Protect yourself from phishing and online scams

Scams are on the rise and many criminals are taking advantage of the fact that we are all spending increasing amounts of time online or on our phones. You are more likely to fall victim to fraud or cyber offences above any other crime, so it is important that you arm yourself with information on how to protect yourself.

The objective of a scam is for a criminal to convince you to do something which they can use to their advantage.

In a scam email or text message, their goal is often to convince you to click a link. Once clicked, you may be sent to a dodgy website which could download viruses onto your computer, or steal your passwords and personal information.

Over the phone, the approach may be more direct, asking you for sensitive information, such as banking details.

They do this by pretending to be someone you trust, or from some organisation you trust. This could be your Internet Service Provider (ISP), local council, even a friend in need. And they may contact you by phone call, email or text message. The term ‘phishing’ is often used when talking about emails.

Spotting suspicious messages

Spotting scam messages and phone calls is becoming increasingly difficult. Many scams will even fool the experts. However, there are some tricks that criminals will use to try and get you to respond without thinking. Things to look out for are:

  • Authority – Is the message claiming to be from someone official? For example, your bank, doctor, a solicitor, or a government department. Criminals often pretend to be important people or organisations to trick you into doing what they want.
  • Urgency – Are you told you have a limited time to respond (such as ‘within 24 hours’ or ‘immediately’)? Criminals often threaten you with fines or other negative consequences.
  • Emotion – Does the message make you panic, fearful, hopeful or curious? Criminals often use threatening language, make false claims of support, or tease you into wanting to find out more.
  • Scarcity – Is the message offering something in short supply, like concert tickets, money or a cure for medical conditions? Fear of missing out on a good deal or opportunity can make you respond quickly.
  • Current events – Are you expecting to see a message like this? Criminals often exploit current news stories, big events or specific times of year (like tax reporting) to make their scam seem more relevant to you.

If you would like to see more information and examples of phishing, you can view the ‘phishing’ category on our blog.

Reporting suspicious messages

The message might be from a company you don’t normally receive communications from, or someone you do not know. You may just have a hunch. If you are suspicious, you should report it. By doing so you’ll be helping to protect many more people from being affected.


If you have received an email that you are certain is phishing or junk (unsolicited spam), you can use the ‘Report Message‘ button in Outlook to alert us to it. This will send a copy of the email to our information security team and also reports the email directly to Microsoft.

However, if you are unsure about an email and need more advice, feel free to forward it to the Information Centre on

Text message

Suspicious text messages can be forwarded to 7726. This free-of-charge short code enables your provider to investigate the origin of the text and take action, if found to be malicious.

Visit the NCSC website for further guidance

The information contained in this blog post was written with the help of this guidance from the National Cyber Security Centre. You can visit their website for more information and useful hints and tips.

CyberScotland Week 2021 (22nd to 28th Feb)

We are sharing cyber security guidance and advice throughout the week to celebrate CyberScotland Week 2021. You can find all of our related posts here and visit the CyberScotland Week website here.