More than three million people in the UK are the victims of scams every year. Many of them lose hundreds or even thousands of pounds, after being taken in by sophisticated scams and devious criminal gangs.
There are thousands of different scams doing the rounds, ranging from fake lotteries and prize draws to investment schemes, attempts to get hold of your financial details, and even tricks designed to get you to transfer your money into the criminal gang’s bank account.
It’s difficult to stay on top of each variation, so another option is to be aware of how these criminals tend to get into your home, so you can be on your guard.
1. Cold calling
This is still the most common way that criminals will get in contact, and there are some very common scams run this way. This includes boiler room scams – which involve calling people and using high-pressure sales techniques to get you to invest in something essentially worthless. They take an average of £5,000 from each victim, so they will put time and effort into convincing you that their scam is a legitimate investment.
Another common phone scam is vishing – where they pretend to be from your bank, or the police, and warn you there has been fraud on your account. They then persuade you to transfer your money into a ‘safe’ account. If you do as they say, you are actually transferring your money into their account.
A variation on this theme is to tell you that there has been fraud on your account, so they are sending round a courier to pick your card up. They then take the card and go on a spending spree.
The best way to protect you from all of these is never to believe anything you are told on a cold call, and to hang up.
2. Internet scams
We live so much of our life online that unsurprisingly the criminals have identified some weak spots they can exploit. The criminals may set up a fake website, holiday listing, payment site, or auction sale, and persuade you to part with your money for anything from tickets to cars, mobile phones and holidays. Then they disappear without a trace.
To protect yourself, you need to be sure that you only deal with reputable companies that you know well and trust online. If you are using someone you do not know, make sure you do it through a site that offers full protection from scammers.
3. Rogue doorstep traders
These criminals will knock on your door, and persuade you that you need their services – they commonly target the elderly and the vulnerable. The most common version of this scam is to say you need building work done. Then they demand payment upfront, and then either deliver a shoddy service, or disappear.
The best advice is never to buy anything on the doorstep, and never to let anyone into your home unless you already know and trust them.
This is the traditional approach, and is still used for some of the oldest scams. People often receive letters telling them they have won a prize – they just have to pay a fee of some kind to access it. They hand over the money, but no prize ever materialises.
If you respond to just one of these, then you will be put on a list of vulnerable victims by the criminals and targeted with even more of them. It’s therefore best to treat all unsolicited mail as a potential fraud, and respond to none of it.
5. They persuade you to contact them
Traditionally scammers put advertisements around town, offering you money to work from home or a special diet product. You would have to pay them for your introductory pack, and either you would pay and they would disappear, or you would receive something essentially useless.
Nowadays criminals also use online adverts. These can include debt management scams (where they take a fee and just refer you to a payday loan company), job scams (where you are offered a ‘job’ for moving cash around on their behalf so you are essentially money laundering), and scams with pop up adverts warning you that you have a computer virus, and persuading you to call a firm who will charge you to ‘fix’ a problem that never existed.
It’s important to be aware of these specific cons and to bear in mind that one of the best ways to protect yourself is to assume that if something appears too good to be true, then it probably is.
In fact the Metropolitan Police publishes a Big Book of Scams, and suggests ten golden rules to help you beat the scammers:
1. Be suspicious of anything that seems ‘too good to be true’
2. Do not agree to offers or deals immediately. Insist on taking your time to consider it and take advice.
3. Do not hand over money or sign anything until you have done some research on the company you are dealing with
4. Never send any money to anyone you don’t know or trust or use methods of payment you are not comfortable with
5. Never give banking information to anyone you don’t know or trust
6. Always log onto a website direct, rather than clicking a link on an email
7. Do not rely on testimonials, get solid proof of a company’s performance
8. Get independent advice if an offer involves your money or time
9. If you have been scammed – or spot a scam – call Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040. Contact the police if you know the suspect or think they are still in the area
10. Never be embarrassed to report a scam