Scams are crimes that affect people across society with distressing and sometimes disastrous consequences. Many go unreported either because the consumer does not spot something amiss or because people who become victims of scams feel a sense of shame.
To understand and prevent these cruel crimes it is essential that consumers get the information they need to spot scams in the first place; report them when they are targeted and get the advice they need to help protect themselves in future.
Each year millions of people in the UK fall prey to scammers. Estimates put the figure lost to scammers by as much as £5billion. The truth is – with reporting levels as low as 5% for some types of scams – we really don’t know!
Don’t be Rushed Don’t Be Hushed
Scam Awareness month, running in July 2015, is all about consumers getting together with the help of trading standards services and other organisations to create a community of informed consumers who are alert to the dangers, who know where to make a report of a scam and are ready to talk about their experiences to help prevent others falling victims to the scammers.
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- It you haven’t bought a ticket – you can’t win it.
- You shouldn’t have to pay anything to get a prize.
- If in doubt, don’t reply. Bin it, delete it or hang up.
- Persuasive sales patter? Just say: "No Thank You".
- Contacted out of the blue – be suspicious.
- Take your time – resist pressure to make a decision straight away.
- Never send money to someone you don’t know.
- Walk away from job ads that ask for money in advance.
- Your bank will never attend your home to collect cash, your PIN, payment card or chequebook if you are a victim of fraud.
- Your bank will never phone you to ask for your PIN or your online password.
- Genuine computer firms do not make unsolicited calls to help you fix your computer
- Don’t suffer in silence – speak out about scams and help others fall victim to the scammers.
What are scams?
Scams are schemes to con people out of their money. Other names for scams include fraud, hoax, con, swindle or cheat. Scams come in a variety of ways: post, phone, email, online, sometimes via a knock on the door.
There are hundreds of scams: fake lotteries and prize draws, bogus health cures, dodgy investment schemes, pyramid selling, phishing – to name just a few. These may change as more people become aware of them and as scammers attempt to keep one step ahead.
Every year more than three million people in the UK fall victim to scams losing hundreds and even thousands of pounds. It is estimated that nearly half of people in the UK (48 per cent) have been targeted by a scam and that £3.5bn is lost to scams every year.
People from all walks of life and of all ages get conned because scammers are clever and always on the lookout for dubious new activities.
There are some practices which may leave consumers deeply frustrated or even out of pocket, for example, a legitimate company providing a poor service or a utility company representative persuading people to switch without any financial benefit.
New scams are emerging all the time. Some seem far-fetched as scammers seek new variations on familiar themes. They employ well-honed techniques to create a sense of urgency, opportunity, threat, - whatever it takes to cajole and coerce people into parting with money or their potentially valuable information.
- Pension scams – with the new pensions freedoms it is essential that consumers make informed decisions about their savings. Be wary of phrases such as “one-off investment”, “free pension reviews”, “legal loopholes” and “cash bonus”. The initial approach is often out of the blue by phone text or email. After building up the victims trust they persuade them to make hasty decisions. The sting in the tail is that not only do victims lose their savings but hey can also face a hefty tax bill as well.
- Vishing – this is a phone scam where fraudsters impersonate someone from a bank, the police or other legitimate organisation. Increasingly the scam involves the victim being persuaded to transfer monies to a new “safe” account.
- Courier scams – in 84% of cases this starts with an unsolicited call or text that a banking fraud has been detected. The scam is completed when the caller arranges to attend the address to collect the bank card.
- Subscription traps – this scam sees consumer trapped into long-term contracts by “free” or trial offers with health, nutrition and beauty related products most frequent.
- Dating scams – the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau reports that online dating fraud has risen by 33% with losses totalling £34 million
- Computer software service – the victim is cold called by phone and told there is a problem with their computer and for a fee this can be fixed. The victims are talked through he logon steps in order for the fraudster to gain remote access to the computer where they obtain personal and financial information.
- Online shopping and auctions- a range of scams including bogus websites, spoof payment services and second chance offers for phantom products.
Some not so new scams
- Advance fee - A letter offers a huge payment in return for help in getting money out of a foreign country. People are promised a slice of that money for helping with the transfer. They may be asked for bank details. Once they have these the fraudsters raid the victim’s bank account.
- Clairvoyants and psychics - Mailings from a so-called psychic or clairvoyant make predictions. Some warn of dire consequences unless a fee is paid, some promise a bright future with details to follow if people pay up first. Those who send money get little or nothing in return and are likely to be bombarded by further scam mailings.
- Phishing - an email apparently from the receiver’s bank arrives requesting them to update, validate or confirm details. It’s designed to trick people into revealing personal information and passwords so that scammers can access their account. SMShing is when mobile phone text messages are used to lure people onto fraudulent websites or invite them to call a premium rate mobile number or download malicious content via the phone or web. Voice Phishing or Vishing is the criminal practice of obtaining personal or financial information over the telephone.
- Pyramid selling - People are told they can earn money by recruiting new members to a money-making venture. This is pyramid selling and it is illegal – only a tiny minority make money, everyone else loses. What’s current?
What can you do to tackle scams?
- CHECK with a trusted friend, relative or neighbour
- REPORT scams and suspected scams to Action Fraud 0300 123 2040
- TELL family, friends neighbours so that they can avoid scams
There are some other easy steps to cut down on unwanted telephone, postal and doorstep calls:
- No Cold Calling door stickers are available free of charge from the customer service centres
Where to get help and advice
- Speak to one of our trading standards advisors in the customers services centre, main library, Stockton
- For telephone advice contact the Citizens Advice Consumer Service 03454 04 05 06:
- For pensions advice contact the Pensions Advisory Service 0300 123 1047 or
- For other financial scams visit the Financial Conduct Authority website at www.fca.org.uk They have a register of authorised firms and a list of firms implicated in scams.