A man contemplates a device screen.


What you need to know about scams, cybercrime and digital safety

03 September 2021

The pandemic drove a great spike in online scams and digital dangers, making support from Barclays Digital Eagles more important than ever. From regular virtual sessions to collaborations with groups across the field – here’s how the team is driving safety in tech. 

Online learning, shopping, emails, video calls, movie nights – the average UK adult now spends more than two full days a week using the internet. As we’ve become more reliant on digital resources, those tools have evolved to meet our increasing demands: research from McKinsey and Company suggests the pandemic accelerated digital transformation by five years, in just months.

But as the use of these technologies has increased, so have the opportunities for cybercrime. With digital resources now an almost indispensable part of everyday life, Ross Martin, Engagement Manager for Digital Eagles at Barclays, approaches his role from a personal as well as a professional perspective.

“My passion for digital safety probably comes from being a parent of two young boys, aged seven and 10,” he explains. “I grew up having limited access to technology, all those years ago, but they’ve literally been born with it. It's around them 24/7. So I'm more aware than ever of the potential dangers – and I’m also very aware of the increasing problems of fraud and scams.”

Data from Action Fraud, the UK's national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime, suggests that scams increased by 33% between April 2020 and March 2021, compared with an increase of 8% from 2019 to 2020. According to Which? research, these scams resulted in theft totalling £2.3bn.

“Criminals now target everybody – even the tech-savvy,” says Martin. “Even within law enforcement, we've seen examples where people have fallen for a fraud or scam.”

Part of the issue, adds John Hyland, Digital Eagles Proposition Manager, is the fast-paced nature of the internet. “It's a constantly changing digital world,” he says. With new trends and technologies ever emerging, scammers quickly adapt to changes in the way people behave online. “Fraudsters think: ‘What's everyone doing right now? Are they shopping online? Are they ordering food? Quick – let's jump on messages from delivery companies.”

“Seeing first-hand the impact this can have on a victim,” says Martin, “has made me realise that we need to do more.”


Ross Martin smiles for a photo.

Ross Martin, Engagement Manager for Barclays Digital Eagles.

Criminals now target everybody – even the tech-savvy.

Ross Martin

Engagement Manager for Barclays Digital Eagles

Keeping knowledge up to date

In this fast-changing climate, Barclays Digital Eagles have had to think innovatively about how best to help customers and communities learn about online safety. A key element to reaching as many people as possible has been collaboration – and the team have worked with other groups, including the police force, to bring digital skills to the forefront.

One such collaboration has been with Internet Matters, a not-for-profit that offers comprehensive resources to help keep children and families safe online. Through a six-month partnership, the teams developed tech-focused resources now available on various channels, including Barclays Digital Wings. Along with a social campaign aimed at educating parents and young people, the collaboration offered co-branded modules on social media scams and spending in games.

Another project saw the Digital Eagles co-host a virtual event on ‘The Psychology behind Fraud and Scams’, with Barclays Eagle Labs and trade association UK Finance. The event’s aim was to raise awareness of the thought processes behind scams, helping people to better understand fraudsters’ methods of manipulation and coercion.

“We’ve put ourselves in the shoes of our customers and the general public. We really want people to embrace technology to make their lives easier,” says Martin.

“But at the same time, we feel we have an important duty to help educate people. We’re always updating our digital safety content to keep it relevant, as well as interactive for the user – so that they really engage in what is a very serious topic.”

We get a lot of enjoyment and satisfaction from helping people to become digitally savvy.

John Hyland

Proposition Manager for Barclays Digital Eagles

John Hyland smiles for a photo.

John Hyland, Proposition Manager for Barclays Digital Eagles.

The Digital Eagles’ virtual sessions have helped to promote this interactive approach to learning. Open to anyone who may benefit from the programme, the sessions are designed to help people make sure their tech knowledge is up to date – and to help them stay safe online.

While the team aim to provide content for all age groups, supporting children and young people has been a priority for Martin and Hyland in the last 18 months. “Unfortunately some children are left to their own devices, and they're delving into an online world without the support of adult supervision,” adds Martin. “We have to understand what they do online – and educate them to be aware of what they're doing.”

Education is key as scams continue to grow in number and sophistication, says Martin. Barclays’ response has gone far beyond the Digital Eagles, with communications about fraud boosted across the board. “Recently, the bank launched a customer education campaign on the threat of scams, and our team have been fully supporting this activity,” he explains.

“If you don’t believe you’re a target, then you’re the ideal victim. And if more people are thinking that way, then they’re likely to be more vulnerable – and they need to take what they do online very seriously.”

Five minutes to think about fraud

As phishing, smishing (SMS phishing) and increasingly realistic catfishing scams all become harder to detect, what are the best ways to avoid falling into a fraudster’s trap?

“Nobody should take emails, phone calls or text messages at face value because any of those forms of communication can all be spoofed to look like they’re coming from a particular person or organisation,” says Martin. “We’ve seen a big increase in impersonation fraud, where people pretend to be calling from your bank or the police.

“One thing we always recommend is to take five minutes before you react – however much fear someone puts in you, or whatever demands they have made. Take five minutes before you do anything. And if you’re not sure, end the phone call, delete your email or text message, then seek advice from a trusted source.”

If the Digital Eagles can make people think twice, and stop them from getting scammed, their efforts will have been worth it, says Martin: “I think what’s most rewarding about our role is to see how education has a positive impact in people’s lives, in terms of actually using the technology, and also being able to protect themselves – staying one step ahead of the criminals we’re talking about.”

“When people think of a bank like Barclays, they associate it with going to a branch or withdrawing some cash. But we care about much more than just holding your money,” adds Hyland. “We get a lot of enjoyment and satisfaction from helping people to become digitally savvy.”