Although this is an international issue, fraud on the Internet is on the increase. Scams are known by various names such as "phishing" etc. There are also many attempts to sell medication to the unwary, and although this may be unprovable, it is still a crime and best avoided.
The latest "craze" is the widespread sale of "Hoodia" as a cure for obesity. Whilst there may be some genuine products offered, it is most unlikely at this moment in time. There are a few claiming to have certificates of authenticity, but these only prove that a sample was tested and found to be pure, but not acknowledged as a cure for anything. By purchasing these online, the only pounds you are likely to lose are from your wallet!
There are similar ads for Viagra, Cialis and other generic drugs of that form. Don't buy them. If they ever arrive, the best you can expect is a coloured pill, containing no medication, that tastes nice - nothing better than an expensive sweet! You may receive tablets that contain some other ingredient, but you won't know what it is, or you could receive medication that is double the recommended dose in the UK, which could be detrimental to life.
Another type of fraud involves lotteries. The criminals will send you an email message informing you that you are the lucky winner of a lottery (that you probably never even heard of). Lotteries are run to make and redistribute money, so if you think to yourself "Why me?" you have the answer. You didn't pay in - why should they pay out? - They don't! They are after a cash sum from you, whether large or small, usually with the excuse of admin. costs in getting your "winnings" to you. Remember - If it looks too good to be true, it probably is!!
Another scam attempts to appeal to our sense of greed. These are usually in the form of an email "letter", often from one of the African countries, and purporting to be from some dignitary who is administering a deceased person's estate. They will ask you to set up a bank account so that they can deposit a very large sum of money. They may also request that you deposit a lesser sum, but still substantial. They may just be trying to obtain bank details from you or they could be trying to implicate you in a money laundering scheme, which is highly illegal and carries heavy penalties. There ain't no such thing as a free lunch, folks!!
Perhaps the most insideous of all scams is the message that is sent to you, apparently from your bank or other financial concern such as eBay or PayPal. These usually try to tell you that some "unusual activity" has been detected on your account, and that you need to "update your account details" to verify their integrity. What the criminals are trying to do is to gain your personal and account details. They will also try to scare you by saying that your account is being suspended. They will even provide an area to "click" on to supposedly take you to the bank's website, and the way the code is written, this can look quite genuine, even to the professional Internet user. Of course, if you have never had an account with supposed sender, that is your first line of defence, and you can just delete the message. Many people assume that just because they do have an account with the particular institution, the message must have come from them. Not so. This is a chance that the criminals take as they can send literally millions of these messages for virtually no cost to themselves and if they only get a few "hits" they can make a great deal of money - stealing from you!
If there is an area to click on, most email clients will allow you to hover the mouse pointer over the area but do NOT click on it then you can read off the real address, usually at the bottom of the screen. If it does not start with the bank's website address or if it starts with a series of numbers, you should immediately be suspicious but even if you think it's OK, remember that finance houses etc. do not normally conduct business in this way. The best thing to do in ALL cases is to Forward the entire message directly to the company's email address then wait for them to email you back with confirmation that they either did or didn't send the original message. If you don't know their email address try using the address form: "email@example.com" or use something like Google to search for their real address. Under no circumstances send to the address given by the original sender, it will almost certainly be a forgery.
With a little extra vigilance and some savvy, you can use the Internet with safety, and carry out your business without being defrauded.