/ Money

Do you report a scam or keep it close to your chest?

The government’s latest Annual Fraud Indicator reveals the shocking amount that con artists are ripping us off by – £73bn – but is this just the tip of the iceberg?

There’s no reason to be ashamed of falling foul of a scam, as the criminals who bombard us with hooky letters and phone calls – not to mention turning up on the doorstep – are professionals. They know exactly what buttons to press to get you to hand over cash, cheques and bank details in return for nothing but grief.

But the total taken by the armies of fraudsters could be far higher than the £73bn that the Annual Fraud Indicator (AFI) suggests. After all, who really wants to admit that they’ve been conned? It’s likely that a large proportion of the billions stolen comes from cases where the level of loss was too significant for the victim to stay quiet.

I’m preparing a feature for Which? magazine and am keen to hear if this figure is in reality higher if scams go unreported.

Juicy return or milking you dry?

Typical scams may sound simple. They comprise of promises of compensation, unexpected lottery or prize draws and other spurious payouts or offers, which are usually aimed at more vulnerable people. Others target wealthier people, who are open to investments or overseas accounts that will promise juicy returns.

But the strategies they employ to entice people into paying up is often sophisticated. In some cases, the crooks ask for a small deposit to cover administration or delivery costs, in others they just want your bank details ‘as security’ or proof of identification – despite the fact that they contacted you. Invariably, the initial payment is just the first of several.

What they all have in common is an overriding sense that they’re too good to be true. It’s also fair to say that contact with scammers often appears out of the blue.

More vigilance could help victims

Tackling scams is a struggle for companies and authorities, who often don’t realise that there’s a problem until the scammers have moved on. But does that mean there’s nothing more that can be done?

I don’t think so. Postal delivery services could report instances of the huge amounts of scam junk mail being delivered to particular addresses. And the banks could be quicker to act if a customer’s spending habits rocket with erratic payments made to dubious sources.

But what measures do you think need to be taken to address scams?


I have not been victim of what is usually termed a scam, but it is about time to broaden the term to include banks and building societies that offer enticing rates of interest for cash ISAs and other savings account and then change the interest rate a year later. If you invest in shares then it is essential to keep track on their value, but banks and building societies are normally regarded as safe investments.

Em says:
6 May 2012

I think this article unhelpfully reinforces the belief that there has to be some identifiable loss or victim, before a reportable “scam” takes place. As you say: “Tackling scams is a struggle for companies and authorities, who often don’t realise that there’s a problem until the scammers have moved on.”

When two or more persons are involved in planning a “scam” operation, the common law offence of conspiracy to defraud has already been committed, even before you receive that enticing email, phone call, or letter. No money needs to change hands, so whether it’s £73bn more or less, should be irrelevant to how many of these crimes are being reported.

If more people took the trouble to investigate something that looks dodgy and report it, there would be fewer victims. The problem that we as the public have, is where to report these mass attempts at fraud. I’m sure the police don’t want individuals reporting every phishing email, letter or international phone call. Maybe we need a National scam database where these incidents can be logged and monitored.


The biggest issue with tackling scams is making sure the right bodies get as much information as possible, and at the moment who knows who to contact and with much harsher penalties and a much easier method of reporting them.

Make each phone teleco offer a free to the end user number to dial to report the last call they received. And a free block withheld numbers wouldnt go amiss too. That will virtually kill off the microsoft phone scam, the Cancun resort holiday scam and all those its just a market reseach call but we’ll be after your money before we finish nonsense. And whats with OFCOM only seemingly wanting to know if you’ve had multiple silent calls from the one number. One silent call from a number is one too many in my book.

We could also do with a nice FREEPOST address to forward all suspected scam post to. Something like SCAM REPORT, FREEPOST, UK. That would help gather information on things like the “bank of china” we’ve got an inheritance for you to claim scam.

Nice little jobs for those in one of her majesty’s holiday camps to sort out to ensure it goes to the right government dept/ trading standards/FSA/Action Fraud/Uncle Tom Cobbly etc etc (see I don’t even know who to list). And make the fines for those reponsible for needing this go towards covering the cost.

And yes either I’ve been targeted or I know people who have been targeted with each of these scams. My parents got a letter from the “bank of china” and funnily enough so did the guy 2 doors along from them on the same day.

And why when banks misbehave is it called misselling, surely they’ve been running a scam.

Em says:
6 May 2012

I like your thinking!

The Telcos, ISPs and Snail Mail services and their Regulators are far too relaxed about propping up this criminal activity, with their attitude of: “It’s all revenue, innit?” Maybe if, as you seem to suggest, these channels were made to account for some of the mess they are allowing to enter the UK where it hurts most – in their pockets – we could reduce the level of misery caused.

I’m not sure I like the idea of convicts processing my junk mail, however. Better that the Royal Mail has to pay for processing the FREEPOST returned.

And I’m sure it is not beyond the wit of ISPs to stop spam mail in its tracks. You only need to delay email by seconds at one of the Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) to see a pattern of repeated emails emerging and they could then be cut off at source.

“Legitimate” users of bulk email – i.e. advertisers and such, would have to buy a government license to bypass the IXP bulk intercepts, before being allowed to flood the ethernet with their garbage. And where UK-based ISPs are shown to be the source of repeated scams, they should be shut down.


“And a free block withheld numbers wouldnt go amiss too. ”

We thought this also, and made some enquiries. It appears to be available from BT on request but the snag is that so many genuine organisations phone people with the number withheld. I have no idea why, but if we asked for these calls to be blocked, we could not receive calls from our university, our regional hospital, or even our local health centre.

I do not know why most organisations opt to withhold their numbers….


The problem I have with the BT option is they charge something like £5 a month to block withheld number calls, and that doesn’t even stop calls which have no number. I know you can get gadgets to block all sorts, but they’re not cheap. circa £75-100.

I suspect many “legit” companies withhold their numbers as they’d rather you ring a premium rate number instead of their regional number. 🙁

Bob says:
21 May 2012

Do you think that the Post Office gets any revenue from the Bank of China scams, or is all of the delivery cost met by Royal Mail under reciprocal agreements. If the Royal Mail gets revenue, then these scams are helping the UK balance of payments and helping to keep the £ up (is that good or bad?).


I know for a fact they (The Post Office) do get revenue from this scam. How? Both letters I have have those print your own stamp labels on them. So unless the scammers have scammed those as well and the Toyal Mail aren’t clever enough to refuse to deliver them etc …

I would think the amount they spend on postage will probably be less than the money they take out of the UK economy so therefore its BAD that gets my vote.


Oh and they could also employ a convict to sit on facebook all day looking at the “sponsored” links. There’s one for Own a Peice of Scotland with legal rights to Laird Lord, Lady title. Looks like a scam to me. And whats with the dodgey looking solar panel ads too.


I reported a scam to Which? which I thought could be an interesting article but received effectively a brush-off. I was left with the impression I should write it all up and then send it to them as a possible story. Okay so maybe not as interesting to readers of Which? as mayonnaise in shop-bought sandwiches but I thought quite interesting.

It involved a national car rental company charging my wife’s credit card £120 to pay an entering a yellow box fine. There was a reduction to £60 if paid within 14 days.

I checked with Transport for London collection office and they advised me that the due fine at the discounted £60 had been paid. So the question is why charge £120? I challenged the hire company on the basis that as an agent they should have paid promptly and then I obtained a £60 refund I did not tell the hire firm I knew they had paid the lesser amount. An survey through Which? or a sting being my aim.

The question would be how many foreign tourists or people unfamiliar with the law regarding agents will have been overcharged. And does the nationally known company directly benefit or is it staff who or are benefitting.


I’m sorry that you didn’t receive a helpful response. This sounds like very poor practice, and I’d be interested to know which company was involved. If possible, please email the name of the company to me via helpwanted@which.co.uk.


I have reported three Internet scams that I thought were particularly plausible – I didn’t fall for them as I never answer cold calls – But never received any acknowledgement.

As for letter “scams” I’ve always regarded them as similar to the “SALE” signs outside shops – designed to catch your attention. I sometimes read the catalogues enclosed as sometimes the items for sale are useful and hard to find locally. But never send the “You’ve won £1000!” bit back.

If I ever got a “I’m a Nigerian Business man wanting to deposit $10,000″ letter I would report it to GPO or somewhere – but never had one.

I do not believe ” enticing rates of interest for cash ISAs and other savings account and then change the interest rate a year later” is a scam at all – but a normal business operation to attract new customers.

Bob says:
7 May 2012

I run a rural area citizens’ information exchange service on specific, current suspicious activity. In following up on the cricumtsances of many crimes, and related suspicious activity it is alarming to see the high proportion of the public who place themselves unnecessarily at risk from various scamsters and crooks. Sometimes out of naivety and sometimes because people think that it has become the modern ‘norm’, people undertake ‘dealings’ with anonymous parties. People will deal with a person offering no name, address or land line telephone number – just a mobile phone number. Village shopekeepers and newsletters accept advertsiements with only a mobile phone number. Deposits are paid or access given to private premises with no identification as to who the ‘legal person’ on the other side is: no proprietor name(s) behind a trading name or no registered company details. Trading websites frequently fail to provide proprietor or company names (Companies Act 2006): the legitimate ones thereby give credence to the notion that it doesn’t matter – and so undermine their own credibility. Perhaps a short article by Which? could help members with the minimum information that a consumer can expect from a legitimate supplier and how to do a free check at Companies House. One way to identify many scamsters is to ask for the names and address of the proprietor(s) or of the company/charity name and registered number: legitimate businesse are unphased by the enquiry. Some scamsters will bluster at such requests: others will give false infromation which can be easily checked.

Tim says:
7 May 2012

I have received several phone calls at various times warning that ‘internet threats’ have been detected on my computer. Some claim to be working for my ISP, but cannot tell me who the ISP is, and one even claimed to work for Microsoft. As ‘proof’ of the claim they ask me to run the Event Viewer which shows all the erros and warnings encountered by Windows including large numbers of apparently serious ones (but which of course are perfectly normal). They usually want me to give them control of my PC by installing something like teamviewer (a legitimate piece of software), and then pay for their technician to install their software. Who knows what sort of malware you could end up with?

I have been working on computers for many years and can treat these calls with the contempt they deserve, but I am worried that naive users may get caught out. As for reporting it, I am not sure where I should report it and unless I can record the phone call there is very little concrete to report.