Watch: Ranvir Singh explains how she fell victim to a ‘pop-up scam’ online.
Ranvir Singh has opened up about falling victim to a pop-up scam when she was applying for a new driving licence.
In a discussion about online scams on 'Good Morning Britain' on Wednesday, the presenter explained that she had been tricked by fraudsters into paying for what she thought to be a legitimate driving licence application.
"I had to get a new driving licence and I paid £100, but that's what I thought you had to pay," she told Money Saving Expert, Martin Lewis, who is currently guest presenting the breakfast show.
"I didn't realise it was [a scam]."
Lewis responded: "They're not actually criminal sites, they're 'shyster' sites, they're charging you for something you don't have to pay for and they're being dishonest."
Lewis has long been advocating the policing of online scams after his face was used on multiple fake campaigns.
He has called on the government to make changes to the Online Safety bill so more people are saved from the heartache of losing money.
"It needs to go through parliament which will police under 'generated scams', but bizarrely, it does not include scam adverts," he says.
What are pop-up scams?
There are several types of pop-up scams that online scrollers can fall victim to, but perhaps the most common are those linked to fake IT tech support.
If you see a pop-up warning while you’re browsing online, saying that your PC may be infected with viruses or another similar claim, it is important to treat it with caution.
Such pop-ups aren’t actually being generated by your security software, in fact anything that tells you to ring a phone number, pay for a protection plan, or click a ‘scan now’ button is a scam.
“In simple terms, pop-up scams involve scammers who use deception to trick consumers into allowing 'push' notifications to appear on their devices," explains Raj Samani, chief scientist and McAfee fellow.
"However, in some cases, consumers will willingly ‘allow’ these push notifications to be delivered to their system without being coerced."
An example of a pop-up scam is when a ‘pop-up’ notification appears on your computer screen and tells you that there is an issue with your device, or a problem with software you may or may not have installed.
The notification will provide an email and/or phone number for the consumer to contact in order to pay to solve the problem.
"This may advise you to pay for technical support to resolve the issue. In other cases, the message displayed on the pop up may say 'ransomware detected'," Samani continues.
But there are also examples of pop-up scams similar to the one Ranvir Singh found herself a victim of, which often charge an over-the-top fee for a free service, or mislead you into signing up for recurring payments.
"Driving licenses are just one example of these kind of scams, with criminals often targeting things such as EHIC cards and VISA applications," explains Dr Francis Gaffney, director of threat intelligence and response, at Mimecast.
"They work by taking the victim’s details needed for the application, completing the online pro-formas (that are free), and then charging the victim for it."
Why are pop-up scams on the rise?
There are many reasons pop-up scams are on the rise, but experts believe the coronavirus pandemic and the resultant reliance on technology has played a role.
"With the pandemic forcing many people who were relatively inexperienced digitally, to become heavy internet users, the scams have seen a rise as they prey on the fears of those unable to spot the tell-tale signs of a scam," explains Charlie Shakeshaft, Founder – Individual Protection Solutions (IPS)
Samani agrees that a shift towards a more digital-first lifestyle has contributed to a rise in online scams.
"A dependence on technology as consumers look to execute nearly all daily activities via devices while on-the-go, increases the exposure to online risks, as hackers find a new way to reach consumers."
He also points out that fraudsters are getting increasingly smart which is making it more difficult to decipher whether a pop-up is a scam or genuine.
Watch: How to protect yourself from COVID-19 related scams.
Why are these types of scams so hard police?
As Martin Lewis pointed out scams, such as the one Ranvir Singh found herself the victim of, are very difficult to police because it isn't always clear if a crime has taken place.
"These scams aren’t always technically classed as fraud because there may be no 'misrepresentation'," explains Dr Gaffney.
"Sites that charge for 'assistance' with essentially free applications are common for every process you can think of, including PPI claim sites, EHIC cards and VISA applications – but it is still worth considering referring to Action Fraud in case there is support that can be offered."
He believes brands could do more to prevent criminals from exploiting their brand with these pop-up scams.
"Mimecast research found that 64% of UK consumers said believe it is the brand’s responsibility to protect itself from fake versions of its website," he adds.
But according to Which? It is illegal for a copycat website to parade itself as a government entity.
They are calling for a crackdown against sites that don’t prominently display that they’re not associated with the government and point out that you can get a passport or driving licence without additional costs through the official government website.
How to protect yourself from pop-up scams
Learn to spot a fake pop-up
Fake pop-ups can be quite convincing. "To determine if a pop-up is genuine or fake, pay close attention to the information displayed," suggests Samani.
"Are there any spelling mistakes? Does the email address look weird? If you’re ever unsure, it’s best to close the pop up and avoid clicking on any links," he adds.
Samani also recommends manually entering a web address rather than clicking a link sent to you and confirming whether numbers and addresses are legitimate before taking action.
Beware of 'action nows'
Most reputable companies will always give you time to go and consider something, so if a pop-up is encouraging you to take action now, then there’s a chance it’s a scam.
"If you suspect that it might be legitimate, contact the organisation on a number or email that you know is legitimate," recommends Shakeshaft.
Go directly to official websites
Which? recommends always going directly to the official ‘gov.uk’ website for government services – such as passport or driving licence renewals – rather than relying on search engines, where the results can display copycat websites.
Block the pop-ups
According to Shakeshaft, most anti-virus programs will allow you to block pop-ups from even appearing.
"Look through your anti-virus software’s blocking and filtering settings and there will likely be an option to prevent them from activating," he explains. "If you don’t have anti-virus software, then it’s available as part of IPS 360 Protect. You could also consider downloading a reputable ad-blocking plugin such as uBlock Origin."
Approach all pop-up messages with skepticism
"Never download or install anything from a full screen pop-up," advises Shakeshaft. "If you already have, run an anti-virus scam immediately.
"Fake Ads aren’t included within the Online Safety Bill, so the onus is on the consumer to protect themselves!"
Research from identity protection firm, Callsign, found half (49%) of UK consumers admitting they don’t report fraudulent messages, but experts recommend reporting your experience to Action Fraud.
"If you have been victim of a scam, it is possible to report it to the police by phone or online and it’s done through a filtering agency called Action Fraud," explains Dr Gaffney.
If you spot a misleading website, you can also report them to search engines on gov.uk.
"Scamming is much more widespread than you might think, and there is no shame in falling victim to a scheme," adds Shakeshaft. "However, the only way that we can defeat scammers is by working together.
"By reporting any scams that you come across, you make it even harder for them to target others. There are a number of communities out there dedicated to stopping scams, so there will be one to suit all."