Author: Sharon Wright
We are all aware of the troublesome rise in scams, and most of us will have experienced at least one attempt to obtain sensitive information from us over the last year. Scammers are now using more sophisticated technology, and the financial loss as a result of scams are at a record high.
Whether it is an email scam, also known as ‘phishing’, a text message or a phone call, criminals will use any method they can to gain an advantage.
So, how do you spot a scam? This article looks at the signs to look out for and how to better protect yourself.
Scam warning signs
This list is not exhaustive and not all such contacts will be a scam. Nevertheless, it is good to remain suspicious until you have checked them out:
- Contact is unexpected
- Incorrect spelling or grammar
- Promises a refund
- Promises a very good investment return, above market rates
- Offers a free pension review
- Need to ‘act quickly’ or within a certain timeframe
- Requests access to your device by downloading software or an app
- Purported to have carried out work which you did not request
- Unfamiliar website, particularly those based outside the UK
- Asks for personal details
- Asks you to confirm or deny a payment
- Asks you to click on a link or press a number
- Notifies a delivery you were not expecting
Ways to stay safe
Here are some of the most obvious ways to stay safe. Specific scams are discussed further below.
- Never click on links from contacts that are ‘out of the blue’.
- Check the email address and/or telephone numbers match the official website.
- Use the FCA Warning list www.fca.org.uk/scamsmart
- If in doubt, speak to the organisation directly using the details on their website
- Use different passwords when online shopping and check reviews on an independent website like Trustpilot
- Consider if you are waiting for a delivery before clicking on a tracking or re-scheduling notification (particularly if you see ‘bit.ly’ or ‘madebypi’ links)
The latest HMRC scam involves an automated phone call threatening a lawsuit and instructing you to press 1 to speak to someone about money owed to them. If you receive contact from HMRC that you think is a scam you can report it to them: Report scam to HMRC.
However, HMRC will never notify you of a refund via email and will never send you a text asking for personal information. Communication like this is always be carried out by letter. HMRC never use WhatsApp or QR codes and will never make phone calls or leave voice messages threatening legal action.
If in doubt, always check with your Accountant at Competex before responding to a communication from HMRC. Competex will be able to confirm if you owe any tax or if you are due a tax refund.
Investments and pension scheme fraud
For any investment opportunities, including cashing in some of your pension pot, check the Financial Services Register at FCA register of authorised advisers to ensure the organisation or individual you are dealing with is registered with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). Alternatively, you can call the FCA helpline on 0800 111 6768. Using an FCA-authorised firm means you will have access to the Financial Ombudsman Service and the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.
Promises of unusually high investment returns, very long-term forecasts, or time limited offers could all be indicators of a scam. Remember that anyone who contacts you online is a stranger and whilst they may appear knowledgeable and convincing, making a deal with someone you have never met is a risk.
Pension scheme fraud has become a very lucrative business for scammers and has led to over £30m being lost from such scams since 2017. The average loss from a pension scam is £50,000 and can mean that precious life savings are lost. The fraud involves someone enticing you to transfer some, or all, of your pension savings to another organisation or to release funds from it.
Pension cold calls are now banned in the UK and carry a £500 fine. However, this doesn’t mean they no longer take place, although most approaches now tend to be made online.
Note that a pension advisor may occasionally offer free advice, but they generally make you pay, so be aware if you are offered anything for free. A suggestion that you can access your pension pot before the age of 55 would be an indicator it is scam, because such practice is unauthorised in the UK, and you could end up losing all your money.
Banks and police
If you receive a call, possibly automated, claiming to be from your bank, credit card provider or police, and stating that a suspicious transaction has occurred on your account, be wary particularly if prompted to press a number on your phone to connect you to an agent or similar. If you receive any such calls, claiming your account has been involved in a fraudulent transaction, hang up and contact your bank using the phone number provided on their branch website.
Banks or the police will never contact you asking for your online banking password, your PIN or for you to transfer money to a new account for fraud reasons. Be aware that the scammer may already hold certain information about you which they confirm at the start of the call to convince you the call is genuine. They may ask you to tap your PIN number into the phone keypad rather than saying it, but this means they still get hold of it.
Action Fraud have reported a growing number of online job scams, most of which are email based. It could be a fake job advert or identity fraud, where the scammer poses as an employer. Both have the aim of obtaining further personal information from you. Scammers use LinkedIn to pose as recruitment agents or head-hunters, utilising the personal information available in here to tailor the approach, so beware of unexpected job offers received via this route. If invited to do a telephone interview, make sure they phone you to avoid calling what is premium rate number and the scammer keeping you on hold. If an advance fee is requested for background checks, Data and Barring clearance or any administration tasks, this is very likely to be a scam. Check the SAFERjobs website for further advice (Safe Advice for Employment and Recruitment) SAFERjobs
Scammers purporting to be Amazon have been defrauding the public an average of £1,000 per case. This could involve pretending you have been signed up to Amazon Prime, notifying you of suspicious activity on your account or stealing gift card money. Any subscription to Amazon Prime must be made by you, via your account; you would not be signed up automatically.
Amazon e-mails will always come from an address that ends @amazon.co.uk, so check the sender address. If you think you have received a scam email, you can forward it to Amazon at firstname.lastname@example.org
Calls asking, ‘can you hear me?’
If a caller immediately asks, ‘Can you hear me?’, hang up. The phrase can be used to coax you into saying ‘yes’ and the person on the other end might be recording the call so that they can use it to access your information. ‘Yes’ is used frequently by companies to confirm account changes, security settings, and purchases.
Keep your email account safe
Your email account is particularly important to keep safe because it contains a whole host of information about you and can provide easy access to some of your online accounts. Therefore, protecting it from hackers should be a priority. Make sure the password to your email is different from all the others. Ideally use 2 or 3 random and unconnected words to reduce your chances of being hacked.
Premium rate numbers
Be aware that phone numbers beginning 084, 087, 118 or 09 will charge you premium rates. Many businesses use numbers beginning 070 or 076, and whilst the call may be genuine, be aware that you will be charged a premium rate. These numbers are often mistaken as being a mobile number and it is easy for scammers to use them, so if you receive a missed call from a number beginning 070 or 076 that you do not recognise, do not call back. See the HMRC guidance on call charges.
Remember everyone is susceptible
It would be easy to assume that it is the elderly who are the most susceptible, but data shows that it is people in the younger age bracket (20-29) who report the most cases. This could be because the younger generation use online shopping more regularly, and seven out of ten financial scams start online, or because they are more inclined to make riskier investments in exchange for quick returns.
Have you fallen victim to a scam?
If you think you’ve fallen victim to a scam, however minor, report it to the Action Fraud Team. The service is run by the City of London Police working alongside the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) Action Fraud. Or contact them on 0300 123 2040. Reporting scams allows authorities to investigate and prosecute scammers.
We hope this has been informative and serves as a reminder to remain vigilant. If you would like to share any experiences with us, please get in touch.