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How I’m fighting fraud with ‘scambusters’

Could you identify a scam? Our guest, Stephen Kerr MP, tells us more about his ‘scambusters’ events, which aim to help educate the public about their dangers.

This is a guest post by Stephen Kerr MP. All views expressed are Stephen’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

We’re all familiar with the stories of ‘knock on the door’ scams, such as people offering to tarmac your drive only for weeds to end up breaking through within a few weeks!

Many of us grew up hearing about that type of scam, but over the past few years we’ve seen a huge growth in more sophisticated types of fraud.

The internet can offer almost unlimited opportunities for criminals to bombard us with scams, from mass phishing emails to individually tailored efforts that can appear extremely convincing.

Severe penalties

I want to see far more severe penalties introduced for those that profit from nuisance calls.

Earlier this year, I introduced a Bill in the House of Commons that would ensure the owners of companies that rip people off are held accountable.

We must keep up the pressure on the Government to introduce the reforms needed. There should be no hiding place for those that seek to profit from this insidious industry.

With the seemingly endless variety of cons being thought up it is imperative that people are well informed and that we all understand the bear traps constantly being laid in our path.

Just last week I was told of a con involving cold calling that informs homeowners their cavity wall insulation could be failing and the helpful company on the end of the phone or on your doorstep will, for a fee of course, ‘sort it all out’.

Digital evolution

I am increasingly concerned that many of us are unable to keep pace with the continuous evolution and inventiveness of the fraudsters.

Our society cannot simply push people on to this digital pathway without doing everything possible to ensure they are fully equipped  to combat the threat. We constantly upgrade our anti-virus software on our computer for good reason. We need to do the same personally to keep pace.

Never give your bank or card details to anyone if you’re not completely confident it’s genuine. Do not be taken in by notifications that something you use or subscribe to is about to be terminated or suspended.

I would ask that we all look out for friends, neighbours and family members that may be more vulnerable to being cheated. I have heard some terrible stories of life savings stolen and lives devastated.

Do not be nervous about contacting the police if you think someone is being taken advantage of.

Scambusters events

I would like to thank Which? for its tireless campaigning on this issue and for the support it has offered me when I have organised ‘scambusters’ events.

These have proved extremely popular and provide an opportunity for people to come along and hear how to protect themselves from the ever increasing number of frauds and scams.

There is another one coming up at the Raploch Community Campus on Friday November 1 from 10am to 3pm as a drop-in. We’ll have stands and stalls from a variety of different organisations, including Police Scotland, Trading Standards and Solicitors for Older People Scotland.

There are also some short presentations taking place in the morning and afternoon. If you’re in the Stirling area and are interested then do feel free to contact me.

This was a guest post by Stephen Kerr MP. All views expressed were Stephen’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

Do you help keep friends and family safe from scams by sharing the latest advice, warnings and examples? Do you think events such as ‘Scambusters’ are a good idea? Let us know in the comments.


Stephen, it is good to hear that you are supporting events in you local community. Once all this Brexit nonsense has been put to bed (and irrespective of the outcome) it would be good if who ever ends up being in Government then can focus more on consumer issues.

In particular, it would be good to see more investment in bodies such as Trading Standards, to protect consumers from being sold sub-standard goods via the internet, including, of course, appliances that do not come with UK specification three-pin-plugs, as is legally required.

It would also be good to see if more international collaboration can be done to combat internet scams that originate overseas. Currently, there seems to be a marked lack of international collaboration with regard to closing these scams down.

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Duncan, I think Stephen has wisely shown that scams exist both online and elsewhere, so savvy consumers need to nurture a skill set that can protect them from all of these scams. For example, whenever an offer sounds too good to be true, there’s probably a catch somewhere…

Also, I think it is good to see OSes like Windows (and MacOS and ChromeOS and Linux), where security updates are regularly rolled out. In contrast, security updates to Android seem to only come in the form of patches and updates to Apps, actual upgrades to the OS are very few and far between. For phones, the most obvious alternative to Android is iOS, where OS updates do seem seem to be rolled out regularly.

That said, most of the online scams that I get to hear about involve scammers hoodwinking device owners, rather than exploiting software security flaws. I judge that the latter come into play more when company servers get hacked, perhaps because the latter will be mostly operated by experts.

When a scam involves scammers appearing to provide “unsolicited help” to consumers, it is easy to establish guidelines to help defeat those scams. For example, we know that scammers tend to use “hurt and rescue” scenarios and then apply time pressure, as that increases the likelihood of consumers making mistakes, such as failing to spot the scam and stop before damage is done.

But apart from making sure that consumers know they should have adequate security software and a properly supported and updated OS, it is hard to give out much specific advice about how to avoid getting hacked. Although good security software should block malicious emails and web pages, many will still get through to some users and, as shown by a Which? quiz a while ago, it can actually be difficult to distinguish between a well crafted phishing email and a genuine but poorly prepared one from a legitimate organisation.

Roger Jefferyes says:
18 October 2019

What I would like is advice about how I can “bite back”!
E.G. I too get regular automated unsolicited calls saying “BT here. Your internet connection has been compromised and will be cut off. Press 1 to talk to our engineer.”
What I would like is to know how to record evidence with a view to the relevant authorities prosecuting such callers. Unfortunately “1471” usually gives a spoof substituted number.
I’m retired, technically competent but in need of further coaching!!

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Roger, if you want to learn more about scam baiting, Jim Browning’s YouTube channel may be a good starting point, see:-https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBNG0osIBAprVcZZ3ic84vw

I think Jim uses VOIP phones that work via his main PC, so those calls are easily recorded that way.

david mccreath says:
18 October 2019

Unfortunately, when one reports an obvious attempt at fraud to the relevant squad of the Met, even with sufficient detail including fraudsters bank details etc, nothing seems to have happened and details are just filed as per report by the Times recently! Brexit is keeping most of our legislature up of nights and far more exiting than the innocent, but gullible losing their all!

David, I think that is exactly why it great to see folk like Stephen Kerr, MP, getting involved here.

Tony W says:
19 October 2019

I fully agree with David’s comment. “Action Fraud” do not appear to be effective in meeting the public’s reasonable expectations of an enforcement body.
Stephen Kerr is suggesting increased penalties for fraudsters, but this will be useless without effective action to detect and prosecute them.

comp says:
19 October 2019

Is Stephen Kerr going to read posts made here and reply to them?

I think that’s up to him, but it would be a bit strange if, after proposing then writing the article, he didn’t check back to see how it went down.

Whether he replies or not I suppose would depend upon the post. I doubt he wants to get involved in an everlasting argument or to be harangued, but a sensible question about his plans might well elicit a reply.

Authors don’t usually jump in with responses during the early days of a Conversation. They tend to let readers make their points first and see how the discussion develops. Some questions clear themselves during the Conversation. My recollection is that MP’s and Which? subscribers are better than other authors at nursing the Conversations they have written.

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Where I would like authors to jump in is as soon as someone asks a direct question of them about what is said in the introduction. They should clarify it explain something that is unclear or disputed so the Convo can develop based on proper information.

It never ceases to amaze me how many people seem completely oblivious to scams.

There are many TV programmes that highlight them but whether it is the time of day, or the scams are hidden within other programmes, the messages just aren’t getting across. Watchdog for example, starts a scam, goes onto another subject then revisits the scam 2 or 3 times by which time you are fed up with reminders and gaps and lose the point.

What is needed is short snappy education to reach a wide audience that people will take notice of. Scambusters is a great idea, but will only reach a relatively small number of people.

My suggestion is to invite children to enact short scam scenarios and play them either during the adverts or as sponsorship at the start of popular TV programmes. Encourage them to dress up and use their imagination with possibly a small financial reward for their efforts that could be financed by banks and other financial institutions. Children could be an amusing way to get across a serious message. Not only would they educate older people, but also get youngsters into the habit of being scam aware. I know my parents would make a point of watching them at the start of Strictly especially if they were all different.

This is the sort of short scenario children could enact:

And another one that could be developed here.

alfa, when some people tell us the British public cannot add two numbers together without a spreadsheet, that they are quite incapable of making an informed decision, then it is hardly surprising they don’t listen to advice and are easy meat for the scammers. However……. I do not have such a dismal view of the large majority of our fellow citizens.

What I would like to see is all banks regularly contacting customers with information about scams and ways to operate their accounts safely. Hopefully most will read them but at least they will have been warned.

Your proposal will also help, particularly if it is put into the Corrie, Stenders, Casualty, Strictly breaks.

malcolm r says: Today 12:44

alfa, when some people tell us the British public cannot add two numbers together without a spreadsheet, that they are quite incapable of making an informed decision, then it is hardly surprising they don’t listen to advice and are easy meat for the scammers.

I must have missed the first point, as I don’t remember anyone saying that, but I remember Phil making the second point during the continuation of Duncan’s post about Cannabis decriminalisation.

Of course, you can’t talk about the ‘British Public’ as a homogenous whole. There are, after all, around 60m of them, with abilities covering the entire gamut of both Mathematics and critical thinking.

Which is the point, really; in here we are aware of the potential scams because we discuss them frequently, and posts by others alert us to new developments – such as Duncan’s worrying post about the apparent ease with which the administrators of private networks can decipher information passing between sites which use the https protocols. He’s right, too, and the detailed information is available on the Gibson Research Corporation website.

But if many were not within the “dismal view” category, it might be possible to argue that many of the tabloids would long since have gone out of business.

And I also believe some succumb to scams for one (or both) of two reasons: the first is that new and more innovative scams are being developed with alarming regularity. Thus while education can play a big part, it can’t hope to keep up with the criminal’s deviousness.

To avoid all possible scams you have to research all the possible types, and stay on top of the information coming in regularly, develop a personality a hardened Paranoic would be proud of and think twice before answering the ‘phone.

The scammer, on the other hand, only has to find a single c*******k in your impervious mental armour, so they will always have the upper hand.

The second reason, of course, is the panic element. One way the scammer operate is to email / phone the victim, and trust to luck that there’s a chance coincidence – enough of one to make the victim panic and act unwisely. If the person is elderly, and possibly developing an as yet undiagnosed type of Alzheimer’s, then not only might they be incapable of reacting cautiously or, indeed, adding two numbers together, but they might succumb to the stress by saying or doing some things that might appear, to us, extremely unwise.

For that, Alfa’s ideas are the best possible remedy, in my humble opinion, whereas banks are ill-placed to advise about anything other than bank accounts, and even then experience tells us the banks’ communications are generally not of the type and quality one would wish for those who sorely need detailed help and education.

It’s at times like this we should regret the passing of the often superbly crafted Public Information films that worked so well, often purely because of repetition.

Ian said in here we are aware of the potential scams because we discuss them frequently

Exactly Ian, we on here are probably more aware than most.

For example, we have just opened a new savings account. 2 letters turned up, one confirming opening the account the other requesting a signature. The first letter was on coloured headed paper, the second on a black & white copy. Now, how many people would think to question that?

Older people are more trusting, many don’t like being told and some will not be as ‘on the ball’ as they used to be. There are those that have had technology forced on them with no instruction and struggle to use it and there are still plenty who refuse to use technology at all.

There is plenty of info out there, but much of it takes effort to find, that is if you even know it is there in the first place. Letters, leaflets and emails can be sent out that might get put aside for later reading or just binned with little more than a glance if it looks like junk mail. You can’t force people to investigate, read and learn which is why a simpler method of instruction is required.

Education needs to be short, sharp, frequent, effortless, very varied and fun which is why I think getting children to enact short scam scenarios and showing them during popular TV programmes could work so well. There are many scams that could be enacted, and even watching the same scenario presented by different kids in different ways would maintain interest and the message sink in eventually. They don’t need to know every latest scam, but just get into the habit of questioning motives, phone calls, visitors to the door, anything out of the ordinary and not just accept everything at face value.

banks are ill-placed to advise about anything other than bank accounts“. As scams usually involve bank accounts this does seem to be an area banks can advise about. They already do. Since most of their customers are online communicating general advice to them should be straightforward.

Nationwide have recently produced a handy debit card-sized leaflet all about the commonest banking scams. It is available in all branches and via the website.

There is a huge amount of information and alerts on the ActionFraud website.

Perhaps we should encourage people to just pop in for a minute every day to see what’s new just as they do with social media to see who likes them or not.

There is so much fakery on Strictly Come Dancing that I am not sure it is a good medium for scam awareness publicity! Viewers are already extremely suggestible and in denial about reality. Good target audience, though, if we can break through the apathy towards anything slightly serious.

Well there is something refreshing, a MP doing something which is serving the electorate in the community they live in, that’s a novel idea. I just wish Stephen was my MP, could you let Sam Gyimah know if you bump into him Stephen.

Kevin says:
27 October 2019

Here’s an interesting story demonstrating the amateurish and ineffective handling of ‘cybercrime’.

Empire building, gold plating, budget padding, political infighting, incompetence, and the pernicious effect plausible sharply dressed salespeople with expense accounts have on the unqualified self-regarding pension drones running many of our public services.

IT snakeoil salespeople are the ones making a killing out of cybercrime.

Difficult to motivate public sector executives when their only downside is resignation (typically with a massive payoff – explain that to any normal person ‘resigning’), a generous pension, and a sinecure in one of the many quangos lurking in the murky depths of government out of plain view, or a job with the likes of Facebook.

We need better transparency in our public services, particularly policy and budget decisions, and proper accountability when bad behaviour or executive incompetence causes harm to the public or the services the public depend on. And that’s meant to be the job of politicians, perhaps they could start doing it.

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comp says:
31 October 2019

While this conversation is about outright scams, I wish the author would take misselling seriously and treat it like fraud too.

I was missold an expensive computer last year. The performance is nowhere near what I was led to believe by the manufacturer’s website. Trading Standards did nothing about it, I don’t have my money back, not even a partial refund. And of course no one working for the manufacturer has gone to prison, because no one takes misselling fraud seriously.

Why isn’t there a government service that automatically forces companies to refund consumers their money when presented with evidence of misselling?

andrew Patrick says:
8 November 2019

This guy Stephen Kerr got £175,000 on Tax payers for expenses, and the irony of him telling us about scams is breathtaking!!!

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His expensive pedecessor seems to be wriggling a little 🙂

Kevin says:
8 November 2019

At least he doesn’t seem to have taken the route PPE > Party functionary > SPAD/QUANGO > MP.

The term “professional politician” puts me in mind of the definition of “financial adviser” – someone who invests all your money until there’s none left.

I wish we did have proper professional politicians.

But we do. The fault lies with the electorate, surely?

Kevin says:
8 November 2019

We do, they’re the ones riding unicorns and wearing mithral outfits to the opening of parliament.