  • don’t install any program you didn’t actively seek out;
  • don’t click links in emails – go to the company website instead;
  • before entering details into an online form, check that there’s a locked padlock in the address bar on your browser;
  • consider whether you’d give your personal details to a stranger on the street in a similar situation;
  • before buying online, check the customer feedback. Very similar or very negative reviews are a red flag; and
  • pay with a credit or debit card, or even a prepaid credit or debit card.

2. Protect your paperwork

If you want to dispose of paperwork containing your personal or financial information, don’t just throw it in the bin. Criminals can use the information on your bank statements and other paperwork to steal your identity – and your money. Protect yourself by shredding sensitive paperwork before you throw it out.

It’s important to check if you’re a victim of identity theft. Check your bank statements and credit records regularly. Do you recognise all financial transactions in your bank accounts? If not, you could already be the victim of a financial crime or identity theft. 

3. Watch out for scams

Vishing, smishing, phishing, bogus bookings, advance fee fraud, premium phone scams, investment fraud, pension scams, identity theft, credit and debit card fraud…the list goes on. But no matter the scam, they have some things in common.

You’ve dealt with legitimate companies before. They’re predictable. On the other hand, scams come out of the blue, often with offers too good to be true.

Your bank knows your name, and they’ll never ask for your PIN over the phone. The NHS doesn’t need your credit card number for Track & Trace. You don’t need to book a COVID vaccine on a premium number. A legitimate company will never pressure you to sign their form in the next two minutes. And legitimate lotteries don’t ask for £1,000 up-front to release your winnings.

If something seems ‘off’, listen to your gut and move on.

4. Protect your bank cards

Criminals aren’t only in cyberspace – the real world still has risks, even without using cash. Criminals can fit special gadgets over the card slot on point-of-sale terminals and ATMs. The gadgets are difficult to spot and could steal your card details, or even take money straight from your card. It’s even easier for criminals to steal details from contactless cards.

To protect yourself, look for anything strange attached to card machines before using them. If you have contactless cards, protect yourself by keeping your contactless cards in an RFID-shielded wallet – or wrapped in tin foil!

5. Learn to protect yourself

You are your own primary defence against most financial crime. While hackers are a threat, most scammers are con artists: they win by manipulating people, so be on guard. Educate yourself about avoiding online scams, always stop and think, and report anything that doesn’t seem quite right.

Take Five is a national awareness campaign that provides simple advice to protect yourself against financial crime. It urges you to stop and think: is a request for personal or financial information genuine? Does what you’re being told really make sense?

If it’s already too late…

Prevention is better than cure. That definitely applies to protecting yourself from financial crime. However, if it’s too late and you’re the victim of a financial crime, report it!

Action Fraud has advice for reporting fraud and cybercrime. Your bank may also be able to help. Even if you can’t get all of your money back, reporting the crime might help protect the next target.

Still have questions?

If you didn’t find everything you were looking for on this page, we have other ways to help:

Was this article helpful?

Some offers on MyWalletHero are from our partners — it’s how we make money and keep this site going. But does that impact our ratings? Nope. Our commitment is to you. If a product isn’t any good, our rating will reflect that, or we won’t list it at all. Also, while we aim to feature the best products available, we do not review every product on the market. Learn more here. The statements above are The Motley Fool’s alone and have not been provided or endorsed by bank advertisers. John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. The Motley Fool UK has recommended Barclays, Hargreaves Lansdown, HSBC Holdings, Lloyds Banking Group, Mastercard, and Tesco.