How to protect yourself from common scams

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It should go without saying, but scams are a crime – using fraud and manipulation to get you to part with your money or personal information. It’s not just you being silly - criminals are experts at impersonating people, organisations and the police. They spend hours researching you for their scams, hoping you’ll let your guard down for just a moment.

These crimes have a devastating impact on their victims, but even if they get money back, the money is still going on to fund criminal activity like terrorism, drug trafficking and people smuggling.

And unlike what we might think, it’s not just the elderly and vulnerable at risk. According to Lloyds – those aged 18-34 are the most likely to fall victim to fraud.

However – it was still those age 55+ who lost the most money – an average of more than £10,000 each. As fraudsters become more sophisticated, it’s also up to each of us to take more precautions to try and protect ourselves, and to share this knowledge so those around us are protected.

Scams - Authorised payments

Payments that are authorised by you - whether by manipulation or deception, are commonly called ‘scams’. The most common types of scams are:

Investment scams

In an investment scam, a criminal convinces their victim to move their money to a fictitious fund or to pay for a fake investment. The criminal will usually promise a high return in order to entice their victim into making the transfer. These scams include investments in items such as gold, property, carbon credits, cryptocurrencies, land banks and wine.

Stay safe:

  • Be wary of unsolicited approaches offering investment opportunities
  • Check with the Financial Conduct Authority to see if a firm is authorised or registered with them before making any investment and follow the advice of its ScamSmart campaign.
  • Watch out for any ‘too good to be true’ investment opportunities.
  • If you are being pressured to invest quickly it is a sign that it could be a scam.

Pension scams

An offshoot of investment scams is pension scams. In 2015 changes were made which opened up more choice around what you can do with your pension. Unfortunately, this also opened the door to fraudsters who try to trick you out of your pension. Considering this is your life savings – in 2018 the average loss from a pensions scam was £82,000 from each victim’s.

Stay safe:

  • Pension cold calls are illegal, so if you receive a cold call about your pension, the safest thing to do is to hang up.
  • A free offer of pension advice, out of the blue, from a company you’ve not dealt with before is probably a scam - professional advice on pensions is not usually free.
  • People age 55+ have more choice on how to access their pension, however, offers to release cash BEFORE age 55 are probably a scam.
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it’s almost certainly a scam. Treat any guarantee of high returns with extreme caution.
  • Pressure to invest, including time-limited offers should be treated with extreme caution – it’s almost certainly a scam.

Romance scams

Online dating is becoming more and more common and it can be a great way to meet people. But it can also be a great way for scammers to find you. Someone who showers you with compliments, moves quickly but suggest you chat outside the dating system, but never meets up, and they need money – because of a sick father, buying flights to meet you etc.

Stay safe:

  • Be aware of who you’re talking to online – are they really who they say they are?
  • If you are meeting someone, always make sure someone knows where you are going and always use public areas.
  • NEVER share you account details or send money to someone you have never met in person, particularly if you’ve only recently met?
  • Profile photos may not be genuine – do your research first.
  • Be careful if an online chat room conversation moves to personal communication such as texting, email or phone – this helps avoid the repercussions if someone else reports them on that platform.
  • Never post anything on social media advertising you are away or showcasing your prized possessions in an identifiable way.
  • Utilise privacy features
  • Trust your instincts
  • Keep your children safe and talk to them about stranger danger.

Inheritance, lottery and prize scams

These are our classic ‘Nigerian prince’ scams. In these scams, a criminal convinces their victim to pay a fee which they claim would result in the release of a much larger payment or high-value goods. These scams include claims from the criminals that the victim has won an overseas lottery, that gold or jewellery is being held at customs, that they have won a holiday package or that an inheritance is due. The fraudster tells the victims that a fee must be paid to release the funds or goods, however, when the payment is made, the promised goods or money never materialises. These scams often begin with an email or a letter sent by the criminal to the victim.

Stay safe:

  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is
  • Why would they need you to pay to release the prize or money ? Why couldn’t they just deduct that payment from the value of the lottery/inheritance?
  • Ask yourself - have you ever heard of this relative before? Have you entered this lottery or prize draw?

Purchase scams

Shopping online can be quick and convenient, but you need to protect your financial information.Unfortunately, people now have been fooled by paying for goods that never arrive, or are not what you ordered.

Stay safe:

  • Use legitimate known retailers and platforms.
  • Use a credit card or reputable payment method such as Paypal for online payments. Under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, paying by credit card will also give you added protection on purchases over £100 up to £30,000. This means the card provider has equal responsibility with the seller for faulty, unsatisfactory or undelivered items. Be very wary of request to pay by bank transfer.
  • Trust your instincts. Be suspicious of any offers or prices that look too good to be true.
  • Always do your research and ask questions before you buy. For cars, ask to see it in person first and request the relevant documentation to ensure the seller owns it.
  • If you’re buying an item made by a major brand, you can often find a list of authorised sellers on their official website.

Invoice / Business Payment scams

We’re all busy with our jobs, but criminals try to take advantage of that pressure you’re under. They call or email pretending to be a legitimate supplier, customer or even your boss, and say that you need to pay an invoice, or make an urgent payment. The send through invoices which look authentic – but the account details are different. Stay safe:

  • If you’re asked to pay an invoice, take 5 mins to verify with your supplier, boss or customer using your normal contact method you’ve used before.

Impersonation phone call / texts

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A more common scam is where the scammers pretend to be from your bank, building society or even a government agency like the Police or HMRC. They may even ‘transfer’ you between these – starting with the Police and then saying that they are transferring you to your bank. It could be the Police saying you’ve been a victim of card fraud, your bank saying your account has been hacked, or HMRC saying you owe a lot of tax and are about to be arrested. During the phone call, there are three possible ways the fraudsters may try to get your money:

  1. They will ask you to verify your personal details, such as your credit card number or pin. They may even asking you to type the details in, rather than reading them out, but they’ll still be able to capture these details using their computer system.
  2. They might ask you to help with their investigation – help them get more evidence to catch these fraudsters that have hacked your account. They ask you to physically get your money from the bank, and not to let your bank staff know – as they are in on the fraud. They could also tell you to buy a lot of foreign currency, or vouchers. They’ll tell you not to worry because your money is fully insured. They’ll tell you to go home, and wait for the police approved courier to collect it all. You hand it all over – but then it’s gone.
  3. You’re told that you have been hacked, or owe tax and will be directed to a ‘safe account’ to transfer your money while the investigation is ongoing, or a website for you to pay our tax from. They may also say that someone has overpaid you, and ask for you to transfer that money back.

Stay safe:

  • Hang up
  • Never share personal or financial details over the phone
  • Never click on any links in text received during these calls
  • Wait a while, or use a different phone to contact the provider through the details found on your bank card or from their secure website

Job scams

We’ve all seen the ads online – earn hundreds while working at home, doing practically nothing. Money comes into your account, and you transfer it out to someone else. But – this money is probably from fraud, drugs, people trafficking or terrorism. Your account is being used to ‘clean up’ the money – money laundering. Your bank account will probably be traced – but by this point the criminals will have moved on and you’re facing the consequences. It will affect your credit rating and you could even face jail time. Stay safe:

  • You are responsible for money going in and out of your account – don’t let your account be used for any transactions that aren’t yours! No legitimate business will ask for you to use your bank account in this way.

Crash for cash

Simply put, this is when someone has a deliberate crash so they can claim on the insurance. They’ll try to blame you, so that your insurance has to pay. Groups, usually criminal gangs, will target people who they think will have good car insurance, or who are less likely to put up a fuss, for example, mothers with children. Stay safe:

  • Dash cams can be a way to protect yourself.
  • Make sure you write down what happened in as much detail as possible as soon as you can
  • Get details of any independent witnesses
  • Never admit liability – this could be used against your claim
  • Report the incident to the police – it’s an offence to not report the incident within 24 hours of the crash

Door to door scams

While they can be investment and pension scams as well, they can also try and scam you in a more practical way – like selling you a product or service. Fake charity collectors are other examples.

Stay safe:

  • Always be suspicious of anyone arriving unannounced at your door.
  • It’s also important not to be fooled just because someone has identification. It’s very easy to make a fake ID and it’s no guarantee of legitimacy.
  • Do not engage with anyone who knocks on your door unannounced and anyone you suspect of trying to scam you or your neighbours should be reported to the police.
  • If you are concerned either for yourself or for someone you care about – you could always look into video doorbells or CCTV – they can be a great deterrent

IT repair

These are very similar to the phone scams pretending to be police or your bank. Except in this case they’re pretending to be something to do with your computer or internet, and they say that there’s been a problem. Sometimes they even say that you’ve been hacked! They get you to provide access to your computer – they will then either infect your computer with a virus, which lets them watch as you go about your daily tasks – inputting credit card details or logging into online banking, or they will just take control of your computer.

Stay safe

  • Be wary of unsolicited IT support
  • Hang up
  • Never give someone you don’t know remote access to your computer

If you are worried that you or a loved one is a victim of a scam, read up on what to do next.