Cyber crime and online safety

Cyber crime covers all crimes that take place online, are committed using computers or are assisted by online technology.

Anyone can become a victim of cyber crime. It’s estimated that nearly six million fraud and cyber crimes are committed each year, with as many as one in 10 people falling victim. 

To reduce your chances of becoming a victim: 

  • use a strong password or passphrase which is at least 12 characters long and contains a mixture of letters, numbers and symbols
  • never give personal or sensitive details out online or over email
  • make sure all devices have up-to-date anti-virus software and a firewall installed
  • keep software and apps regularly updated
  • only download from legal, trusted websites
  • only open emails and attachments from known and trusted sources
  • look for the padlock icon in the address bar when paying for goods or services online, this means the website is trusted and secure
  • check the address starts with ‘https://’ whenever you’re asked to enter sensitive information online
  • avoid using public Wi-Fi hotspots that are not secure or require personal information to be given
  • regularly backup your data
  • control your social media accounts – regularly check your privacy settings and how your data is being used and shared
  • be cautious of internet chats and online dating – there’s no guarantee you’re speaking to who you think. Be extremely cautious if you’re asked for money

Visit Cyber Aware for step-by-step instructions on keeping your devices up-to-date with the latest security updates. 


Be careful when opening emails and texts, especially if they’re from an unknown sender. If an email or text is unexpected or seems unusual, even if it’s from someone you know, ignore it and contact the sender directly to check if they sent it.

Your bank, the police and other reputable companies will never ask for sensitive or financial details over email, the phone or by text message. 

To protect yourself from scams: 

  • don’t open attachments or click on links in emails from senders you don’t know
  • never give out personal information, financial details or passwords in response to an email, when you receive an unexpected phone call or in response to a text message
  • set up spam filters on all of your accounts
  • don’t respond to emails or texts from unknown sources 
  • always go to a website directly, by typing out the address yourself, when logging into an account 

Social networking

Social networks are a great way of keeping in touch with friends and family, but be careful about how much personal information you choose to share. Once you post or share something on any social media platform it’s out of your control and could be shared by others, even if you delete it. 

Make sure you: 

  • set your privacy settings to the highest level and check them regularly as updates can affect settings
  • don’t add or accept requests from people you don’t know
  • where possible, block apps and social media sites from tracking and showing your location, and habits stop people you don’t know from following you
  • think carefully about the images, videos and content that you share
  • remember that if you wouldn’t do or say it in the real world, don’t do it online

We have created some guidance about offensive messages on social media, explaining how you can help yourself and when the police may investigate some incidents.

How to spot a fake website

If an online offer looks too good to be true, it probably is. There are a number of simple tips to help spot a fake site: 

  • sense check the domain name
  • are the prices too good to be true?
  • never pay by bank transfer – legitimate sites will accept payment via usual methods, such as bank card and PayPal
  • check the terms and conditions, and policies are clear and fair
  • read online reviews of the company and its products to check for customer satisfaction ratings (Trustpilot, Feefo)

Backup your data

Ransomware is a type of malicious software that threatens to publish the victim's data or perpetually block access to it unless a ransom is paid.

Ensure you save all you documents and photos in at least one other location to minimise the risk of losing everything if you receive a ransomware virus. You can backup data on to a USB stick, an external hard drive or to a cloud server. Remember to regularly backup your data.

Tips for parents and guardians

The internet can be a valuable resource for children, allowing them to connect with friends and learn new things. But there are also dangers to going online, and children can be particularly vulnerable.

Talking to your child is one of the best ways to keep them safe online. By understanding the risks and keeping yourself up-to-date on the latest technology, websites and social networks you can help your child enjoy the internet safely and securely. 

To help protect your children online: 

  • keep computers and games consoles in family rooms where you can monitor activity
  • install parental control software or activate parental controls through your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to prevent access to inappropriate content
  • ‘friend’ or ‘follow’ your child on social networking sites, so you can see how they are using them
  • check they are old enough to join any websites or social networks with age restrictions
  • advise your child not to post personal information or any images they wouldn’t want everyone to see
  • check their social media accounts’ privacy settings. For example, so their posts are only seen by friends and their location isn’t tracked
  • avoid using webcams unless talking to close friends or family and consider covering it when not in use
  • monitor their usage and be watchful for any secretive behaviour 
  • encourage your child to be open about what they do online and who they’re talking to
  • offer to go with them if they wish to meet online friends
  • ensure the games your child plays online are age appropriate 

Further advice and support

We recommend you check your privacy settings and stop people following you that you don’t know on Facebook. You should also check your privacy settings on TwitterInstagram and Snapchat.

Action Fraud - UK's national fraud and cyber crime reporting centre

Cyber Aware – Essential advice on protecting yourself online

National Cyber Security Centre – Helping to make the UK the safest place to live and do business in the UK

Get Safe Online - Practical, easy to understand information on online safety. 

The Crime Prevention Website - Free and independent crime prevention and home security advice.

Internet Watch Foundation - UK internet hotline for anyone to report online child sexual abuse imagery and non-photographic child sexual abuse images anonymously.

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