Scam or No Scam: Staying Safe When Shopping Online

This is a sponsored post created in collaboration with the Royal Bank of Scotland.

I’d like to think I’m fairly clued up when it comes to shopping online, and knowing what’s a scam. Usually it’s pretty obvious when you get a dodgy email or a spammy message, but sometimes it’s not so clear.

Most of us probably assume it’s the older generation who fall victim to online scams, but in fact a lot of young people can be targets too. Recent research has shown that it’s actually people aged 18-34 who are the most complacent when it comes to online security, despite being at as much risk as older people. I suppose because we think we know what we’re doing, it can be easy to become lazy or assume that scams won’t happen to us. But one in six people in Scotland have experienced online fraud, and the post-Christmas retail period is prime time for people to fall victim to scams online.

So, the Royal Bank of Scotland have challenged me to work out what is a scam or not a scam. They’ve given me a few scenarios and asked me to work out which ones seem suspicious. I don’t know which ones are real and which ones are scams, so I’d love to hear if you disagree with any of my answers!

scam or no scam royal bank of scotland

Emma has received a message from a close friend Lydia via social media. “Wow I have just done this and it really works, it’s not fake! Don’t miss out.”
The message contains a link to a well-known supermarket chain which is giving away £150 vouchers to the first 500 people that sign up to the website. Emma clicks on the link and enters the information she needs to register – just her name, date of birth and email address. She immediately receives an email from the supermarket with a voucher for her to download. Easy!

Freebie Scam

I think this one’s a scam. If it seems like it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Free money would be nice, but it’s unlikely to happen. I’d also be suspicious of the automated message – it sounds like a spammy bot or virus, rather than a personalised message from her actual friend.

scam or no scam royal bank of scotland

Chris is at home when he receives a text message from his bank. He knows it is his bank because it has their name and has appeared in the same thread of messages he has previously received as part of his account set up. The text message informs him that there has been unusual activity on his account and asks him to log into his online banking. Concerned, he clicks on the link and the browser on his phone has taken him to his bank’s website. He enters his login details but nothing happens. He will phone his bank when he gets home from work later.

Fake Callers and Texts

Definitely sounds like a scam to me. I’m pretty sure mosts banks don’t include links in any of their correspondence, for this exact reason. It’s so easy for scammers to create a convincing email or text message. Instead, I’d go directly to my bank’s website without clicking any links and check my account activity from there.

scam or no scam royal bank of scotland

Phil is looking for the perfect gift for his wife Claire. He receives an email from a well-known handbag manufacturer, telling him they are having a huge sale. Phil sees from the email that a handbag he knows Claire has had her eye on is included in the sale. He clicks through to the website and sees that there is a 50% saving. Suspicious about the price, Phil checks the website to make sure it has a padlock and spots it at the side of the page, great!
He goes ahead and makes the purchase. Claire will be thrilled when she receives her gift!

Website Security

I wasn’t sure about this one at first. It sounds fairly legit, but the padlock being at the side of the page made me a little suspicious. I could be wrong, but I think the padlock needs to be in the URL bar at the top of the page for it to prove that a website is secure. I’m not completely convinced on this one, but I’m going to go for scam.

scam or no scam royal bank of scotland

Mark and Julie are looking for a special trip to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary. They decide Paris would be the perfect place to celebrate and set about looking at prices by searching online.
Soon they see a website promoting apartment rentals in the city centre – these look perfect! One of them is described as a ‘rare find’ and it is an affordable price so the couple wastes no time in putting down a deposit to secure their stay.
They’ve checked everything is above board by looking at the website which is very professional, and reading the reviews of other customers, which are also available on the website.

Holiday Scam

Call me cynical, but I’m going to go for scam again. Just because a website looks professional, doesn’t mean it actually is. I’d rather look at reviews on an independent travel site than on the website itself, as these ones could be completely fake and made up by the site’s owner to make the apartments seem more legitimate.

Despite spending what felt like hours on the phone and online, Gosia missed out on securing tickets for her dad to see his favourite stand-up comedian. She is disappointed because she wanted to buy him the tickets as a Christmas present.
A couple of weeks later she sees a social media post on the comedian’s fan forum; someone is selling tickets at the venue she wanted! The post is accompanied by a picture of the tickets so Gosia contacts the seller and after several messages over social media, she agrees to pay £125 direct to his account. He promises to send the tickets to her in the post after payment has been received.

Ticketing Fraud

Scam, again! I would be very wary of sending money to someone I don’t know – especially if you’re doing it privately through social media rather than through a site like Ebay which offers a bit of protection for both buyers and sellers. Unless I was able to receive the tickets and hand over the money in person, I wouldn’t chance it and buy tickets online from an unverified seller.

scam or no scam royal bank of scotland

Craig has received an email from a well-known comparison website. He didn’t sign up to their mailing list but he tells himself they must have got his details from another organisation.
He’s keen on buying a new pair of trainers and the email is promoting the latest pair of his favourite brand. What great timing!

Expectation vs Reality

Whether it’s a scam or not, I absolutely hate it when companies add me to their mailing list without my permission – so this would automatically get deleted if it was me! Reputable companies shouldn’t use tactics like this, so I’d be very suspicious of an email like this in my inbox. I’m going for scam again.

A couple of these were really obvious scams, but others I wasn’t so sure about. In the end, it looks like I think all of them are scams – do you agree? Scammers are getting more and more advanced and it can sometimes be really difficult to work out what’s real. When you’re busy doing one hundred other things, it can be easy to get complacent with online security.

But it’s really important to stay safe when you’re shopping online (even if you’re used to spending lots of time online and think you know what you’re doing!) so here are some tips from the Royal Bank of Scotland.

  1. Don’t assume an email, text or phone call is authentic. Always check the phone number/email address it has been sent from, and never give out your details or click on a link in an email you think might be suspicious.
  2. Don’t be rushed – a genuine organisation won’t mind waiting if you want to check out the legitimacy of the correspondence, or contact them yourself through the official channels.
  3. Listen to your instincts. You’ll know if something doesn’t feel right. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is – and if an email sounds a bit dodgy or is claiming something you have no knowledge of, just ignore it.
  4. Stay in control – don’t panic and make a decision you’ll regret. Take five minutes to think over what you’re doing, and whether it’s genuine. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
  5. Check out the Royal Bank of Scotland Security Centre to stay up to date with all the latest news and resources to keep you safe and secure online.



Freelance social media and digital marketing consultant with a penchant for writing blog posts, drinking sickly sweet cocktails and exploring the cobbled streets of Edinburgh.

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