It’s that time of year again when we need to talk about fraudsters.

UK Finance have released their latest half year fraud statistics that reveal that scammers have managed to pinch a whopping half a billion pounds in the first half of 2023.

It’s not all relentlessly grim. Banks managed to prevent a further £651 million from being nicked. But I still can’t get my head around the sheer scale of fraud in the UK. Every day I hear from readers who have been tricked, conned or manipulated by scammers.

I often write about the latest types of fraud doing the rounds. But given the sheer number of scams out there, here’s my guide on how to protect yourself from all of them.

According to the latest statistics, 77% of fraud originates online while the next 17% is through telecommunications. That makes it clear in stark terms where you need to be most wary. The best way to counter fraud is to be cautious about any link, call or message that asks you to provide details, transfer money or click.

Remember anything – anything – can be convincingly faked. That includes websites, business branding, phone numbers that look like they’ve come from your friends or relatives and phone calls from businesses or authority figures like the police. You might think you are impervious to fraudsters, until you get a message from HMRC saying you owe them £1,000… and before you know it, you’ve called or clicked to make a complaint, and they’ve got your info.

If you do get a message or communication that sounds legit, go direct to the business through their official telephone number, website or app. Never use the links or numbers that come with the original notification. If the message has come from someone you know, bear in mind it could be ‘spoofed’ (using cheap technology to make the call or message look like it’s from someone you know) or their email or social media platforms might have been hacked.

Email and text fraud works by playing on your insecurities for just long enough for you to make a mistake. Fraudsters may piggyback on topical news stories – like a bank or big business getting hacked, for example – as a way to nudge you to ‘update your details’. Alternatively, there may be a suggestion that a (fake) fraud has occurred. I receive a constant stream of emails from faux PayPal telling me that my purchase of a hot tub has gone through (or an AK47 this week, exotically). The scam works by panicking you in to clicking on a link to report a fraudulent sale – through what turns out to be a scammer’s website.

Of course, the big money is still in ‘push payment’ and ‘conveyency’ fraud. Push payment is where you are tricked in to either transferring large amounts of money or handing over your bank details by fraudsters pretending to be your bank or the police, who claim your finances have been compromised. If you are called by someone claiming this, then hang up and call your bank direct or dial 159 – a number from Stop Scams UK that connects you to your bank or even businesses like Amazon – if you can’t find the number you need in time.

Conveyancing fraud works by hijacking your email or that of solicitors, mortgage brokers or anyone who might be involved in a large transfer for a house sale or business transaction. This is harder to combat but if you change your email and work passwords regularly – particularly if there’s a large payment on the horizon – and warn all people involved not to change the payment details without checking, then you should avoid a hefty loss.

If you think you’ve been defrauded, then contact the bank or business asap. Don’t forget that you can go to the free Financial Ombudsman if you don’t think a financial business has treated you fairly. Even if you’re not sure if you have a case, you don’t lose anything by trying.

Martyn James is a leading consumer rights campaigner, TV and radio broadcaster and journalist.

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