Don’t Miss a Trick – June is Scams Awareness Month 2018

As awareness of scams increases, fraudsters are finding more sophisticated methods of stealing our money warn Warwickshire County Council Trading Standards at the beginning of Scams Awareness Month 2018.

Whilst fraudsters are still using amateurish mass marketed scams such as poorly put together ‘Lotto Winner’ and ‘I have money to transfer to you’ letters or emails, some are turning to more elaborate cons to target specific individuals and companies.

Fraudsters are using ‘social engineering’ to manipulate people into handing over confidential information or money. Scammers need to appear legitimate and trusted so gather as much information on their victims as they can from the Internet and social media or from data that has been stolen following hacks or data breaches. They then create a compelling story, sometimes prompted by real life events such as bank problems or things that are happening in the individual’s life, such as a house move. The fraudster will finally claim to be there to help!

No one is immune to scams but there are four groups that are more at risk:

  • Young people (18-24) are usually more technologically savvy but are making up a growing proportion of victims of both online scams and identity fraud.
  • Those in their 40’s to 60’s account for one third of all fraud victims and are most likely to be the victims of pension fraud, dating scams and banking and property related scams.
  • The over 70’s tend to be the victims of phone and mail fraud, often involving investments. This group lose more money to scams than any other, around £4,500 per victim.
  • Finally, those who are socially isolated are also at risk. These people can often find themselves on lists used by fraudsters to target individuals. However, 9 in 10 people on these scammers lists are unaware that they are being targeted and socially isolated individuals are not always able to connect to either support or information, leaving them more at risk.

Warwickshire County Councillor Howard Roberts, Portfolio Holder for Community Safety said:

“Unfortunately scams and fraud seem to have become part of our daily lives. Last year almost three quarters of people surveyed by Citizens Advice had been targeted by a scam in the previous two years (2015-17) and every 15 seconds someone in the UK loses money to a scam.”

“With fraudsters using ever more sophisticated methods to target us, keeping up to date on the latest scams and following best advice is important.”

“Warwickshire residents and businesses can receive up to date scam warnings and advice by subscribing to our scam email alerts, visit www.warwickshire.gov.uk/scams

Top Ten Scams 2018

1) Port-out and SIM Swap Fraud: Port-out fraud involves fraudsters convincing the victim’s mobile phone network provider to swap their number on to a SIM card in the fraudster’s control by making a PAC code request. SIM swap involves the fraudster impersonating the victim and requesting a new SIM card for their account. In both cases the fraudster wants control over the victim’s mobile telephone number which they can use to request banking password resets or access to two factor authentication services.

What to do: If you receive an unexpected text from your service provider containing a PAC number or your SIM stops working, contact your service provider immediately – you may have been targeted!

2) Copycat Websites: Most official documents, including passports, driving licenses, ESTAs, EHIC health cards and even fishing licenses can be applied for or renewed on-line. It’s important that when you apply or renew a document or licence on-line that you use the official website, both to ensure that your personal data is safe and secure and that you are not charged more for the document or licence than you should be. Copycat websites try to look like official websites but charge a premium to handle the application or renewal, often with no tangible benefit to the customer. Copycat websites pay advertising fees so that their website is positioned at the top of search engines.

What to do: If you are applying for any official document or licence, begin your search on the UK Government’s own website GOV.UK. If a website is marked ‘Ad’ or ‘Advertisement’, it won’t be the official website.

3) Subscription or Free Trial Scams: Some unscrupulous businesses trick unsuspecting consumers in to signing up for expensive subscriptions, often for face creams or slimming pills, by offering a ‘free trial’. Consumers provide their debit or credit card details to pay for postage and packing, not realising they have actually signed up to a continuous payment authority, allowing the trader to help themselves to the consumer’s account.

What to do: Read all the terms and conditions in any ‘free-trial’ offer. If you sign up in error, contact your bank immediately. These scams are often advertised on social media.

4) Vishing Scams: Fraudsters phone you and impersonate your bank or a service provider (telephone, broadband, electricity or gas) in order to get you to reveal personal or financial information or transfer money (for example to ‘protect’ it from being stolen). They may already know a lot about you and sound very convincing.

What to do: Never reveal any information to an unexpected caller or agree to transfer any money, whatever their story. If you believe the phone call is genuine, phone the business back on a publically listed telephone number.

5) Computer ‘Fix’ Scams: These are unexpected phone calls from someone falsely claiming to be your broadband service provider. They claim your computer is faulty before offering to ‘fix’ it for a fee. They may also try to access your PC remotely to infect it with viruses.

What do to: These phone calls are always bogus. Put the phone down.

6) Investment Scams: Often initiated by an unexpected phone call, these scams involve getting people to invest in wine, shares, land, rare earth metals and art. The investments are usually worthless and customer’s money is not protected. In some cases fraudsters give investors the impression they are making money by handing some back as a ‘return’. They do this to encourage the victim to invest ever higher amounts.

What do to: Never agree to invest with people who cold-call. Always seek genuine professional advice before investing.

7) Smishing: These are text messages used to lure people to visit scam websites, call premium rate numbers or download malicious content.

What to do: Always delete unexpected text messages and where possible block the number.

8) Job Scams: These scams involve taking money for expensive training courses that don’t exist or paying up front to secure non-existent jobs. Some job seekers have lost hundreds of pounds in call charges after long phone interviews for jobs that don’t exist. People looking for employment, especially online, should also be aware of fraudsters who masquerade as recruitment agents to attempt to gain personal and financial information from job seekers that can then be used for ID theft and other crimes.

What to do: Only use genuine recruitment agencies and research companies offering posts thoroughly.

9) Loan Scams: Looking for a loan online? Bogus credit brokers take large fees from individuals desperate to secure a loan. However, the loan never materialises!

What to do: Never pay up front to secure a loan.

10) Demands for Payment: Fraudsters often masquerade as HMRC or other Government departments, or utility companies and cold-call victims to demand payments for unpaid taxes or bills. Victims are convinced to pay these bogus demands, often by using iTunes gift cards or even collecting the money in cash!

What to do: Never provide personal or financial information to cold callers. These calls are almost always bogus, but if you think a call is genuine, phone the trader back on a publically listed telephone number.

Make a consumer complaint

The Citizens Advice Consumer Service provides free, confidential and impartial advice on consumer issues. Call the Citizens Advice Consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06 (English language).

Keep ahead of the latest scams targeted at Warwickshire residents by signing up to Warwickshire Trading Standards email alert system: www.warwickshire.gov.uk/scams