In yet more bad news for the nation, the Bank of England announced last week we are in a recession. And despite that, we do have one ginormous growth industry that we could all live without. Fraud.

The figures are jaw-dropping. Last year £1.31 billion was lost to fraud though it’s estimated the true figure is closer to £4 billion. The Office for National Statistics have stated that more than 1 in 10 people have been scammed – which means you are more than five times more likely to be ripped-off than you are to be burgled. And according to Ofcom, over 8 in 10 of us have received a suspicious text message and nearly half have received a dodgy call.

Fraud is that most insidious of crimes in that scammers exploit stories in the news, our concerns, gaps in technology and plain old confidence tricks, all updated for 2023/23 to part us with our cash. It only takes a moment to catch a person unawares and the losses can be extraordinary. Over the last decade I’ve helped people who have been tricked in to transferring sums between £50,000 and £100,000. In the worst case I saw, a victim of conveyancy fraud – where fraudsters hijack emails or target participants during the process of a house sale –lost an extraordinary £350,000.

The best way to avoid fraud is by becoming aware of the methods that scammers use to trick people, from impersonating your bank to using fake job offers to farm your data.

There are some great initiatives out there to help people who suspect that they’re being tricked. Stop Scams UK launched their free 159 telephone number last year – a phone service that connects people directly to their bank if they get a call that seems a bit suspect. It’s an industry-wide initiative and over 180,000 people have used the service already, which has saved a lot of potential money loss.

But scammers use emails, texts, social media and even door-stepping to target potential victims. So here’s my round up of the latest cons to watch out for.

A friend in need

The ‘friend in need’ scam has been doing the rounds for over a decade now, but I’m hearing that it’s being increasingly used in the last few months. The scam works through messaging services, like WhatsApp, text, or other social media messaging systems. You’ll receive a message from a family member or friend (which is why this is sometimes known as the ‘hi mum, hi dad’, scam). The message suggests that the friend or relative has lost their bag and phone and is borrowing a phone to get in touch. They will imply there is an emergency (sometimes suggesting they are abroad) and will ask you to send a payment by bank or wire transfer. Often the number can’t be identified, but it’s possible for legitimate numbers to be ‘spoofed’ (copied using relatively cheap technology) or you could also be contacted through a hijacked email or social media account. When you send money by bank transfer or wire transfer, it’s usually very difficult to get back, if not impossible.

PayPal friends and family

It’s possible to part you from your money by using legitimate methods of payment.  PayPal’s ‘Friends and Family’ option allows you to pay trusted people money without incurring a fee. However, Friends and Family payments operate in a very similar way to a bank transfer. Because you’re only supposed to use this method to pay people you know, you are not covered by PayPal’s buyer seller protection schemes. Fraudsters exploit this by asking you to use Friends and Family when you purchase (fake) goods or services. When the items don’t turn up, you have no recourse through PayPal.

In addition, I’ve seen some incredibly convincing emails allegedly from PayPal that are actually fraudulent. These emails suggest that a payment has failed and you need to re-enter your payment details, or that someone has attempted to access your account. It’s really, really easy to click on the link in an absent-minded moment and hand over your information. There’s something horribly ironic about using the fear of fraud to commit fraud.

Headhunters

Lots of people are looking for work these days, particularly those worried about their finances or people who want to make a new start in January. Many people are telling me that they’ve received emails from what look like legitimate LinkedIn email addresses, or others from big recruitment agencies. The emails will suggest the person making contact has seen your profile and has a job for you. You’ll then be asked to fill out a form. This is a fraud method designed to farm your data. The form you fill out takes what might seem to be innocuous data, but everything you enter can be used to ‘crack’ existing accounts, from bank details to your log ins to retailers and payment systems or credit cards.

Post and delivery texts

At this time of year, the fake postal delivery text is endemic. Fraudsters know full well that we are more likely to have a higher number of items due for delivery in the run up to Christmas. They also know that there are postal strikes or delays with some of the delivery companies.

The scam is pretty basic. You’ll get a text or email which suggests a parcel could not be delivered. This invites you to follow the ubiquitous link to a fake site where you’ll be asked to pay a charge in order for the item to be delivered. This is usually such a small sum that you may be tempted to pay without thinking. But of course, in doing so, you’ve revealed your bank or card details.

The ‘round robin’ and saved email folders

There’s a lot of data floating around down the back of the internet. So it’s worryingly easy for scammers to seize control over people’s emails. This is my annual reminder that it’s time to change all of your passwords, by the way.

If a fraudster gets access to your email, they have access to all of your contacts. Some will attempt the rather ‘old school’ direct appeal for money, like the friend in need scam I mentioned earlier. But in the main, scammers send innocuous looking emails from ‘you’ designed to get your friends and colleagues to click on a link that contains malware that in turn infects your computer. So if an old schoolfriend sends you a ‘round robin’ email out of the blue, don’t click on it without pausing for thought. Make sure you have anti-virus software loaded on your computer or phone too and you are running regular checks.

It’s also worthwhile having a think about the information and data you email to yourself for safekeeping. This may be how some fraudsters are obtaining photographs of passports. Many people email things like passwords, bank details and more. If you do hide this information on your computer or phone, then disguise it well. Just to test the matter, type ‘password’ in to your email search drive and see what comes up.

Subscription and voucher traps

It’s not just data and money transfer scams that come in to force at this time of year.

While you’re shopping online you might find that there are a few special offers available that look quite tempting, from voucher deals to free trials of beauty or health products.

Often these offers are ‘subscription traps. These fraudster begins to debit your account after the ‘free’ period ends’ The voucher schemes are often ‘legitimate’ businesses that you’ve signed up to after a genuine purchase to get a free discount off your next purchase. But then you end up paying a regular subscription for more ‘offers’. These charges are monthly and you may not even have noticed the money leaving your account at all. Subscription traps that send you low quality goods for large prices are usually from firms based abroad and are often outright cons. Ask yourself before you sign up to anything – why does the firm need my card number if the goods are free?

Housebreak heartache

I hate to be the ghost of Christmas miserabilism, but December and January are peak season for burglars too. This is because we are more likely to have high value items lying around the house or under the tree – and we’re more likely to be away from home. Take sensible precautions before and after Christmas. Don’t leave valuables lying around or in plain sight. Speak to your home and contents insurer and see if you can increase cover for the festive season. Oh, and if you get lucky and Santa buys you pricy presents this year, add them to the insurance asap.

Six top scam tips

It can be really hard to retain all of the information about the various scams doing the rounds. So here’s my 10 second guide.

  • Never hand over personal information or bank details when contacted by phone, email, app, social media or in person.
  • If you get sent a link to click to confirm details, don’t click it. Go direct through the business if unsure, or if called, dial 159.
  • Speak to older or more vulnerable people and share these tips. Younger people are also statistically more likely to be targeted by scammers too.
  • Be wary of online shops that you haven’t heard of before, or offers on social media sites, particularly if based abroad.
  • Pay by debit or credit card as you may be able to ‘charge back’ your money if you think you’ve been tricked.

Speed is of the essence. If you feel any doubts or suspicions, contact your bank or card provider urgently.

Featured in Times Money Mentor – Martyn James

The six scams to avoid this Christmas

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