Beating the scammers
During a year of lockdowns, vaccinations and Zoom meetings, scammers have continued to take advantage of people’s good natures.
London Vision and RNIB have combined knowledge and experience to put together information, hints and tips for avoiding scams and online fraud.
Age UK‘s top five steps to reduce the risk of being scammed:
- STOP – Never do anything you don’t want to or make any decisions on the spot
- CHECK – Always check their credentials
- ASK – Always ask someone you trust for a second opinion
- MINE – Do not give away personal information
- SHARE – Share your experience with others to lower their risk of being scammed
What should I do if I have been a victim of a scam?
Although many people feel embarrassed about falling for a scam, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Many people fall victim to scams, and fraudsters have a range of techniques to trick people and are trying new scams all the time.
Every year, millions of people in the UK are victims of scams. People of all ages can be scammed. Scams can have serious financial and emotional consequences for victims, and can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, embarrassment, fear, and anxiety.
Who can I talk to if I’ve been scammed?
Tell your bank or financial institution immediately if you notice a suspicious transaction from your bank account or credit card. They will try to recover any money lost. They may cancel your current card and send you a new one to stop any other fraudulent transactions from your account. Report the scam to the police.
Also contact Action Fraud using their online fraud reporting tool. You can do this any time of the day or night. You can also report fraud by calling the Action Fraud team on 0300 123 2040.
Contact Think Jessica if a scam has made you feel anxious, fearful or guilty. They provide emotional and practical help to victims of crimes and scams.
Contact the 24-hour Samaritans helpline on 116 123 if you feel low or anxious and need someone to talk to.
If you need care and support, you can contact your local council’s adult social services department. They can provide safeguarding support and will work with you to consider what action to take.
Contact Citizens Advice if you’re having trouble paying your bills and are worried about what to do.
What should I do next to protect myself?
If something looks too good to be true it usually is. Be mindful of fantastic offers or deals however they are put to you. Don’t feel you have to make quick or snap decisions particularly when larger sums of money are involved. Ask a friend or family member what they think.
Telephone and text scams
Cold calls are phone calls from companies trying to sell you something, even though they have had no business with you previously. Cold calls aren’t usually illegal and don’t necessarily count as a scam although they can be annoying, frustrating and even frightening.
Even though it won’t necessarily block scammers, you can register for free with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) to reduce the number of cold calls you receive. Register with the Telephone Preference Service
What are some common types of phone scams?
It can be hard to tell the difference between a scam and cold calling. However, it’s good to know some of the typical tricks that scammers use so you can be prepared.
Someone may call claiming to be from your bank telling you there’s a problem with your card or account. The caller will often sound professional and try to convince you that your card has been cloned or that your money is at risk.
They may ask for your account and card details, including your PIN number, and even offer to send a courier to collect your card. They may also advise transferring your money to a ‘safe account’ to protect it. This is a common scam, and your bank would never ask you to do this.
Computer repair scams
A scammer may call you claiming to be from the helpdesk of a well-known IT firm, such as Microsoft. They will tell you that your computer has a virus and will ask you to download ‘anti-virus software’, possibly at a cost. This turns out to be spyware, used to get your personal details. Legitimate IT companies do not contact customers this way.
You may get a call from someone claiming to be from HMRC saying there is an issue with your tax refund or an unpaid tax bill. They may leave a message and ask you to call back. Again, don’t be fooled by this. HMRC would never contact you this way and would never ask you to reveal personal financial information such as your bank account details.
Pensions and investment scams
This is a call about an ‘unmissable’ investment opportunity, or offering you the opportunity to access your pension cash earlier. Nuisance calls about pensions are now illegal. If you receive a cold call about your pension, report it to the Information Commissioner’s Office on 0303 123 1113 or go online here.
This is a call from someone claiming to be from a charity supporting scam victims, a company selling anti-scam technology, or from someone demanding money to renew your Telephone Preference Service registration, which is actually free. Be alert to all of these.
Check a charity’s registration with the Charity Commission to find out if they are genuine.
There are privacy laws that protect consumers from direct marketing phone calls. If you have registered your phone number with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) or if you have told the company directly that you don’t wish to receive phone calls, you shouldn’t receive direct marketing calls from the UK.
If you receive an unwanted telesales call, an automated message, or a spam message, tell the company that you don’t wish to be contacted again.
You can complain to the Information Commissioner’s Office or report spam texts by forwarding the text for free to 7726.
If you have received a silent or abandoned call, complain to Ofcom.
Talk to your phone provider to see what privacy services and call-blocking services are available, although you may need to pay for some of these services. Ofcom has information about different phone providers’ services that block nuisance calls.
If you’re concerned about whether a scheme or offer is legal or legitimate, contact the Citizens Advice Consumer Service or Action Fraud for advice.
If you are a BT customer and you’re receiving a lot of nuisance calls you can call the Nuisance Call Advice Line on 0800 661 441 (8am to 10pm Monday-Friday and 9am to 6pm on a Saturday). Calling features that can help: BT Call Protect – sends nuisance and unwanted calls to a junk voicemail.
Report the scam to the police and Action Fraud. The information you give to Action Fraud can help track down the scammer.
Action Fraud 0300 123 2040.
You can also get more advice on how to deal with scam emails from www.getsafeonline.org
Computer and e-mail scams
Email scams, also called phishing scams, are becoming increasingly common as fraudsters come up with new tricks to try and steal your personal information and bank details.in some cases the emails have malicious software attached which can infect your computer, tablet or mobile with a virus.
What is phishing?
Phishing is when a cybercriminal contacts you out of the blue and convinces you to hand over your personal information or money or gets you to download a virus that infects your computer. Phishing is a play on the word ‘fishing’ and usually happens over email, but can also happen through texts, social media or phone calls.
Checking the from address
It’s always worth checking the address the email comes from for spoofing. Scammers often change email addresses to look more like it is from the company or organisation they are pretending to contact you from. A scam email usually has a fairly bizarre email address behind what looks like a genuine sender name. To find out if there’s a fraudster behind what looks like a genuine sender, use your mouse to hover the cursor over or right-click on the sender name and you should see the email address behind it.
For JAWS users
Those using JAWS with Outlook can press Alt+1 once to hear the sender’s name and twice quickly to focus the from edit box. From here, it’s possible to copy the sender’s name and email address by highlighting the information with Shift+Arrow keys and pressing the Applications key or Shift+F10 to display a context menu which includes an option to copy the selected information, which can be pasted into an app such as Notepad for further interrogation.
Increasingly, you will notice that scammers are getting better at sending emails which include our name in the first line of the message. However, not all of them do. Sometimes scam emails will just say “Hi” and not include your name, other times your email address will be used after “Hi”. This impersonal approach to contacting you is another sign that it’s likely to be a scammer behind the email.
Check contact information and dates
Does the ‘contact us’ information at the bottom of the email link to anything? Is it clickable? Are the websites it links to genuine? If the answer is no, you should be on your guard. To see where a weblink links to without actually clicking on it, simply hover your mouse cursor over the link. In the bottom left-hand corner of your web browser, the web address where the link goes to will appear.
Scam emails are often pretending to be from big brands, companies, supermarkets, retailers and deal sites or from trusted government departments. Checking branding and keeping an eye on the quality of branded logos, etc, in the email can strongly indicate if the email is a scam. Is the branding on the email the same as it is on the company or government website? Does it match the last genuine email you received from them? If the answer is no, be suspicious.
Check that any linked websites are legitimate
If you have clicked through to a website or landing page from an email thinking it is genuine, make sure you also double-check the authenticity of the website. If it’s a big brand or company, simply open a new tab and do a quick search for them. Click on their website and then compare the URL addresses. Are they the same, similar or totally different? This should give you a good indication as to whether the landing page is a fake or genuine. If you haven’t yet clicked a link but are being asked to do so you can access an important message on your account, avoid the temptation to act quickly and log in via the email link. Instead, open your browser and log in to your account via the official website. Check if the message is really there. If it isn’t, you know the email you received is likely to be from a scammer. Ignore links and attachments. Computer viruses can find their way onto your computer by scammers tricking you into installing them. For example, ransomware threatens to take action on your computer – such as deleting files – unless you pay a ransom.
If you suspect an email might be from a scammer, do not click on any links or download any attachments featured in the scam email as these may download a computer virus onto your computer. Make sure you stay security-savvy and ensure your antivirus software is always up to date, as this will provide an extra layer of protection if you have unknowingly downloaded a computer virus after clicking a link or downloading an attachment.
Asking for personal or bank details?
If an email is asking you to update or re-enter your personal or bank details out of the blue, it is likely going to be a scam. Personal information includes things like your National Insurance Number, your credit card number, pin number, or credit card security code, your mother’s maiden name or any other security answers you may have entered. Most companies will never ask for personal information to be supplied via email.
Poor spelling, grammar and presentation?
Scammers are getting better at presenting phishing emails that are more or less free of poor spelling and grammar. But you should still watch out for these tell-tale signs. More common is to see a real lack of consistency with the presentation of the email, which may include several different font styles, font sizes and a mismatch of logos.
Trying hard to be ‘official’?
Scammers often try hard to make the email sound official. They will do this in a number of ways, including using the word ‘official’. You are unlikely to see the messaging in a truly official email shouting about how official it is. Scam emails may also contain information such as account numbers and IDs designed to trick you into thinking the email is genuine. Check any of these against your records to see if they match.
Trying to rush you?
Fraudsters will try to pressure you with time-sensitive offers, encouraging you to act now or miss out on ‘exclusive’ deals. Take your time to make all the checks you need. If the message is alerting you to look at something linked to an account you have with the company, organisation or retailer, you should log in separately to your account in a new tab or window It’s better to miss out on a genuine deal than risk compromising your personal details or money.
Check brand logos, most major brands should be tagged to read with screen readers – if in doubt ask someone to check the branding and look of the e-mail visually. Remember also to check the brand or company help and customer services pages. Often big companies are aware of scams circulating and have published advice for customers on what to watch out for.
Setting strong passwords can prevent hackers accessing your information. Here’s some steps to make strong passwords:
- Make it random: don’t pick family names or names of current pets.
- Make it unique: each of your online accounts should have a different password.
- Longer is better: ideally more than ten characters, including capitals, symbols and numbers.
- Change it often.
Visit this website for more information on setting strong passwords
Romance or relationships scams
Romance scams involve people being duped into sending money to criminals who go to great lengths to gain their trust and convince them that they are in a genuine relationship. They use language to manipulate, persuade and exploit so that requests for money do not raise alarm bells. These requests might be highly emotive, such as criminals claiming they need money for emergency medical care, or to pay for transport costs to visit the victim if they are overseas. Scammers will often build a relationship with their victims over time.
Signs your friend or family member may be involved in a romance scam:
- They may be very secretive about their relationship or provide excuses for why their online partner has not video called or met them in person. They might become hostile or angry, and withdraw from conversation when you ask any questions about their partner
- They may express very strong emotions and commitment to someone they have only just met
- They have sent, or are planning to send, money to someone they have not met face-to-face. They may take out loans or withdraw from their pension to send money.
How to stay safe from romance scams
- Be suspicious of any requests for money from someone you have never met in person, particularly if you have only recently met online.
- Speak to your family or friends to get advice.
- Profile photos may not be genuine, do your research first. Performing a reverse image search on a search engine can find photos that have been taken from somewhere, or someone, else.
It is important that no matter how long you’ve been speaking to someone online and how much you think you trust them, if you have not met them in person it’s important that you do not:
- Send them any money
- Allow them access to your bank account
- Transfer money on their behalf
- Take a loan out for them
- Provide copies of your personal documents such as passports or driving licenses
- Invest your own money on their behalf or on their advice
- Purchase and send the codes on gift cards from Amazon or iTunes
- Agree to receive and/or send parcels on their behalf (laptops, mobile phones etc.)
How to report it
If you think you have been a victim of a romance scam, do not feel ashamed or embarrassed – you are not alone. Contact your bank immediately and report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040
Doorstop scammers and unwanted callers
If you are blind or partially sighted and can’t identify the person standing in front of you or read ID badges. You need to take positive control of who can access your home. If you have any doubts about unexpected callers there is no need to let them in how ever bad you may feel. You can arrange with utility companies to setup passwords, so that company employees can identify themselves. You can ask for ID badges to be pushed through the letter box so you can examine them with a magnifier or using an app such as Be My Eyes.
The Metropolitan Police warrant card is a tactile shield which contains braille. You may not be able to read braille, but you may feel the clusters raised dots. Alternatively, if you are a smart phone user you can make a video call to a friend who will be able to read the card for you and take a look at the individual at your door if you do decide to open up.
Intercom systems are a good way of managing callers, as are video doorbells. A video doorbell links to an app on your phone allowing you to see who is at your door. If you can’t see the image of the caller then you can have the image displayed on a fried of neighbours phone and they can help you determine whether it’s a legitimate caller.
What are some common types of doorstep scams?
There are many different types of doorstep scams, some of the most common ones include:
- Rogue traders: A cold-caller may offer you a service you don’t really need. They may claim to have noticed something about your property that needs work or improvement, such as the roof, and offer to fix it for cash or an inflated price.
- Bogus officials: People claim to be from your utility company as a way of gaining access to your home. Always check the ID of any official, and if they are genuine they won’t mind waiting while you check.
- Fake charity collections: A fraudster may pretend they are from a charity and ask you to donate money, clothes or household goods. Legitimate charities will all have a charity number that can be checked on the Charity Commission website.
- Made-up consumer surveys: Some scammers ask you to complete a survey so they can get hold of your personal details, or use it as a cover for persuading you to buy something you don’t want or need.
- Hard luck stories: Sometimes, scammers may come to your door and ask you to help them out with cash, ask to use your telephone or claim they’re feeling unwell. The story is made up and intended to con you out of your money or gain access to your home.
How can I protect myself from doorstep scams and scammers?
There are things you can do to feel safer when answering the door, such as:
- Putting up a deterrent sign. You could put a ‘no cold callers’ sign up on your door or window, which should deter any cold callers from knocking on your door.
- Setting up passwords for utilities. You can set up a password with your utility companies to be used by anyone they send round to your home. Phone your utility company to find out how to do this.
- Nominating a neighbour. Find out if you have a nominated neighbour scheme where a neighbour can help to make sure if callers are safe.
Contact your local Neighbourhood Watch or your local Safer Neighbourhood police team to find out more.
If someone does come to the door, it’s important to remember the following:
- Only let someone in if you’re expecting them or they’re a trusted friend, family member or professional. Don’t feel embarrassed about turning someone away.
- Don’t feel pressured. Don’t agree to sign a contract or hand over money at the door. Think about it and talk to someone you trust.
- Check their credentials. You should always check someone’s credentials – a genuine person won’t mind. You can phone the company they represent or check online, but never used contact details they give you.
- Don’t share your PIN. Never disclose your PIN number or let anyone persuade you to hand over your bank card or withdraw cash.
- Call the police. Call the police non-emergency number 101 if you’re not in immediate danger but want to report an incident. But call 999 if you feel threatened or in danger.
More information you might find useful
- Age UK information guide: Avoiding scams (PDF, 4 MB)
- Age UK information guide: Staying safe (PDF, 4 MB)
- Support for scam victims
- Met Police: The Little Book of Big Scams
- Met Police: Advice about fraud
- Consumer helpline
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