Keeping up with the scammers is a never-ending challenge. Just when you think you’ve heard it all, a new variation emerges that people aren’t expecting. I’m afraid that the simplest advice of all to avoid getting ripped off is to be a bit cynical about everything. Don’t ever click on links sent by email or text, hang up on people calling from official organisations or businesses and call them back on the correct numbers and be wary of doorstep fraudsters too.
Scams are big business – and the sheer number of fraudsters out there means it’s increasingly hard for the police to investigate them. But there are ways you can fight back.
New ways to fight the fraudsters – your free toolkit
The Stop Scams UK campaign launched a new number last year that you can call if you suspect that a fraudster is trying to trick you by pretending to be your bank. If you are called by someone claiming to be from a bank, or you are asked to transfer money by someone ‘official’, hang up, dial 159 and you’ll be connected to your actual bank. The scheme covers almost all the banks in the UK and is simple and free to use. Over 100,000 people have already used it to beat the fraudsters.
A brand new scheme has just been launched through Citizens Advice to provide advice for people who have been tricked out of their cash or are concerned that they’ve been exposed to a scam. Like 159, it’s a free service, so share the link with everyone you know, particularly if they are older or more vulnerable. https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/scamsaction/
Don’t give up on a complaint! The free Financial Ombudsman Service can look at complaints about fraud issues and financial services. So if you are tricked into handing over cash but the bank failed to help you, warn you or deal with your complaint properly, the Ombudsman might take a different view. Last year they upheld 60% of fraud cases in the complainant’s favour – a huge amount and a warning to the banks they must do better.
If you’re worried that your email or phone number has been in a data leak you can check haveibeenpwned for free here: https://haveibeenpwned.com/
And if you want to learn more about how you can protect your data and find out who has it (and what they have) then Rightly have some great tips too: https://right.ly/know-your-rights/rightlys-tips/
Free services like these matter because £572 million was lost on plastic card fraud alone last year and £583 million was lost on ‘push payment’ fraud where people are tricked into transferring money or giving access to their accounts. And that’s just two types of fraud.
What are the latest scams to be aware of?
I’m sorry to say that the same old fraud methods are still doing the rounds in new guises. But here’s a list of some of the new scams that you might not have encountered yet.
PayPal friends and family
I’m hearing from increasing numbers of people who have been tricked into paying for goods or services by using PayPal’s ‘Friends and Family’ option. By using this service you can avoid paying a fee. However, Friends and Family payments are basically a money transfer and therefore are not covered by PayPal’s buyer / seller protection schemes. I’ve spoken to PayPal and they are clear – you should never use this method of payment unless you are sending money to an actual friend or family member.
WhatsApp fake friends and offers
There has been a rise in scams targeting people on WhatsApp recently, with lots of people falling for an offer of a cooler full of beer just a few weeks ago – in that case you claimed by clicking on a (fake) link. Lots of people I speak to tell me that they assume because WhatsApp is encrypted, scammers can’t target them. But it is possible to ‘spoof’ or use malware to make a number look like it’s from a friend or family member, or simply take over your account. When you click on the link, the fraudsters try to pinch your data or hijack your account.
Post and delivery texts
Back with a vengeance in the last few weeks is the fake postal delivery company message. The scam works because many of us have items on order that might be due to be delivered soon. The text or email says your parcel could not be delivered and invites you to follow a link. You’ll then be asked to either pay a minor post charge (giving away your bank details) or enter a few personal details (after which the information is used to crack any online accounts you have.
Phone scams and sim swaps
The sim-swap scam involves fraudsters sifting through the online black market of hacked and stolen data and gathering enough to build up a pretty good guess of what your personal log in details to official sites might be.
Once they have enough information, the fraudster contacts your mobile phone provider and requests a sim card swap – which then allows them to access your private details from official notifications and emails from banks and other financial services. A new variation on the scam involves requesting a ‘PAC code’ – a way to simplify switching to a new phone provider by text that rather unfortunately can also facilitate this scam. This can happen to anyone – even Twitter’s Chief Executive, Jack Dorsey, got caught out.
The latest variant is fraudsters using stolen personal data to get into your mobile phone contract, order a new phone to your address then the scammers pretend to be the phone firm or delivery company and ask you to send it back (or even collect it from your door!) People only discover the fraud when they get hit with a bill for the stolen phone. Stay vigilant and keep an eye on your bills – and only contact your mobile phone firm through their official channels.
Unable to make a payment scams
The days of badly spelt emails from foreign princes wanting to let money ‘rest’ in your account are long gone. The latest email scams are ultra-convincing. Many purport to be from retailers, banks or other official organisations, notifying you that a payment has failed and to log in to the account to sort out the problem. These emails are so convincing I nearly fell for one from (fake) PayPal. These emails work because we are all often busy and distracted and click on a link without thinking. If you do this, change all your passwords asap and notify your bank and card providers.
What if you get scammed?
If you have transferred money or given access to your accounts, then contact your bank as soon as possible, either through 159 or by calling the number on the back of your card (hang up on anyone who calls you direct and listen for a proper dialling tone when you call back, just in case the scammer hasn’t disconnected). The sooner you seek help, the better your chances are of getting your cash back.
Featured in Mirror – Martyn James