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How can we stand together against scams?

Every year Citizens Advice runs Scams Awareness Fortnight with the Consumer Protection Partnership. Our guest explains how organisations are taking a stand together.

This is a guest post by Alex Smith/Citizens Advice. All views expressed are their own and not necessarily shared by Which?. 

Spam emails, ‘suspicious activity’ alerts from your bank, online bargains that never arrive – unfortunately, scams seem to have become part of our daily lives.

That’s why every year Citizens Advice runs Scams Awareness Fortnight with the Consumer Protection Partnership, joining forces with organisations such as Trading Standards to take a united stand against these crimes.

Scams come in many forms and are increasingly complex and sophisticated. We want to make sure people have the knowledge they need to recognise them and, if they think they are being targeted, know what they can do to stop them.

Empowering the public to protect themselves and others from scams is more important than ever this year because of the current coronavirus crisis.

People are worried about their families, health, money and work, so it might take longer than usual to realise something isn’t right. Scammers seek to exploit vulnerability and uncertainty, and this is no exception.

Which scams has Citizens Advice seen recently?

Much like Which?, many people come to us for advice when they’ve been victims of fraud. Their stories show how scammers have been taking advantage of people’s worries over the past few months:

⚠ Sales of face masks or medical equipment that never arrive

⚠ Emails or texts pretending to be offering support from the government

⚠ People knocking at your door and asking for money for fake charities

How can we protect ourselves together?

As Which? also frequently warns, there are some simple steps you can take to protect yourself and those around you.

🚫 Don’t be rushed into making quick decisions

🚫 Never give your personal details or money to anyone you don’t know or trust

✅ Pay by debit or credit card. This can give you extra protection if things go wrong

✅ Be suspicious: scammers may say all the right things, but take your time to work out if they’re genuine

✅ Make sure you’re cyber secure. Check your antivirus software is up-to-date and make sure you have a strong password for your email accounts that you don’t use anywhere else

Remember, if you’re not sure about something, it’s okay to take your time. Seek advice from a trusted source before you make any big decisions, for example by contacting the Citizens Advice consumer service on 0808 223 1133 or online.

Dealing with scams

If you think you or someone you know has been scammed, there are steps you can take to stop things getting worse.

Advice from Which? on how to get your money back after a scam is also available.

If payment or banking details are involved it’s important to contact your bank, credit card company, or pensions provider immediately. By acting immediately, you might be able to recover some of the money you lost.

You should also report all types of scams to Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud. They can use this information to help tackle scams on a larger scale, protecting others from future harm.

The National Cyber Security Centre is also asking that you report phishing emails directly to it at report@phishing.gov.uk

By being scam aware and joining together, we can take a stand against scammers – not just during Scams Awareness Fortnight, but all year round. 

Have you been targeted by any scams since the start of the coronavirus outbreak? What are you doing to protect yourselves and others from them?

Let us know in the comments.

This was a guest post by Alex Smith/Citizens Advice. All views expressed were their own and not necessarily shared by Which?. 

Comments

I put this together as a shopping checklist.

Before buying a product online, always check out the seller and the product. Even the most legitimate-looking websites can be fake so do your homework first.

Look for all the names, addresses and phone numbers associated with the website. The website name, the company name and the seller name can all be different.

Can you find addresses for the seller? A seller might use several addresses – registered address, VAT, trading, website, check them all out. Are there other ‘sellers’ at the same address?

Search tip: Put phrases in “double quotes” to get an exact match. Works on Google but not all sites.
Removing the double quotes might also bring up some interesting results.

Here are a few sites you can use to check before you buy:

Search companies and people
https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/ (addresses don’t work too well but single words can)
https://www.google.co.uk
https://uk.trustpilot.com/
What you find is not necessarily the truth. I take more notice of bad reviews that often give further information on the seller.

Check VAT numbers
http://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/vies/
http://www.vatcheck.eu/

Look up addresses
https://www.google.co.uk/maps
https://www.getmapping.com/ (limited but different timelines for free)

Search phone numbers
Put number in double quotes to move spaces around e.g.
“01234 567 890”
“+44 1234 567890”

Search product images
https://www.google.com/imghp?hl=en

Reverse images (flip horizontally) and search again.

Other
Search selected text in “double quotes” from advert or reviews:
https://www.google.co.uk

Search products on foreign eBay/Amazon sites
Put part of the description in double quotes “like this” with e.g. amazon.de or ebay.ca

Google translator (Chinese names & addresses can have interesting results)
https://translate.google.co.uk/?hl=en&tab=TT

Ask the seller a question:
Ask the weight or dimensions of the product just to get a reply.
Search the email address.

Website Checkers
I don’t know very much about the following websites but Kaspersky rates them as safe. A good rating might mean they haven’t been found out yet especially if they are fairly new.

http://google.com/safebrowsing/diagnostic?site=
Check the reliability of a website or email

https://www.scamdoc.com/

If anyone else has some useful sites please post them here. Putting a space after the http will stop them going into moderation.

Useful list, Alfa. I’ll use it to update posts on other forums, if I may.

Please do Ian and come back if you have anything to add.

Gerry says:
19 June 2020

I certainly wouldn’t trust Trustpilot ! Many of the reviews seem to be fake, placed by organisations to praise their own products and staff, or to rubbish their competitors. Truthful but unfavourable reviews are challenged and taken down.
Just look at the results for Fischer heaters (which are extremely expensive both to buy and to run on full price daytime electricity), then compare the equivalent reviews on the Money Saving Expert energy forum. They’re just worlds apart.

I agree Gerry which is why I take more notice of bad reviews, although they can also be fake. You just have to learn not to take everything at face value.

I never give customer reviews and I rarely read them, but, like Alfa, I place more credence on the reported shortcomings than all the puff and guff.

Favourable customer comments have been a feature of distance selling marketing for generations, long before the internet, but the whole business of corrupt and ‘sponsored’ reviews has got out of hand now such that consumer trust has been comprehensively undermined. The problem is, I don’t know what we can do about it.

Richard Curran says:
9 July 2020

Apart from reporting these scams to ASA, why not at the same time report them also to your internet provider, police internet internet fraud, & others mentioned by ‘Which’, once you have got the details listed in your e-mail address book you can bring them all up & just send the once so it takes seconds more.

Without wishing to detract in any way from CA’s annual fraud fortnight, new frauds appear regularly and we need to be continuously informed about the latest ones and how to combat them. Which? do a great job in tracking these and helping consumers.

A problem I see is that maybe Which’s message has a limited audience. I wonder how we can keep as many people as possible kept up to speed. Please don’t suggest only social media, because that would exclude me and if I were not a Which? member I might well remain uninformed.

Don’t you think education is the key to avoiding scams?

If people followed even half of my shopping checklist above, many would not become victims of shopping fraud, but have you seen anything like that checklist elsewhere? I haven’t. Which? and many other organisations could have a page dedicated to checking out sellers before parting with their money, send it out in emails, all costing very little.

If one thing has become apparent in the last few months, people need to be told things exactly. They might know about Clarks fraud and avoid it but if you don’t tell them about Nike fraud they will think it is OK. They need educating with the tools to find these things out for themselves.

Alfa, I agree. However, many people have busy lives and fraud is just one of many issues they need to keep up with. We often talk of educating people, personal finance for example, but from comments made many simply seem not to (want to) take notice.

Looking at the CA website, I see there is a link to Action Fraud and the option to receive emails about the latest scams: https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/sign-up-for-action-fraud-alert

There has from time to time been criticism from commenters in Which? Conversation that reporting frauds to Action Fraud is a waste of time because nothing happens and the frauds perpetuate.

Would it be possible for Which? and CA to provide an objective assessment of just how effective the official channels are in tackling this menace.

It appears to many people that there ought to be a means of tracking and trapping those who use the internet or the telecom system to perpetrate frauds and scams, especially in order to exploit the elderly and vulnerable, yet they persist and proliferate. It would be useful to have a report on what action is actually being taken to trace scammers and stop them – notwithstanding the known difficulties with international criminal activity – and on what technological opportunities there are on the horizon to stop such crimes at source.

Patrick Barker says:
20 June 2020

Also this one: ReviewMeta analyzes Amazon product reviews and filters out reviews that our algorithm detects may be unnatural.

https://reviewmeta.com/

Also this:
Have I Been Pwned: Check if your email has been …haveibeenpwned.com
Have I Been Pwned allows you to search across multiple data breaches to see if your email address has been compromised.

https://haveibeenpwned.com/

Kevin Faulkner says:
20 June 2020

Maybe its time for one of the TV companies to do a weekly half hour prog listing all new scams. This way it would get to a larger audience. Scam Watch.

hilty says:
27 June 2020

I received a text message saying my Paypal account was blocked with a link to reset it. I didnt click the link but confirmed online that my Paypal account was working well. Blocked sender – an O2 number 07933050935