/ Shopping, Technology

The North/South divide of online scams

We’re all at risk of online scams, but why are some types more common in the North than in the South? Wherever you live, it’s worth keeping up to date on how to stay safe…

Online scams are on the rise – and it seems that where you live could influence the type of scam you need to watch out for.

Based on the five months leading up to December 2014, figures from Action Fraud show that online shopping and auction scams are most common in the North. In contrast, computer software fraud and online bank account scams are more typical in the South.

Regional differences for online scams

What’s less clear is why the same trends don’t apply across all of the UK. Online shopping scams accounted for 35% of the scam reports in Scotland, 21% of those in the North East, 24% in the North West and 25% in Yorkshire and Humberside.

But head south of the Midlands and the most commonly reported scams relate to computer software service fraud (Wales and the South West) and cheque, plastic card and online bank accounts (East, South East and London).

London seems to be the place for bank scams, with 50% more of these reported than online shopping scams. But it’s not as though Londoners don’t shop online – in fact, research suggests that Londoners are more likely than anyone to buy certain goods over the internet.

So what’s going on? Do scammers live in regional hubs with specialised scamming skills? Do those with a particular talent for online shopping scams gravitate towards the North, while fraudsters with a flair for card scams move south?

Whatever the cause, make sure you know how to spot and avoid some of the most common types of cyber crime doing the rounds.

How to spot a cyber crime

So how do online shopping scams work? Victims may be sent a phishing email that looks like it’s from a credible source, such as an online shop, auction site or payment gateway (such as PayPal). It will ask them to update their personal details – or even bank account information – by following a link to a copycat site. Once they have this information, the scammers could use it to steal a victim’s ID or money.

It’s important spot these scams quickly so you can steer well clear. So for those of you with a love of internet shopping, hear are some tips:

  • If you get an email from a site you use regularly, asking you to update your details, don’t follow the link. Instead, go to the site directly to see whether the request’s genuine.
  • Try to avoid paying by transfer; opt for a credit card or PayPal.

And to avoid anyone snooping around your bank account follow these tips:

  • Banks will never contact their customers by email to ask for passwords or other sensitive information.
  • Watch out for emails containing grammatical errors, typos or oddly placed capitals; they’re sometimes written that way to get round spam filters.
  • The phone number or email address might look legit, but this is no guarantee the person’s really from the company they say they are.

Also, remember there are computer software scams too:

  • Don’t allow anyone spontaneous remote access to your computer.
  • The ‘Microsoft lottery’ doesn’t exist, so unfortunately you can’t have won it.

Have you been scammed online or fallen victim to a fraudster? Do you have any top tips for avoiding these types of scam?


Within the last 3 days I’ve started seeing RayBan ads appear on my facebook wall. So I reported them to RayBan as suspected scams. RayBan’s have already come back saying the 1st is definitely selling fakes. I’m expecting the same response for the other one.

A few months back 2 friends posted links to a “win an audi r8 competition”. Guess what, also a scam. And almost 20k people had liked it. Sigh.

Top Tips: don’t trust anything you see on facebook, especially when linked by “friends” always look at the address of links by checking the tootltip if you have one.

https in the address doesn’t guarantee the site can be trusted, just that the payment on it will be encrypted making snooping between you and the site harder.


I have never been victim of a scam and I hope that the same applies to most people. Does Which have any information on the percentage of people who have been scammed?

I very much support efforts to stamp out the problem.


My mum had a phone call asking for my dad, claiming to be his bank and that fraudulent activity had been detected on his cards. I gather this is a very common scam. Luckily I’ve trained my mum and when asked what bank my dad uses she replied, you said you’ve got a system in front of you, you tell me. They quoted 2 banks and luckily he uses neither.

So another tip, don’t trust phone callers, make them prove they are who they say they are.

Martina says:
23 January 2015

Well done William. These types of scams particularly target the elderly who may not be using the internet and are not as savvy when it comes to searching for scam advice.
Good advice is also to say ‘thank you, I will pop into my local branch right now to sort it out’ as a rule. Ends all other conversations about it and if the call is real they won’t mind.


I once nearly fell for a scam when confronted with a very authentic ooking e-mail purporting to come from MSN. I had sufficient doubts about it being genuine so I just saved it without responding in any way. I thought that if MSN really were going to do what this e-mail said, either they would have annonced it already [and they hadn’t], or they would send me a further notice closer to the expiry date for action. Eventually this date came and went and some time later I received an identical e-mail – the scammers hadn’t even changed the date, so I realised it was all wrong and deleted all traces of it. The original e-mail was so clever and looked so right that I am sure many people must have responded. I’m just glad I procrastinated. My tip is to treat anything that looks important that you have not seen before, or has not been pre-notified or announced officially, as suspicious – even if it’s got your name on it.


Scammers mostly contact us in a baited trawling expedition where a million e-mails might net a hundred flounders. But there are other scams which people walk right into because they have not looked around first. This is evidenced by the sorry tales of those who have been caught by a copycat website [see related Conversations]. The clue is to look for what’s not being said rather than what is. If it doesn’t say GOV.UK then it is not official. If it doesn’t say it is an agency of, or affiliated to, the government then it isn’t. If it says it is not affiliated [as so many do, somewhere] and you cary on entering the site then you can’t expect the authorities to get you out of the jam – so look around, carefully, and take your time. Having a mimic web address is such a give-away but if you’ve never used a site before you might not know whether or not it is the genuine article, so take your time especially if you’re ina hurry; look at others on the list; read exactly what the website says it does – and think about what it doesn’t say it does. Count to ten before committing. Once your money’s gone you’ve had it – the catch is set at a level that will not be worth your while pursuing by lawful means. Scammers prey on the unprepared, so – . . . . . . And anticipate the unexpected.

Suzanne Hutchinson says:
24 January 2015

Had what purported to be a gov.uk website: charitycommission@gsi.gov.uk. Spot the clue. Googled charity commission, and no gsi.

Martina says:
23 January 2015

In response to scams on Facebook – often scammers will use pages on social media to gain followers, which can make some people believe that they have credibility. Even if no one likes a page, it is important to remember that followers and likes can be bought for all social media platforms. Scams are so rife nowadays and as this article suggests, scammers do target specific audiences with specific scams. Often, by calling, they confirm details that are then sold to other scammers for profit and exploited. People need to also be aware why there they are vulnerable, something I am trying to research and develop better measures of testing for that (i.e. impulsive people will be more likely to invest in financial ventures and therefore more vulnerable to those scams and those that panic when down are likely to make emotional rather than rational decisions).

John is right, we should anticipate the unexpected. So many scam warnings concentrate on warning us about scams that are already in use but scammers often come up with new ones at a drop of a hat. Being generally vigilant and having strategies in place is better than just keeping up with current warnings. And use Google and social media to check stuff, put emails into Google, into facebook… and you may come up with discrepancies that will warn you. Even a tiniest of doubts – walk away.

[This comment has been edited to align with our commenting guidelines. Thanks, mods]