Our Manchester reporter Pauline Smith is passionate about helping people take preventive measures to protect themselves from confidence tricksters and scammers. Here she guides us through some of the most common scams, and how and where to report scams after speaking with Greater Manchester Police’s Scambusters team.
During lockdown its is estimated that around 50% of all adults were targeted by scammers; this could be as high as 70 % of the population. Annually there are around 4.4 million fraud offences committed in the UK, only around 17% are reported. For over 55s around 20% report a scam, which means 80% go unreported.
How to spot a scam
Scams are when criminals use lies and deceit to fool you into parting with your cash. You usually get nothing in return and lose your money. Scams are getting more sophisticated and difficult to spot so it’s important to know what you are looking for.
Spotting a scam
There are some signs that should set alarm bells ringing whenever you see them. Always be wary of the following situations:
- Something which sounds too good to be true usually is
- If you are contacted unexpectedly by a company
- If you have been asked for personal or bank information
- If you aren’t given a long time to make a decision or you feel pressured into making one immediately
- If you are asked to pay anything up-front and the only contact details are a mobile phone number and a PO box address
- If you are called repeatedly and kept on the phone a long time
- If you are asked to keep quiet about what is happening
Always be aware that banks, building societies, utility companies, lottery organisers, law enforcement (the police) or statutory bodies (for example HMRC) will NEVER:
- Ask for payment in vouchers
- Ask you to transfer money over the phone to a different account
- Ask for any part of your PIN code
- Ask for remote access to your computer or mobile device
- Ask for money for a “free gift”, or an “admin fee” as part of a promotion
- Threaten to arrest you over the phone, in a letter or email for not paying a fee
- Ask you to go to the bank or building society to transfer money
IF you are in doubt then apply the SCAM test:
Seems too good to be true
Contacted out of the blue
Asked for personal details
Money is requested
Four common scams to look out for:
1. Telephone scams and cold calls
Phone scams are a common way for criminals to con people out of money using various tricks to get your personal or financial information. Over half of all scams start with a phone call. These are some of the ways that scammers try to trick you over the phone.
(a) Bank and Building Society scams
These scams typically involve a fraudster, who pretends to be from your bank phoning you to say you have been a victim of fraud. There are many variations on this scam.
They may ask for personal and financial information to get access to your bank account or to commit identity theft.
Or they may tell you there is a corrupt member of staff in your bank and they need your help to identify them. They may also ask you to transfer all your funds into a “safe account” because your account has been taken over.
What you should do
You should wait at least 20 minutes before you call your bank on a trusted number to check it out. This is because scammers are able to keep phone lines open. Whilst you think you are making a new call the line is still open to the scammer who pretends to be a different person from the bank or the police. If possible use a different phone or call somebody else in the meantime.
(b) Computer software scams
Scammers may call you claiming to be from a well-known software company, saying there is a problem with your computer and they need full remote access to your computer to fix it. They may charge you a fee to use unlimited access to your computer to commit identity theft or to gain access to your online banking account.
(c) Investment and pensions scams
Fraudsters call offering the chance to buy shares, wine investments, land banking, carbon credits, rare metals diamonds or other gemstones. Another scam involves false claims about pension liberation, also known as pension loans.
(d) Tax Owed
Some fraudsters will cold call and claim they are from the HMRC or the court or immigration authorities and that you will be arrested if you don’t pay a sum of tax.
Protecting yourself from telephone scams
There are a number of ways that you can protect yourself from becoming a victim of a scammer:
- Reject all cold calls; you can always just put the phone down after telling them you are not interested.
- Telephone Preference Service; this is a national scheme to reduce the number of cold calls, and if you are registered it will mean you will get fewer of these type of calls. The Telephone Preference Service (TPS) is the UK’s only official ‘Do Not Call’ register for landlines and mobile numbers. It allows people and businesses to opt-out of unsolicited live sales and marketing calls. It’s free and quick to register a telephone number. Doing so will reduce the number of unwanted sales and marketing calls you receive. If a number is registered with the TPS, organisations are legally required to refrain from calling it. In the UK, the Information Commissioner’s Office enforces the law and has the power to fine firms that break it. You can text TPS and your email address to 85095 and this will add your mobile phone to the TPS and you will get an email confirming that.
- Reporting a text scam or spam text on your mobile phone; Forward the text to 7726. An easy way to remember 7726 is that they are the numbers on your phone keypad that spell out the word SPAM.
- Sign up for a blocking service – this may not stop all scam calls but it will stop cold callers. You can buy landline phones that have built-in blocking systems that you programme.
- If you receive a phone call from someone you don’t know, always ask for the name of the person you are speaking to and who they work for. Check this information by calling the company’s office on a different phone line in case the caller is holding the line open.
- Never give out your personal, full credit card or online account details unless you made the call and the phone number came from a trusted source.
- Never assume that the person is who they say they are just become the number on your caller display matches the organisation that you know. Scammers can clone telephone numbers of organisations they want to impersonate and make the number appear on your call display. It’s best not to respond to text messages or missed calls that come from numbers you don’t recognise or are not expecting.
Scams are happening more and more through the internet and email. You are more likely to fall victim to fraud and cybercrime than any other crime. There are many different types of online scams such as bogus “free trial” offers, bogus emails and counterfeit goods. Some of the most common ones are:
Copycat government websites
Many scams use websites designed to look like official government websites, such as HMRC or DVLA (driving licences).
They charge you a fee to process or renew official documents like passports, visas and driving licences which you can do for yourself for free much cheaper. Sometimes a fee is charged and the application is not processed at all.
Dating and romance scams
Scammers use dating websites, social networks and chat rooms to get personal details or money from people. Romance scammers do not prey on a specific gender, sexuality, age or race.
What you should do: When online dating, start off with a reputable website. Look out for someone asking lots of questions but not giving any real details about themselves. Don’t ever hand over any money or send them valuable goods and never let anyone you don’t know or trust transfer money into your bank account.
Scammers target online booking and accommodation sites to scam unsuspecting customers into paying for accommodation that is not available or doesn’t exist. Often the victim only becomes aware that they have been scammed when they arrive at their destination and find that no booking has been made.
This happens where two people are in email correspondence and a scammer hacks into an account, creates a very similar duplicate and inserts bank account details and asks for payment, resulting in the scammer getting the money.
Pharming is when hackers redirect the traffic from a genuine website to another, such as a fake e-commerce or banking site. This is a difficult scam to protect yourself from as although you have entered the right address to bring you to a particular site you are still sent to a fake one. The goal is to get your personal information.
A common trick scammers use is to send you a fake email pretending to be from your bank or another organisation like PayPal, HMRC, BBC licence fee or the Royal Mail.
The email will ask you to visit a website and log in with your account details. The site looks just like your bank’s website but really is a fake site set up by criminals – always check the sender’s email address.
Protecting yourself from online scams
Make sure that any websites you use are secure. Reliable websites start with HTTPS not HTTP. Once the page has loaded make sure the website address that you have entered hasn’t changed to a slightly different spelling. Use safe and secure WiFi connections. Keep your virus protection software and software updates to your computer, laptop, tablet or phone up to date. Make sure all your accounts have a strong password – do NOT use children’s names or pet’s names as thieves will check social media sites. Do not use the same password for multiple accounts and change them frequently.
There are many legitimate door to door salespeople but some may not have good intentions. Bogus tradesmen, door to door sales or doorstep fraud involves fraudsters trying to scam you after knocking at your door.
Door-to-door and face-to-face frauds
Legitimate doorstep selling involves someone selling you goods or services in your home or on your doorstep. Many honest businesses use this technique but so do fraudsters.
Buying at home or on your doorstep can be convenient. However, a salesman who uses clever tactics can put you under pressure to buy something you don’t want or isn’t worth the money you pay for it.
Fraud by bogus tradespeople can take a variety of forms including:
- Pressure selling
- Fake charity collections
- Selling you unfair or unsuitable contracts
- Overpriced or poor quality home maintenance or home improvements
- Potential thieves checking out your valuables once inside your home
There are specific laws about door-to-door sales. Many should give you a “cooling off” period where you can change your mind or request your money back. Bogus tradesmen will offer none of these and even if they do you can be sure their guarantee will not be honoured.
Bogus salespeople will provide a false identity or contact information making it impossible for you to identify or contact them. If you have paid them before the work you will not get your money back.
Even if your bank or insurance policy covers any loss you still have to contend with a damaged credit card rating, continued correspondence over a long period to repair the damage and the emotional distress and anxiety identity theft can cause.
Be aware of rogue traders as they have no intention of doing a good job.
Protecting yourself from doorstep and face-to-face fraudster
When a tradesperson or stranger comes to your door, NEVER:
- Answer the front door without making sure the back door is locked
- Allow strangers into your house if you are not expecting them
- Give access to parts of your house or property they don’t need to be in
- Pay in cash or make cheques out to cash
- Let them take you to the bank to withdraw cash
- Accept anything other than a written quotation for any work
- Accept any increase to a price that has already been agreed on a written quotation
- Accept the word of a doorstep caller that your house needs urgent repair
If any of these happen call the police immediately!
5. Preventing and reporting scams
- If you think you are immediate danger call 999 and ask for police. If you are not in immediate danger then call 101.
- Action Fraud. This is the national Police report number and online links. Even if you have managed to avoid being scammed you should report the event. Telephone 0300 123 2040 or go to www.actionfraud.police.uk
- Silverline is a helpline only for older people and is available 24 hours a day every day. Call 0800 470 8090; or go to www.silverline.org.uk
- Citizens Advice is there to help and give advice. There is a helpline available Mondays to Fridays, 9am to 5pm on 0800 223 1133. You can also report a scam on their website: www.citizensadvice.org.uk
- Age UK. They offer all kinds of advice, including on scamming. You could call a local office during office hours (9-5 Monday to Friday) and also check out their website www.ageuk.org.uk
- Download the Little Book of Big Scams