Archive: May 2015

Online identity fraud and how to protect yourself

Scam artists have been working to defraud others pretty much since the concept of currency and bartering was invented. With the creation of the Internet came the perfect tool for scam artists to target millions of potential victims, so it's important to learn how to keep yourself safe.

The good news is that it's not as hard as it may sound - all it takes is some common sense and vigilance, and some anti-virus/Internet security software to act as a safety net.

Signs of a scam

So, how do you know when someone is trying to scam you or steal your identity? Here are some sure signs to look out for.

E-mails from organisations that you don't recognise

If you receive an e-mail from a company/organisation that you've never had any dealings with, then read the e-mail very carefully and if there are any attachments on the e-mail, don't open them.

If the e-mail is asking you to supply any sort of personal detail, or banking information, passwords etc. then it is best to assume that it's a scam e-mail.

If you're in any doubt, simply go to the organisation's website and find their phone number, and then give them a call to check if the e-mail is legitimate. Any organisation should be thankful for your call, so don't feel embarrassed.

E-mails that don't refer to you by name

Scam artists generally only have a list of e-mail addresses to work from, they very rarely know the name of the owner - so scam e-mails often start with a generic "Hello" or "Dear Sir".

Most organisations, if they have need to e-mail, will refer to you by name, e.g. "Hello David" or "Dear Sarah" and often your full name.

E-mails with spelling mistakes and poor use of English

Read any e-mails that you receive carefully. If there are spelling mistakes, or any paragraphs that don't make sense, this is often a sign of a scam e-mail. Many scams originate in foreign countries where English is not widely spoken or written.

E-mails offering something that sounds too good to be true

There's an old saying that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is - and it is never more true than with scams on the Internet.

The classic scam is for an African prince to e-mail with a sad story of a relative's death, and a complication in the will meaning that to access their vast fortune they have to send it via a third party - and they want you to be the go-between in return for receiving a substantial cut of the money.

If someone came up to you in the street with a similar story, the chances are you'd laugh and blow it off as a joke - yet often people fall foul of these scams online.

Most scams like this also fall foul of the first three rules on this list - so stay alert!

Can you do anything to protect yourself against scams like this?

Yes, you can. Some scams rely on the victim opening attachments on scam e-mails, which will infect their machine with a virus and set the scam in motion. You can protect yourself against these by installing an anti-virus package on your computer or, if you already have one, by ensuring that it's kept up to date.

Windows 8 from Microsoft includes a good anti-virus package as standard, and Microsoft also provide a free one for Windows 7. There are other good software packages available, some free and some that cost a small amount to purchase, typically around £25-30.

Apple computers are generally more resistant to viruses and other nasty software, both as a result of their lower popularity in the computing world as a whole and the robustness of their operating systems, but it always pays to be safe so installing anti-virus may be worthwhile.

You can also protect yourself in other ways - make sure that the passwords that you use for your online activities (especially banking!) are strong - use a combination of letters and numbers, and ideally use both upper case and lower case letters. If you have difficulty remembering passwords, then you may find it easier to use a passphrase instead - a short sentence that is memorable, for example "MyCatLikesWhiskas" or "ANiceCupOfTeaAndASitDown". Scammers rely on people choosing easy to guess passwords, so do your best to make yours are harder to guess!

Further reading

Warwickshire Police and West Mercia Police have today launched their #BeCyberSmart campaign which has lots of information on scams and how to protect yourself - and of course, the police can provide advice over the phone if you have any doubts about an e-mail you've received.

Visit the #BeCyberSmart campaign

Being mobile-ready is now more important than ever

By the end of 2014, 51% of website visitors were using their mobile phones to access the internet. This paradigm shift has been a long time coming and it’s a shift that has big repercussions for business everywhere.

With so many visitors now using small screens for Internet browsing, it’s important that your website is designed with this in mind. Smaller displays mean less real estate to fit the same amount of information, and touch screens mean links and buttons need to be larger to accommodate finger presses.

Clearly, simply shrinking a website designed for a monitor ten times wider isn’t always going to cut it!

Responsive Website Design

This is where ‘responsive’ website design comes in. Rather than finding a look for a website to try and suit many different screen sizes, responsive design allows the website to adapt and rearrange the content intelligently. So, no matter what device a visitor is using to see your website, it’s always going to look great and promote maximum usability (try visiting our website on your smart phone; you’ll see the layout change to fit the smaller screen.)

Responsive website design is also becoming more important for SEO. Recently Google implemented a change in their search engine for mobile, where websites without a responsive element would see their ranking penalised.

Mobile Websites are an Opportunity

There is a trend in mobile computing toward simple, quick interactions, designed for efficiency. Websites such as Amazon have leapt on this opportunity; their ‘one-click’ purchase facility has made buying through their mobile site and app as quick and simple as can be, which improves sales and customer retention.

Even if your website doesn’t sell online, any form of call to action can be enhanced with a version specifically for mobile;

  • Contact, callback and signup forms inserted directly into pages, rather than by following links to separate pages
  • Icons in place of text, helping those who may not have much time to read  overly wordy descriptions
  • larger fonts and bolder imagery, to fully utilise the screen and make information clearer to the user

Usability is King

If a visitor comes to your website from a desktop or laptop computer, odds are that they’ve been able to sit down and have fewer distractions. However, if a visitor is using a mobile phone, much fewer assumptions can be made about their situation.

Maybe they’re walking outside, and bright sunlight will make anything but the clearest text and imagery difficult to discern. Perhaps they have just a few seconds to make an order on your website, before they loose signal on the train. Or loud or distracting surrounds could make it difficult to concentrate on overly complex passages of text. A good responsive website will take all of this into account and make your website as easy to use as possible - encouraging visitor conversion and retention.

Mobile Design First, Desktop Design Later

The change in mobile visiting numbers has also prompted a change in the website development industry. Separate from the technical aspects of programming a layout that is responsive, designers are starting to design websites for mobile screens first. It makes sense to do things this way because instead of ‘squashing’ a desktop version of a website into a smaller space, this way elements should sit more naturally from the get go.

This change means that more and more websites have a good mobile layout, but it also means that the desktop version of those websites are starting to display the same sort of design ethos. The result is cleaner pages, bolder imagery and copy, and a focus on efficient interactions, on both mobile and desktop website designs.

If your website could benefit from an appraisal, get in touch at and we’d be happy to advise on how to get your website mobile.

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