Fraud has become endemic in Britain. We face daily texts and scam calls, and the internet is littered with fake websites and advert cons.
The pandemic has helped fraud to flourish, with criminals seizing on the Covid crisis — exploiting the vaccine rollout, Government support packages and the boom in online shopping — and making easy money from our life savings.
So to help protect your hard-earned cash, Money Mail is today launching a cut-out-and-keep fraud survival guide.
In our special series, we will warn you about the most prolific cons, teach you how to recognise the tell-tale signs of a scam, and explain how best to fight for your money back.
We start here by highlighting the top ten tactics deployed by fraudsters to target your savings — from cruel romance scams to sophisticated bank transfer cons in which unwitting victims are convinced to move their money into a criminal’s account.
It comes as the latest figures from banking industry body UK Finance reveal that losses to fraud rose by another 30 pc to almost £754 million in the first six months of the year.
It means criminals are now stealing more than £4 million from us every day.
Money Mail analysis of industry figures also shows that since January last year, there have been more than 4.6 million cases of fraud — costing us more than £2 billion.
Fraud has become endemic in Britain. We face daily texts and scam calls, and the internet is littered with fake websites and advert cons
1. COPYCAT CONS
(32,196 cases in 2020-21)
£98.4 MILLION LOST
Impersonation fraud has soared in the pandemic and most of us will have received a phone call or text message from a fraudster at some point pretending to be from a trusted organisation, such as a delivery firm, the tax office or internet provider.
The con is simple: grab the target’s attention — by claiming they owe money, for instance — and then lure them into providing personal details that can be used in a fraud.
Criminals can even use a tactic called ‘spoofing’ to make their phone call ID or text appear genuine by cloning the number or sender ID displayed on your phone.
The scams start with a text, call, email or social media message with an urgent request for personal or financial information.
You could also be asked to make a payment or move money.
There were 14,299 cases of impersonation fraud reported to banks in the first six months of this year.
Losses totalled more than £44 million — an increase of 111 pc. Less than half of the stolen money was returned to victims.
A common recent scam includes automated robocalls from scammers pretending to be from your broadband provider or Amazon Prime.
You are told that you owe money or you are about to be disconnected unless you ring a number and pay up.
Another copycat fraud doing the rounds is the HMRC scam. This sees victims told they owe the taxman and have to pay up urgently or they will get a criminal record.
2. BANK IMPERSONATION
(40,283 cases in 2020-21)
£181 MILLION LOST
A more frightening version of the copycat con is when fraudsters pretend to be calling from the police or your bank.
Again, using telephone number spoofing, the calls appear genuine.
You may be told to act immediately and are sometimes told that your money is at risk and you could lose it all.
The scammer will then ask you to transfer the money to another account to keep it safe.
Fraudsters may even try to trick you by sending couriers to collect your cards, PIN or cash in person.
Often, crooks call victims pretending to be from their bank’s fraud team, querying suspicious payments.
They also pose as police and claim staff at the target’s bank branch are involved in a fraud using fake banknotes.
The victim is then convinced to take part in an ‘undercover operation’ and make a large withdrawal and hand it to the police caller for ‘analysis’.
There were nearly 19,000 cases of police or bank impersonation fraud in the first half of the year, with more than £84 million stolen — a rise of 131 pc.
Remember, your bank or the police will never contact you out of the blue to ask for your PIN, password or passcode, or ask you to transfer money to a safe account.
3. INVESTMENT SCAMS
(15,822 cases in 2020-21)
£242.8 MILLION LOST
YOU could lose your life savings or pension in an investment scam.
Fraudsters may target their victims via cold calls or lure them online with fake investment opportunities promoted on search engines and social media.
Cashing in on Covid
Scammers were quick to use phoney NHS and government text alerts to trick victims into transferring money or revealing their personal details.
The nation’s mobile phones were bombarded with text messages from scammers, with some pretending to be from their GP asking for a fee to book a vaccination.
Others claimed they owed a fine for leaving their home too often in lockdown.
So-called ‘phishing’ messages were also sent to targets — inviting them to book their vaccine or warning them a friend had tested positive for Covid-19.
When the victim clicks on the link they are told to enter information that can be used in fraud.
UK Finance says investment scams have risen significantly in the pandemic, and this has been ‘heavily enabled’ by fraudulent advertising, search engines and social media.
Losses rose 95 pc in the first six months of 2021 — hitting almost £108 million, with more than £44 million returned to victims.
You’ll be persuaded to move money into a fictitious fund or to plough your savings into a fake investment. The rewards promised will be tempting and you’ll be pressured to act fast.
Scammers also use fake celebrity endorsement or testimonies from made-up investors boasting of brilliant returns.
Recent investment cons have convinced savers to invest in cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, rare wine and whisky, property, gold or carbon.
Criminals also set up cloned websites that appear to be run by legitimate investment companies and send out paperwork with official branding and logos.
Fraudsters research their victims and may be able to provide you with details of past investments and shares you have.
Treat any investment opportunity offer as a potential scam and check the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) register for regulated firms and individuals.
The regulator also has a scam warning database. Remember, if it is too good to be true, then it almost certainly is.
4. IDENTITY THEFT
(51,389 reports in 2020-21)
£41.2 MILLION LOST
Identity theft is when a fraudster steals your details and uses them to open bank accounts or to take out loans or credit cards.
They might also apply for benefits or try to obtain official documents such as passports or driving licences in your name.
There were 16,844 cases of card ID theft in the first half of the year, with losses hitting more than £11 million — a fall of 30 pc.
A fraudster might steal personal information from your purse or wallet, or even from bank statements in your rubbish bin.
Criminals can also use information available online and on social media to build a picture of your identity.
Warning signs would include mystery transactions on your bank statements, or letters about loans or contracts you did not apply for.
Identity theft is when a fraudster steals your details and uses them to open bank accounts or to take out loans or credit cards
5. ROMANCE CONS
(4,608 cases in 2020-21)
£36.3 MILLION LOST
Scammers ruthlessly search social media and dating websites, often looking for vulnerable victims by seeking profiles that say you’re ‘widowed’ or ‘divorced’.
They’ll use fake profiles and stolen photographs to pretend to be someone else and act like they’ve fallen in love with you.
How you can protect your data online
Criminals send out millions of so-called ‘phishing’ emails and text messages in the hope their targets will simply click or open a link.
Once you open the link, you may be directed to a dodgy website which could download viruses onto your computer, steal your passwords and personal information.
So how can you stay safe online?
If you receive a suspicious email, don’t open links or documents, or reply with your details. Instead, delete it straight away.
If the email claims to be from an organisation, find the telephone number on its official website and call this to ask.
Always check email addresses and website addresses. The ones used by scammers will be slightly different to official addresses.
And use anti-virus and anti-spyware software to protect your computer and data, plus strong passwords.
Avoid passwords that include common words or numbers, especially ones like ‘password’, ‘welcome’, ‘qwerty’ or ‘123’. Don’t use personal information, such as your name or date of birth.
To avoid fake websites, look for your bank’s official web address on paperwork.
Always use gov.uk to look for government services.
After they’ve gained your trust, they’ll often have a sob story which will involve you sending them money.
This might include claims they need money for medical care or for travel costs to visit you.
Alarm bells should ring if they quickly declare strong feelings for you, and are unable to video call or meet you in person.
In the first half of the year, there were more than 1,600 cases of romance fraud — with more than £15 million stolen, and just £5 million returned to customers.
6. INVOICE FRAUD
(7,121 cases in 2020-21)
£124.1 MILLION LOST
Fraudsters hack email accounts belonging to tradesmen, builders and solicitors to send out fake invoices.
Posing as a trusted contact, they’ll get in touch to say their account details have changed and ask you to send any money you owe to a new account.
Families moving money for property purchases have lost their entire deposits to fraudsters in this way.
More than £42 million was lost to invoice fraud in the first half of the year, a decrease of 7 pc.
But only £13 million was refunded to victims. Beware if you receive new bank details from a service provider, or if you see duplicate or more frequent invoices than you’d expect.
Always call the company concerned using a number you know to be correct to check any payments before transferring money.
7. PURCHASE CONS
(131,068 cases in 2020-21)
£94.8 MILLION LOST
The boom in online shopping during the pandemic has given fraudsters the chance to trick more people into paying for non-existent products.
Scams include asking shoppers to put down deposits for pets that don’t exist or payments for computer games consoles they’ll never send.
There were 52,348 purchase scams in the first half of the year, a rise of 40 pc, with fraudsters stealing almost £38 million.
This type of scam accounts for nearly half of all authorised push payment fraud. Victims were refunded just £11 million.
Criminals will often advertise through auction sites or social media using images stolen from genuine sellers.
They might also use web pages that look like genuine providers but have a different website address.
Red flags include deals that are too good to be true — heavy discounts or far cheaper rates.
You should also be wary if you are asked to pay via bank transfer rather than debit or credit card, or the online platform’s secure payment option.
8. ADVANCE FEE FRAUD
(23,968 cases in 2020-21)
£39.9 MILLION LOST
These scams see criminals convince their victims to pay an upfront fee in order to receive a prize or valuable goods.
But the reward promised does not exist.
Losses to advance payment scams rose 110 pc in the first half of 2021 to reach almost £17 million, with more than £5 million returned to the customer.
The scams were also the fourth most common form of bank transfer fraud, accounting for 9 pc of cases.
The criminal may claim the victim has won an overseas lottery or that gold or jewellery is being held at customs and a fee must be paid to release it.
Those searching for jobs have also been hit by this type of fraud.
Beware if a job looks too good to be true, and the recruiter is asking for an upfront fee for a background check, for instance.
You should check email addresses of recruiters or employers, and confirm a firm is registered with Companies House.
Be sure to use a reputable recruitment company that is a member of a trade body.
9. HOLIDAY SCAMS
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AS the world opens up, many of us are desperate to book a holiday abroad. But fraudsters also capitalise on our holiday hopes to steal our money and information.
What to do if you fall victim
If you think you have been scammed, contact your bank immediately. Ensure you use a telephone number you know to be correct.
This could be found on one of your statements, the bank’s website or on the back of your debit or credit card.
You should also report fraud attempts to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or at actionfraud.police.uk.
Those in Scotland should call Police Scotland via 101 or Advice Direct Scotland on 0808 164 6000.
Scammers set up fake websites offering cheap travel deals, often imitating well-known brands.
There will be slight differences. The website address might be different, for instance.
Flight prices are largely set by airlines so super-cheap flights may be a sign that a scammer is behind the deal.
You might also be later directed away from paying safely and told to pay via a bank transfer.
If you do pay, the tickets promised may well be counterfeit or non-existent. Fraudsters will also offer discount rates on luxury villas and apartments, but only if you pay a hefty deposit that you won’t get back.
10. CEO fraud
(1,044 cases in 2020-21)
£16.9 MILLION LOST
Company executive fraud is when a cybercriminal spoofs company email accounts and impersonates executives to convince an employee to send money to them.
It is the least-common type of bank transfer con, but it still cost victims more than £6 million in the first half of the year.
This was a rise of 37 pc on the same period in 2020.
The scam, which mostly affects businesses, is where a victim tries to pay a genuine payee, but the fraudster intervenes by posing as someone high up in their organisation.
They are then told to pay the invoice to a different account.
Scammers have been known to pose as staff in company finance teams, and again use spoofing technology so the emails appear genuine.
There were 207 cases of CEO fraud in the first half of the year — fewer than 1 pc of total bank transfer scams — but the con accounted for 2 pc of total losses.
Bogus lover’s virus lie cost me £3,000
Andrew Wilson* was conned out of more than £3,000 by a romance scammer after she claimed her father had coronavirus.
He started exchanging messages with a Russian woman on the dating website, Older Dating Online in late 2019.
After weeks of emails and telephone calls, he made plans to meet her. She asked him for £650 to get a passport, but this was soon followed by more requests for money.
She said she needed £3,000 to prove to the Russian authorities she had enough money to visit the UK, and later that she needed more for medical expenses for her father who was suffering with Covid-19.
Andrew says: ‘I became suspicious and contacted my bank to report the scam, but the money couldn’t be recovered. I haven’t dated at all since the scam. I am not one who exudes confidence in that area, and with Covid-19 rearing its ugly head, more traditional ways have not been possible.’
He says to those looking for love online: ‘If they ask for money, do not give it — however much they have manipulated your trust prior to that.
‘Before getting to that stage, they will likely have suggested moving away from the dating site and exchanging email addresses.
‘I guess this is because they can be blocked via the site. If they say this, it is highly likely the money bit will follow. Run a mile.
‘I didn’t report what happened on the website. At the time, I guessed it was my fault for being taken in, not their fault for being in existence.’
*Not his real name.
Presenter of Rip Off Britain ANGELA RIPPON: So many crooks, I got a scam text while writing this
By Angela Rippon for the Daily Mail
As I sat down to write, my phone pinged with a text supposedly from a well-known delivery company saying I needed to pay a £2.99 fee otherwise my parcel would be returned to the sender.
There is no parcel — I deleted the message immediately.
This is yet another of those horrible scams that asks you to follow a link and pay just a small amount of money.
But then criminals get hold of your bank details and clean out your account.
Like so many of us, I regularly get this kind of seemingly credible text message on my phone.
I get calls, too, from scammers claiming to be from my bank, or HMRC or some other institution.
The person on the other end of the line invariably wants to help me with some problem that involves my finances.
As I sat down to write, my phone pinged with a text supposedly from a well-known delivery company saying I needed to pay a £2.99 fee otherwise my parcel would be returned to the sender, writes ANGELA RIPPON
But I know that their true intention is to steal as much of my money as they can get away with.
What a truly awful by-product of the pandemic this form of criminal activity is. Fraud has boomed during the covid crisis, with losses hitting a record £2 billion.
That is why it’s imperative the Government does something to stem this pernicious tide. And I’m delighted the Daily Mail is highlighting this vital issue.
The various financial institutions I’ve spoken to about this problem all agree that Covid has been a huge pay day for scammers.
Why might that be? Well, lockdown, by its nature, made it difficult for all of us, whatever our age or circumstances, to be with our families, friends and colleagues.
Isolation meant people of every generation felt more vulnerable — and vulnerability is exactly what fraudsters look for in their next potential victim. Your defences are already down.
These criminals are ruthless and highly motivated. When it comes to getting hold of your cash, they will use whatever devious and unscrupulous means necessary to get it.
Their weapon of choice is fear. They’ll claim someone’s hacked your bank details so you must urgently move your savings to a safe holding account; or that you’re on the brink of being taken to court for not paying part of a tax bill; or that your computer’s security has been compromised and you need to give all sorts of personal details so they can offer urgently needed help in putting things right.
In other words, they frighten the life out of you, making you feel like the bailiffs are on their way over, or that your life savings are about to disappear.
They don’t give you time to think. It takes a strong person to say, hang on, I don’t believe you, in the face of all that. Or someone who simply knows what the signs you’re being conned are — awareness really is key.
When I get a scamming call I tell them: ‘If you have my number then you’ll also have my name.
‘And so, you’ll know I’m Angela Rippon and a presenter on Rip Off Britain who knows exactly what you’re up to.’ Down goes the phone.
Other people use my name too. My friend overheard a conversation between two ladies on the bus the other day talking about how one of them got a call from a scammer trying to get her bank details.
Which? highlighted concerns over ‘recovery fraud’, when victims are targeted again by scammers pretending to help them recoup their cash
She told him: ‘I watch that Angela Rippon on the telly and so I know that this is a scam’ before putting the phone straight down.
Anyone being cold-called regarding anything that involves their finances should do the same.
Remember, your bank will never call and ask you to hand over account numbers or say you must swap money from one account to another.
In that kind of situation, the answer, always, is put the phone down, go to your own material and get the number you know to be correct and call the bank yourself.
Don’t use a number given to you by the cold caller, or even call back on the number that’s appeared on your phone, which might have been cloned and so only leads you straight back to the scammer.
Use your own documents so you know the number is safe.
I know it’s easy to feel impotent in the face of all this — but we can protect ourselves from these scams.
Key is never assuming anything that comes to you via your phone or through the post is genuine if it’s asking about money or your financial affairs.
Always stand back, ask family, a friend or even a neighbour to take a look.
Once you get someone you trust involved with something like this you instantly become less vulnerable — which is precisely what these scammers do not want.