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Don’t fall foul of costly scams

Don’t fall foul of costly scams

Category: Money

Updated: 07/05/2014
First Published: 07/05/2014

This article was correct at the time of publication. It is now over 6 months old so the content may be out of date.

Every year more than 3 million people in the UK fall victim to scams losing hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of their hard-earned pounds. Isn't it time we started fighting back?

Well, you're in luck - May is Scams Awareness Month, or SAM2014, a campaign set up by Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) and Trading Standards to give people the information, skills and confidence to spot and stop scams.

Scams are schemes that con people out of their money using fraudulent methods and can come in many forms – online, mail, telephone and even on your doorstep. Scammers are always at the front of technological changes; anything we use to make our lives easier, the scammers will target. The internet is in fact the channel for 84% of identity fraud, costing consumers £3.3 billion a year.

Crime figures show almost a 60% rise in reported fraud over the past five years, boosted by a rise in identity theft and online scams. Online shopping and auction scams were in fact the most common fraud reported in 2013, costing consumers some £63.3 million.

Despite these huge figures just 5% of scams are actually reported and many consumers are suffering in silence, perhaps due to embarrassment at being caught out or even apathy. One of the main aims of SAM2014 is to get people talking about scams – if you share your knowledge then it will help others not to get caught out in the same way.

Let's take a look at some of the most common scams…

  • Online shopping and auctions scams. Consumers get tricked into purchasing items that don't exist, sometimes using bogus websites or spoof payment services.
  • Investment fraud. This type of fraud usually involves large losses as people are pressurised into investing in false shares, land, carbon credits etc.
  • Microsoft scams. Using well-known names to hide behind, scammers will ask for credit card details online. They may claim something along the lines of needing these details to 'validate' your copy of Windows.
  • Phishing scams. These are bogus emails often requesting details of your bank accounts and credit cards and they may contain a link to an equally bogus website which will ask you to fill in personal details including passwords, account details, date of birth and national insurance numbers.

These phishing scams (also called vishing) can also come in the form of telephone communication, texts, malware downloaded onto your computer, or even a courier scam.

  • Courier vishing scams. You may receive an unsolicited telephone call from someone posing to be the police or your bank claiming fraudulent action has taken place on your credit card, and they will send a courier to the address to pick up the card.

These are just some of the ways that unscrupulous fraudsters are trying to trick consumers into handing over their money, but how do we stop them?

In this technologically advancing age we will never be able to rule out scams altogether, but with a bit of sound advice, a keen eye and above all communication, consumers can learn how to fight back and recognise scams before getting caught up in them.

Here are a few pointers to keep one step ahead of the scammers:

  • A very good rule to stick by is that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • If you are in any doubt about communication offering you something tempting, err on the side of caution and bin it, delete it or hang up. Do not click on links from emails, instead close and reopen your browser and then type the address of the website you want to visit into the address bar.
  • Always be wary of downloading any attachments as these may contain viruses. Look out for tell-tale signs such as bad grammar and spelling, generic greetings such as "Dear Customer" and urgent messages such as "three days to reply".
  • If you are contacted out of the blue be suspicious. If you've not entered a competition, why would someone be contacting you saying you've won? If you don't bank with NatWest, why would you be getting an email from them?
  • However, sometimes you may receive an email or a phone call from a bank you do have products with. Remember banks will never ask for your details in this way, so don't fill in any forms, download anything or give out any personal information.
  • Neither would your bank, or the police, ever come to you to collect your bank card or ask for your PIN.
  • When buying things online be very cautious about whom, or what internet sites you give your bank details to. Never give out your details over the phone or internet on request unless you are certain of the person or the website's credibility.
  • No genuine computer firm would ever make an unsolicited phone call to help you 'fix' your computer. This is likely to be a malware scam where something is downloaded onto your computer to compromise your security, or they will charge you to remove it.
  • If you do suspect you have been a victim of a scam don't keep quiet. Report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 so it can be investigated in order to stop others falling foul of it.

What Next?

Click here to find out more about Scam Awareness month (SAM2014)

Disclaimer: Information is correct as of the date of publication (shown at the top of this article). Any products featured may be withdrawn by their provider or changed at any time.