If you've received an email, text, phone call or knock on your door that feels off, listen to your instinct, and don't respond. With scams at an all-time high in the UK this year, here's what to look out for and how not to fall for them.
It's likely that we will all receive a scam message at some point in our life. It could be a phone call asking about a recent car accident, or an email encouraging us to update our password through a secure link. These messages used to be common enough to spot, but scams are evolving, and even the savviest among us can fall prey to clever fraudsters. We've noticed that not only are scams becoming much more numerous, but they have also increased in sophistication and deviousness, making them harder to combat.
We've also sadly discovered that the perpetrators are utterly ruthless, having no qualms about leaving their victims distraught, ruining people's lives, and leaving them penniless. It seems hard to imagine that the nice, perfectly-spoken young man or woman at the end of the phone is actually a callous criminal, but unfortunately, that is sometimes the reality.
Due to the pandemic, this year has been immensely difficult for the UK, with unemployment rates soaring to 4.5%, many successful businesses closing and workers finding themselves furloughed for months on end. It's during these times where we may be tempted to believe a
scam email or call, contrary to our niggling suspicions.
Unfortunately, this is something that scammers are also aware of, as scams become more targeted and increase in frequency. According to the Council’s 'Leicestershire Matters' magazine, a 400% increase in coronavirus-related frauds had been reported at the time their summer publication went to print.
Trading Standards stated that: "This unprecedented health emergency has led to a never before seen surge in scam activity".
They advise that these scams can come in various guises, from emails to text messages, phone calls to doorstep callers as well as social media advertising.
This year one of our clients fell victim to doorstep scammers. Jim accepted an offer to clean his guttering, which quickly grew to insistent claims that the tiles on the roof needed work. The scammers pushed for cash payment, even going as far as accompanying Jim to the cashpoint.
Jim said: "I felt quite intimidated by the men as I was outnumbered and at the time I was unaware of my rights to stop the work".
Jim was concerned that having agreed to the initial guttering work he was unable to refuse the rest being carried out. Once the men had left Jim had a feeling something wasn’t right and went to investigate. He found that the work he had paid £2,000 cash to these men for was not completed. He asked us to publicise his case to help other people to avoid being conned in this way.
Scams such as these happen every day. Criminals could turn up on your doorstep posing as a business or send you illicit emails disguising themselves as Gov UK, your bank, or your trusted financial planner, accountant, or solicitor.
Here are a number of ways to recognise scams to look out for.
In Jim’s case where you have someone on the doorstep, there are a number of things to remember. The first is that contractors are required to give you some breathing space to decide whether you would like them to do the work. If they are operating properly they should give you a quote and their contact details and allow you 14 days to come to a decision. If you find yourself in a similar situation to Jim, where you have agreed to something being done but don’t wish to continue with any additional work, then you are within your rights to halt business and decline anything further to be done. If you feel threatened, intimidated or unsafe you should call the police for assistance by dialling 101. Jim advised that you can refer to either Think Jessica, which has a lot of detailed information and is a useful tool to arm yourself with the facts, or Trading Standards, who you apply to via the Citizen’s Advice Bureau.
For online scams there are several steps that you can take to protect yourself:
1. Check your anti-virus software is up to date.
2. Check the sender’s email address. Does it look authentic? Quite often this is the simplest way of filtering them out.
3. Are there any spelling mistakes in the message? This is a giveaway sign.
4. Ask yourself whether this is something you expected to receive and if not is it too good to be true?
5. Rather than click on a link given in an email, go to the web page yourself. This way you can be more confident that the website is safe and not a scam website that has been cleverly designed to look like the real one.
6. Remember to always stop and take a moment before you part with any money or personal information.
7. It is ok to ignore requests – you do not have to respond. Sometimes responding to scammers lets them know that your email address is active and spurs even more scam emails. It’s best just to mark as a spam sender and delete it.
A common scam is for fraudsters to telephone someone who has responded to a scam email or text and purport to be calling from the victim's own bank. They will allege that it is necessary to move funds to a different account to protect them from further fraud, in reality switching them away to the criminal's account.
Text Messages & Phone Callers
Think Jessica have some examples of phone scams that you may receive.
1. Never give your personal details and especially your password or pin to unexpected callers. If you are unsure tell the person calling that you will call them back to ensure security. Do not use a telephone number they give you. Most banks for example will be more than happy for you to call them back and they have a switchboard that will get you to the department you need to speak to.
2. If you receive a text message that you were not expecting, consider where the sender might have got your number. If there is a link in the message that you are encouraged to click on then search for the sender and the details they want you to view manually.
This is a known scam and one which Solicitors already warn and educate buyers on, and our legal team take lots of precautions to avoid clients being duped. However high value property transactions remain an attractive target for criminals and no doubt these scams will continue as sales have soared.
It works like this:
•The criminal's research property sales to identify property buyer and the Solicitor managing the sale;
•Once they have the information they need, they set up email accounts very similar to the genuine Solicitors. From a glance they look genuine, but may have an extra or missing letter or punctuation mark;
•In some instances the criminals have also called the buyer purporting to be from the Solicitors;
•The criminal communicates with the buyer usually through the email which has been set up and provides invoices and account details for the payments to be made to.
If you're involved in a property sale, make sure you verify any bank details or payment information, and be highly suspicious of any last minute notification of changes.
What to do if you've been scammed
If you think you have been scammed then report it. You can report to Action Fraud - the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime. It can be contacted via https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/ or by calling 0300 123 2040. Anyone who receives a suspicious email is also being urged to contact Action Fraud.
Here at Woodgate Financial Planning, we are dedicated to providing you with a first-class service, that is also safe from threat. We will never send you emails asking for sensitive details and information. If you have any concerns or queries regarding scams, please get in touch with us via your usual contact or at email@example.com and we'll be happy to help you.