There are a number of online scams doing the rounds at the moment, including some that claim to be from the Home Office itself. Here are seven rules to follow to protect yourself from online scams.
If it seems too good to be true, it probably is
The first rule for protecting yourself from online scams is a universal truth – if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. If someone tells you that they have a job for you in the UK, can speed up your visa application, want to give you a hefty tax refund or arrange a visa at a reduced rate, chances are they are attempting to scam you.
Never hand over money
The Home Office will never ask you for money via email, website, telephone, or in person. The same applies to HMRC and other government agencies. Some fraudsters will seem extremely professional and genuine, and promise you an outstanding service at a good price. But they will eventually ask for a deposit or admin fee.
Do not hand over any money. Be suspicious of anyone who asks you for money, especially if they want cash or ask you to pay using insecure payment methods like a Ukash voucher or Paysafecard, which allow the recipient to remain untraced.
Never give out your personal banking details
The same applies to giving your personal details online, via email or on the phone. The Home Office will never send you an email request for information; your bank will never ask you to update your personal details through an email link; HMRC will never request your banking details via email.
Double check all email addresses
Email addresses and website links can often look like the real thing, so it’s important to double check. For instance, you could receive an email from email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org/tax, which at first glance might seem perfectly legitimate.
Don’t open any email that looks suspicious and never click on links supplied in an email. Report the email as spam without opening it. If you are asked to reply to a “free” email account like Hotmail, Yahoo or Gmail, it’s definitely not legitimate. Official Home Office email addresses are always in one of two formats:
Beware of fake websites
There are a number of fake websites designed to look like official visa, job agency or tax refund services or agencies. Sometimes the email address you see on the screen of a fake website or email is in a seemingly correct format, but when you click on it, it creates a different address or URL. Always check the actual address on the email you are sending.
Be suspicious if a supposedly official website looks unprofessional, is poorly written or designed, and does not include information about the organisation.
As a rule of thumb, official UK government websites always have ‘.gov.uk’ at the end of their website address.
The person on the other end of the phone could be anyone, anywhere
Scam artists are using the telephone more and more as a means of gaining your trust and stealing your money. They may tell you that they work for the Home Office and that there is a problem with your visa application. They tell you that if you act quickly and pay a penalty, the visa application won’t be cancelled. They may also ask for a deposit as proof that you have enough funds to support yourself in the UK.
Others might pretend to be from a recruitment agency and try to fool you into believing they have a job offer for you, and then you need only pay the admin fee or visa application fee and everything else will be taken care of. Remember, just because someone sounds genuine, doesn’t mean they are who they say they are.
If in doubt, stop communication
If you suspect the person on the other end of the line is not who they say they are, ask for a return number so that you can call them back. Then phone the actual agency in question and find out if the number belongs to them. If there is any doubt in your mind, cease communication immediately and report your suspicions to Action Fraud, either on the Action Fraud website, or (if you are in the UK) by phoning 0300 123 2040.
For bona fide advise and assistance with your UK visa, tax return, tax refund or umbrella company, please visit 1st Contact.