Being online lets you do so much. It can help you stay in touch with people, learn new skills, keep up to date with the latest news. Need to buy a last-minute birthday gift? Online shopping can help you out. Planning a day out? With an app, you can check the weather.

At some point though, everyone worries about the risks of being online. You’re not alone. As with anything in life, any new experience can bring potential risks. So it’s good to know what these are, and reduce them where you can.

The good news is there are plenty of ways to enjoy being online and keep safe too. In this lesson, you’ll learn the benefits of staying safe online. We’ll explain the potential risks and what to look out for. This will help you keep safe online to protect yourself, your friends and family.


  • Know what being safe online means
  • Be able to spot the main risks
  • Understand some of the key terms in online safety

Read time:

9 mins

Fraud and scams don’t just exist online. This lesson will focus on scams that happen online.

Chapter 1

The importance of being safe online

Read time:

3 mins

What are the benefits of being online?

Before we cover the risks, let’s talk about some of the benefits of being online. The web can be an amazing resource. It helps people to socialise, save money, organise their life and much more. In fact, over two thirds of people in the UK (PDF, 5.1MB) said the benefits of being online outweigh the risks. This sends a really positive message about why being online can be good if you do it safely.

When people talk about being online, this is what they say:

More than

8 in 10

say accessing goods and services online is more convenient


online nation report (PDF, 5.1MB)

Three quarters of adults

say it helps them to connect better with family and friends


online nation report (PDF, 5.1MB)


say it gives them space to follow their hobbies in a way they can’t do offline


online nation report (PDF, 5.1MB)

So what are the potential risks of being online?

There have always been people who try to steal other people’s money and personal details. They did this even before the internet. The web just gave these people new ways to do it.

Let’s look at some of the words we use to talk about these online risks.



‘Fraud' is when a person tricks someone else, to cheat them out of something. It’s often about money. People across all age groups can experience fraud. In fact, 80% of those who have lost money whilst shopping online are under the age of 50.



A 'scam' is just another name for fraud. You’ll often hear people use both terms. If a person has been ‘scammed’, it means someone has tricked them out of their money and/or personal details.



'Scammers' are the criminals who run these scams. Sometimes we call them 'fraudsters'. They try to trick people into giving them their money and/or personal details.


Protecting your personal details

As we said, scammers are usually after one of two things – money or personal details. People often worry most about their money, but you need to look after your personal details too.


With your personal details, scammers could:

  • Take out debts such as credit cards or subscriptions in your name
  • Gain access to your personal finances
  • Create fake social media accounts


Before handing over money or personal details online, it’s always a good idea to:


Take a moment to stop and think before you do anything with your finances or personal details


If the request seems too good to be true, it’s ok to reject, refuse or ignore . Only criminals will try to rush or panic you


Contact your bank straight away if you think you've fallen for a scam and report it to Action Fraud

Test your knowledge

Answer this question by selecting one answer from the three options provided.

That's not quite right!

An example of a scam is if someone deceived Sarah into sending them her bank details.

That's right!

'Scams' are just another name for the types of fraud, and they can impact anyone.

What we’ll cover next

In chapter 2, you’ll learn how scams work and the different types of online scams.

Chapter 2

Identifying scams

Read time:

6 mins

What is a scam?

So, a scam is when someone tries to trick you into sharing your money or personal details with them, for their own gain. Now let’s look at the different types of scams. Plus, we have tips on how to spot a scam and what to do if you think you’ve been scammed.

We’ll start by finding out a bit more about them.


How scams work

Some scam messages go out to thousands of people at once. Often, they ask you to follow a link. They may ask you to enter your personal details like bank details, passwords or PIN numbers. Once they have this information, it’s theirs to use. They could access your bank account, open new accounts or take out debts (like loans or credit cards) in your name.


Common scam themes

Spotting scam messages, text messages and phone calls can be tricky. Many scams even fool the experts. To help you, here are some common themes that may indicate you’ve been the target of a scam.


  • Importance - Who sent this message?
  • Spelling / layout - Can you spot clear mistakes
  • Urgency - Does it ask you to do something quickly?
  • Reward - Does this seem too good to be true?
  • Current events - Is the message relevant?



Who sent this message? Some scammers pretend to be a well-known organisation. For example, your bank, the police or even government agencies. They do this to make you think the message is important and official. This means you’re much more likely to believe them and do what they ask.



Does the message have clear mistakes? This may be a sign it’s a scam. It’s very rare that genuine emails have these kinds of errors. So if you see them, it’s best to be cautious and not respond. Although thanks to the use of artificial intelligence, scammers are able to make their messages much more sophisticated.



Does the message ask you to do something quickly? For instance, offers that end soon, or threats if you don’t respond quickly. This can make you panic and follow the link or send personal details without stopping to think about it.



Is this product or service too good to be true? Some types of scams may offer you things at unbeatable value. Others say you’ve won some kind of prize. If this happens, the chances are it’s a scam. Be wary of these messages.


Current events

Is the message relevant? Scammers can also exploit current events or news items to make you think they are genuine.

Let’s say you get an email asking for money to help victims of a recent earthquake. This could be a scam, especially if it’s from an organisation you don’t know. It’s always good to check. Even if you do recognise it, search their name to find their website, then see if you can find this appeal there.

Types of scams

Scams can appear in many different ways. In this section, you’ll hear more about the most common types of scams you may come across.

Don’t forget

If you get a call or message out of the blue from someone unexpected, the chances are it’s a scam and you should ignore it. Remember – stop, challenge, protect.

Scam emails and messages

Dating scams

Purchase scams

Scams that stop you using your device

Scam emails and messages

Here, the scammer pretends to be someone else in an email or message. The message asks you to do something like follow a link, so they can access your data. They may ask you to enter your personal details.


Examples include:

  • A message from a delivery company with a link to track a parcel you’re not expecting
  • A message from a company saying you owe them money that needs to be paid
  • A message from a company saying they owe you money. They ask you for your bank details so they can send it across
  • A message about a limited time offer that you can only get by following a link. If you can’t find the offer elsewhere on the web, it may be a scam
  • A ‘friend’ asking for money urgently. This may seem genuine, but someone could have hacked your friend’s account. Always double check through a second source you trust
  • A family member saying they’ve lost their phone and asking you to contact them on a new number. This is a common scam. Always try them on their old number or use another way to check it’s really them

Received a message you weren’t expecting? Check before you respond or follow a link. Contact the sender using different contact details to check if the message is genuine.

Dating scams

Scam messages don’t always come from companies. Have you heard of ‘Romance scams’? The scammer pretends to be someone else who is interested in you romantically. They often use fake pictures to hide who they really are. Once they feel they have built trust with you, they may ask for money or get you to buy things for them. Then they end the relationship or just disappear.


Purchase scam

Another common type of scam happens when you’re shopping online. The aim of this scam is to get you to pay for an item that doesn't exist. You may never receive it, or it might not be what you expect. For example, you may order a mobile phone and just receive a box with a picture of the phone on it, but nothing inside.

In these types of scams, the goods often seem much cheaper than you can find anywhere else. They may also be sold out or hard to get.

Whatever form the scam takes, you need to be careful when shopping online. If you’re buying from a well-known company, they’re unlikely to ask you to pay directly into their account. Usually, they take the payment directly from your debit or credit card online.

Does the website seem fake?

Check the web address and the details of the page. Do they look right? If something seems suspicious, it probably is.

Scams that stop you using your device

Some scams lead to the scammer having access to your device. Then they can take control of your files and data and hold them ‘ransom’. This means they stop you from using the files and data. They’ll charge you a fee to access them again. Do not pay this fee. The scammer will likely take your money without giving back your files. If this happens, make sure you contact Action Fraud.

Test yourself

Can you remember the five themes that can indicate a scam? Try to recall them now or write them down. If you need to, go back and check what they are.

Think you’ve been scammed?

  1. Report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or online at If you're in Scotland, contact Police Scotland on 101.
  2. Take steps to stop further damage straight away. If the scam affects your bank account, contact your bank. Think someone has one of your passwords? Change it.


Lesson complete!

Well done on completing this lesson. You should now know the benefits and basics of staying safe online. We suggest you continue your learning with the next lesson: ‘Ten tips for staying safe online’. This will help you feel more confident about staying safe from the risks you learned to spot here.


Up next for you:

Next lesson: Ten tips for staying safe online

Back to: Get started online


Bank of Scotland Academy is committed to providing information in a way that is accessible and useful for our users. This information, however, is not in any way intended to amount to authority or advice on which reliance should be placed. You should seek professional advice as appropriate and required. Any sites, products or services named in this module are just examples of what's available. Bank of Scotland does not endorse the services they provide. The information in this module was last updated on 8th November 2023.