/ Money

Why are so many of us falling for ‘silly’ scams?

Psychic and crystal ball

Are you too smart to fall prey to a boiler room scam, or a ‘psychic’ fraudster who claims (for a fee) they can help you connect with a loved one from ‘the other side’? 15,000 other people weren’t…

Buying shares from a stranger who cold-calls you on the telephone is – let’s face it – not a terribly smart move.

But before you scoff, consider this: so far in 2010 15,000 people have reported such scams to Action Fraud – the consumer-facing arm of the National Fraud Authority.

Silly scams – anyone can be a victim

What’s more, psychic scams, loan scams and share sale scams were among the most common types of fraud reported last month. Also in the mix were romance and dating scams, auction fraud and ‘miracle medicine’ scams.

Perhaps you’ve just had to stifle a giggle. Why? Because most of us consider fraud a highly sophisticated crime, where secret personal details are pilfered or credit cards cleverly cloned. Whereas these scams just sound too stupid for anyone to fall for them.

Looking at Action Fraud’s figures, though, fraudsters don’t need to be criminal masterminds. The scammer’s most powerful weapon is his ability to win people’s confidence. And while we might like to think we’re too smart to fall for a fraudster, I wonder if it’s fair to be so smug?

The reality, in my opinion, is that the perpetrators of fraud prey on the vulnerable. They exploit people’s fears, hopes and anxieties in order to manipulate them into parting with their cash.

Fraud prevention – don’t stay silent

Here’s another sober thought to wipe the wry smile off anyone’s face – fraud costs Brits £3.5bn each year. And the crimes reported have seen individuals lose anything from £6 to £1m.

Action Fraud has issued advice to ensure your money is kept safe from fraudsters, and we have our own guides on how to shop safely online, protect yourself from identity fraud and prevent card fraud.

But, perhaps most importantly, let’s get past believing that falling for a scam is somehow the fault of the victim. Maybe people don’t always ask the right questions, or perhaps they’re too quick to believe there’s a way to get rich quick?

Either way, I don’t think that means they’re asking for trouble. It’s the fear of being seen as stupid that leads thousands of consumers not to report scams when they’re hit by them.

It’s this silence that allows scammers to keep toting their tricks. Maybe those of us who think we’re too clever to be conned should remember that.

Richard Kinley says:
15 July 2010

I'm afraid that anyone falling for a scam like this has only themselves to blame, despite the rather po-faced attitude displayed in the article. People (and I include myself in this) do stupid things all the time. There's no need for hand-wringing, it's just the way of the world and always has been, or at least since the South Sea Bubble.

Stevie Cornford says:
19 July 2010

I agree. However, knowing that there are so many different scams out there surely we need to be much more cautious. Most of us have received letters or emails asking for our help to move money out of Nigeria; but, bearing in mind the amount of publicity re this particular scam, some STILL fall for it. Is it that we are basically greedy – have a need for the quick buck no matter the risk?
My husband and I are in our 70s and we had a double glazing salesman call (with his training partner). They arrived at around 7pm, went through the usual prattle about 'sign tonight and save X%'; calls from 'the office' offering more discount, etc. Despite telling them we could not make a decision on the night re such a large financial commitment they just would not leave. It took a call to the police to get them out of the house at almost midnight! We all have to be strong and firmly resist these conmen/women.

graeme150 says:
15 July 2010

I always thought there was no excuse for falling for stuff like this, until my mother developed Alzheimer's – for a few years we were constantly unpicking things which she had fallen for through being preyed upon by unscrupulous callers – on the 'phone and face to face – we'll never know just how much she fell for, but we got the impression that someone out there was sharing her details as a "soft touch"…

Ruth says:
29 July 2010

I completely empathise with this. My dad became confused in his later years and was ‘conned’ by an energy salesman – luckily this one was acting against his company’s policy and my whistle blowing caused action to be taken… or so I was told… who knows?

But the really sad story is of one of his neighbours on the retirement complex who let these conmen into his house because he was lonely. Although the neighbour *knew* they were only after his money, he preferred that to never seeing anybody.

I feel sorry for the old and vulnerable, but I also hope I’ll never get caught!

Scams don't scare me personally, though I think abuse of trust is a nasty crime, and I don't particularly blame people who do fall for them. What scares me is people picking up a few details about me then buying things in my name, etc. It's happened to me when I had three (different) people buying mobile phone contracts in my name in the space of a couple of months, just with an address and some bank details. Also two credit card transactions. It's clearly very easy to do.

The article writer is correct, scammers prey on the vulnerable – the lonely, the sick and the less bright, but all of us could get caught in a weak moment. I have a neice with MS who was prpared to pay for so called stem cell treatment until I showed her the evidence – or lack of it.

robert smith says:
21 August 2010

I’m reading the September 2010 Which?, In particular the article about cold telephone calls.
Before I moved to Southport we had very few of these irritations but they got out of hand within weeks of moving even though we are [and always have been ex-directory.]
We joined the telephone preference service and have not really been troubled since.
It could be that some of these companies have cottoned on to us. I once spent 53 minutes reading a book whilst listening to a caller from Scottish Power before I told him I was just a lonely pensioner who needed to listen to a voice. He was not best pleased and told me I was wasting his time.
On a more serious note I was always told that if you do not hang up then the line is still connected even if the caller has hung up. I was told that this has 2 objectives.
1] On a separate phone the call can be traced. Especially good to track down obscene calls and
2] The caller cannot make any more out going calls because the phone is still “hooked up.”
I do know, many years ago that if you failed to put the receiver back BT would put a howler on to draw it to your attention.
I don’t know if things have changed but if my 2 points are still true it does solve most of the problems.But joining the TPS is by far the best way to get rid of most of the problems.
Regarding Richard Kinley’s comment of “only having themselves to blame” I was reading an article about a couple with an IQ of 53 each. Some people need serious protection.