/ 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?

Comments
Member

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.

Member
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.

Member

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.

Member
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.

Member

“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….

Member

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. 🙁

Member
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?).

Member

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.

Member

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.