Scams are fraudulent schemes that trick people into parting with their personal details and/or cash. They have been around for as long as we can remember, but they are no longer confined to shady door-to-door salesmen or dodgy second-hand car dealers.
Scammers now frequently target people through emails, online banking systems, text messages and online transactions. While fraud is becoming ever more sophisticated, people are still getting caught out by traditional scam letters and phone calls. So you need to be wary.
Some scams are obvious. Someone emails you to say “a distant relative has died, and there is no one but you to inherit their $100 million fortune, all you need to do is pay £500 upfront to release the funds”. But some scams are far more sophisticated.
Scammers continue to find more creative ways to get your cash. This guide can never be complete with all the latest scams but we aim to help you to learn what to look out for. The stories around the scams may change, but what you should do to spot and avoid them does not.
Have you ever heard of the email from a Nigerian prince wanting you to share his fortune? The person stranded overseas needing £1,000 to get home, which they will pay straight back? Or the lottery you have won in Spain, even though you do not live there, and have never entered a lottery there?
The best way to prevent scammers from getting their hands on your hard-earned cash is to know how to protect yourself in the first place. Here are our top tips on how to avoid scams. They aren’t all fail-safes, but they can help you think before you act.
Rule of thumb: Mistaking the genuine for a scam is nowhere near as bad as mistaking a scam for the genuine.
Fake Tax Refunds and other scams to look out for.
If you bought something costing more than £100 on a credit card, you may be able to claim it back under Section 75 protect your purchases law. Once you have paid using a credit card, the card provider and retailer are locked into a legally binding contract, so if the retailer cannot, or will not refund you, you can raise the dispute with your card provider.You will not be covered under Section 75 if you used a debit card, or spent £100 or less on a credit card, but you could try to claim your money back under the chargeback scheme. It is a voluntary agreement by your debit or charge card provider to stand in your corner if anything goes wrong. It is not as effective as Section 75 and rules vary between providers. Unfortunately, if you have transferred the money using sites such as Moneygram, Western Union or PayPal, you generally cannot get your money back once you have handed it over.
Anyone can fall for a scam, but the elderly are often hit the hardest as they can be overly-trusting, or afflicted by an illnesses such as dementia. Many can lose their life savings, get into debt or have health problems.If you care for an elderly person, look out for the warning signs. Are they receiving a lot of junk mail or phone calls from strangers, or have they become secretive when discussing finances? If you are concerned, Visit www.thinkjessica.com, a site which shows how some elderly people can become serious victims of scams.
Web security has come to the fore in recent years with major hacks resulting in millions of users’ account details and sensitive info being put at risk. Fortunately, there is a quick, free and easy way to check if your details have been compromised. The website HaveIBeenPwned? allows anyone to check if their accounts have been compromised in a number of known data breaches in recent times. Simply Visit www.haveibeenpwned.com and enter your email address. It will tell you if your account has been compromised.
The safest way to secure your accounts is to use unique passwords for all your online logins. If this sounds impossible to remember, try a password manager. These can generate randomised passwords for your various accounts (or you can set your own), and store them all to be accessed with one master password, the only one you will actually need to remember.
Bitwarden is good free application but many others are available.
If you get an email or text from your bank about fraud, ask yourself whether or not it is the usual way you receive contact from your bank. Think about whether it is sensible for the bank to make contact in that way. The British Bankers’ Association’s Know Fraud, No Fraud campaign highlights eight things your bank will never do, including calling or emailing to ask you for your full PIN or any passwords.
Banks will also never send someone to your home to collect cash, bank cards etc. Read the full ‘Things your bank will never ask you to do’ list.
Web viruses do not just ruin your computer. They can help steal money or even use PCs to commit crime. Some even lie dormant, waiting to be activated. To help prevent viruses, keep your web browser up to date and your PC backed up with free antivirus software. Avast is a good option but many more are available.
Be vigilant if an email from a ‘retailer’ or ‘bank’ is badly-worded or littered with spelling mistakes. Banks and retailers will spend time crafting any emails they do send, and they are likely to proof them too. So bad spelling and grammar can be signs of an unauthentic email.
The National Cyber Security Centre (part of the Government’s cyber and security agency) has launched a suspicious email reporting service to take phishing scams down. You just need to forward suspicious emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Once you have reported a suspicious email, the National Cyber Security Centre will analyse it and any websites it links to. If they believe it is malicious, they can:
If anyone calls claiming to be from a bank, insurer, utility provider, etc, NEVER give your personal or password details (for example, your mother’s maiden name or place of birth). Say you will call them back, but find the number independently.
Do not rely on caller IDs, or anyone drawing attention to them. Scammers can clone numbers, so it may look like the number your bank uses to call you. Plus, if you can, use a different phone to the one you were called on, so if you are called on your landline, use your mobile.
In one sophisticated scheme, the scammer told the victim their account had been hacked into and encouraged the victim to phone their bank. The catch was that they did not hang up after the initial call. They stayed on the line and played a dial tone while the victim called their bank and thought they were speaking to a bank employee. The victim was then told to type their PIN into their phone keypad, thinking it was safe to do so, and was instructed to hand over their card to a ‘bank courier’ who collected their card. The scammers then had both their bank card and PIN.
There are many scams, cons, hoaxes and frauds on Facebook. Many people are fooled by fake offers and competitions, where scammers try to steal your personal data.
While some of the offers are convincing, there are simple ways of telling what is legit and what is not. If you do suspect something is a scam, you should do your best to avoid it and ideally report it to Facebook (or whichever social network you are using) and to Citizens Advice Scam Action.
Be wary if you have been asked to pay upfront. You should never have to pay to access prizes or funds due to you.
Fake websites are often set up to cash in on popular products, or payday loans, so be wary if it is an unfamiliar site. Do not think that because it appears on a reputable search engine, it is a reputable site. Always check first, especially with sponsored links as these pay to appear at the top of search engines’ lists. On Google, this will have a small yellow box marked ‘Ad’ to tell you it is paid for.
Nothing needs to be done immediately. Even if your account has been hacked, simply call the number on your bank statement. If you are being asked to hit a deadline, something dodgy is probably going on.
Never give your bank account details or PIN to someone you do not know. It is also wise to have a hard to guess PIN, so do not pick 0000 or 1234!
If there is an unauthorised transaction on your account, contact your provider straight away. The Lending Standards Board offers guidance on how banks should help with credit card problems, though they do not have to help if there is proof you have been negligent.
In addition, shred or burn all financial documents, including envelopes, as a branded letter from a bank shows you have a relationship that could be taken advantage of.
Genuine companies should know who they are targeting with emails. ‘Dear Customer‘ may sound polite, but that or any variation of ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ or ‘Dear Valued Customer’ should set off alarm bells. Many banks will now put something on their emails to identify you and to reassure you that they know something about you. You will be addressed by name, and they may put the name of your account or your postcode on the email, information scammers are not likely to have.
Legitimate marketing messages should identify themselves in the text or in the sent-from number. If not, they are breaking regulations and can be considered spam. Spam texts usually message you from a random 11-digit number and will ask for you to reply – DON’T!
Spam texts are likely to be generic, citing that you are owed accident compensation, a PPI refund or a tax rebate. Some even trick you by asking you to text ‘STOP’ back to the number to be removed from the mailing list, but that is often just a ploy to see that you are a real person and not an unused mobile number.
If you do get a spam text, forward the text to your network provider for FREE, simply by forwarding it to 7726 (spells SPAM), making sure it includes the sender’s number. For full info on how to spot and stop scam texts, Visit Stop Spam Texts.
Since numbers starting with 084, 087 or 09 became premium (this just means calls to these numbers are charged at a higher rate) most reputable companies have stopped using them. In their place, scammers have started using these numbers to trick people out of money.
The most common scam leaves you with a missed call. In most cases the phone will not have rung long enough for you to answer and when you call back you are charged a fortune. Even if you do not actually call back, your bill could sometimes still show that you have made a call lasting anything up to 12 hours, also resulting in a massive charge.
Another scam involves text messages. The scammers will pretend to be from your bank and warn you that a dodgy transaction is about to take place and you need to call an 084 number to stop it. Calls are usually held in a queue before cutting off but you will still have to pay a hefty bill. So if you get a text that includes your “bank’s” number, always find the number independently before you make a call.