/ Scams

Citizens Advice: learnings about scams from the past 12 months

Every year, Citizens Advice runs Scams Awareness Fortnight with the Consumer Protection Partnership. Our guest explains what they’ve learnt about scams over the past year.

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

Last year, we spoke to Which? about how we can stand together to take action against scams. We wrote this in the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic – when there were more scams around than ever before. 

One year on and the picture is getting worse. But what have we learnt? 

Anyone can fall victim to scams

People often assume that it’s older, less “digitally savvy” people that get scammed, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Citizens Advice research found that while scammers are most likely to target over 55s, under 34s are almost five times more likely to fall victim.

This is for a couple of reasons; younger people have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, they’re more likely to have lost jobs and be behind on their bills. Scammers prey on this vulnerability.

Younger people also spend more time online – giving scammers more opportunities to trick them, while many have a false confidence when it comes to staying safe. Younger people often think they’d never fall for a scam, and that they’d know how to spot one – but our data suggests this isn’t true. 

There are many scams that target younger people on social media, including;

⚠ The offer of discounted designer or luxury items that are fake or non-existent

⚠ Friend requests from people not known to you to this can lead to scams such as romance fraud or catfishing

⚠ Exciting job opportunities for non-existent roles

Scammers change their tactics frequently

Fraudsters have adapted their techniques whenever there’s been a new development in the pandemic. In March last year, Action Fraud warned about sales of face masks which were never delivered, while there were reports of people being tricked into paying for lists of infected people in their area.

In June 2020, scammers circulated fake emails about Test and Trace which harvested victims’ details, and new scams appeared when the vaccination rollout began.

Scammers sent fake text messages offering people the chance to sign up for the vaccine. The links took people to phishing websites to gather personal and financial details.

A rise in investment scams

More recently, scammers are taking advantage of the financial pressures people are under. We found that scammers have targeted two in three adults since the beginning of the year. Out of those, 12% were from someone offering a fake investment or get rich quick scheme. Some of the main scams we’ve seen are:

⚠ Adverts offering fake “Get Rich Quick” schemes

⚠ Phone calls, texts or emails pretending to be from your bank, asking you to move your money or to provide your personal details

⚠ Scam emails or automated calls pretending to be from the government or an official company

⚠ An offer of a pensions review out of the blue

The importance of reporting scams

Reporting scams helps authorities stop the criminals responsible and protects others. Whilst scammers don’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon, the good news is that more people are reporting them.

Compared with the same period last year, we’ve seen a 123% increase in reports to our Consumer Service about scams. This is important because reporting informs the work of advice and enforcement agencies to prevent future scams.

Make Which? aware of a scam with its scams sharer tool

By learning how scammers operate, and helping each other understand what to look out for, we can all work together to stop fraudsters in their tracks. As the situation changes with coronavirus, scammers will find new ways to exploit people – reporting scams as soon as you come across them is a vital tool in keeping up with them.

If you need further advice from us, you can get in touch with our Consumer Helpline on 0808 223 1133. You can also report scams via our Scams Action service.

Our annual awareness campaign is running until 27 June want to get involved? Here’s how.

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

Comments

Hi Eleanor. Thanks for the Conversation.

There is a bewildering range of advice about scams and wonder if it would be best to have some very simple messages such as:

:: If you receive a call from anyone other than a friend, don’t panic, assume it’s a scam and do not confirm your identity, discuss anything of a financial nature or log-in to a website if this is suggested.

:: If the call might be genuine, hang-up and call the company or other organisation, looking up the number rather than using one you have been given.

:: If you receive an email or text, assume that could be a scam and do not click on any links.

:: If the email (or text) might be genuine, do not reply but make contact using a phone number or email address that you have looked up on their website or know to be genuine.

It would be very interesting to know if CA has gained an insight into how people who have been victim of scams have learned how to protect themselves.

Thanks Eleanor. There is plenty to remember, but the more you learn the better prepared you will be.

David Mathews says:
24 June 2021

Only just gone on-line with banking, so can’t say weather it’s easier, safer or not. Voice identification seems pretty cool though.

Em says:
23 June 2021

Adverts offering fake “Get Rich Quick” schemes

I’d be keen to avoid these. So where do I find the genuine adverts?

I, too, would like to be directed to genuine get rich quick adverts. Perhaps a new Which? investigation?

BJ says:
24 June 2021

Hi Eleanor,
The London Capital & Finance Scandal shows that you just cannot rely on the FCA. £237 million was lost by 11.500 investors. There is so little awareness of the massive losses made to Ponzi schemes. Legitimate companies operate just to fleece money from the unwary investor, and then fail. The introducer (Surge in the case of LC&F) gets a hidden 20% commission. Another company (also promoted by Surge) Blackmore Bonds harvested £45million the directors told lies and over less than 3 years reduced the bank balance to less than £1000, and even then the directors got redundancy money. The directors have already started on their next venture. With both LC&F and Blackmore FCA had early whistle-blowers alerting to major concerns but the regulator did nothing. Both of these companies were advertised by Google putting them top of the search engine and so google profited by £10s of millions. The recent Dame Elizabeth Glosters independent report is damming on how ineffective FCA is and not fit for purpose. My family have lost six figure sums and have suffered mentally for over two and a half years.
The most important advice to Em is there are NO safe places to fine genuine adverts, you should and must gain independent financial advice, it is a low cost to get proper advice to save catastrophic consequences in losing the lot. Do not rely on the regulator FCA nor HMRC as even when they admit fault will offer no more than £100 for their incompetence. “Which” should draw more awareness to legitimate companies, with named directors who sell lies, live extravagant lives and walk free on the setting up of PONZI schemes.

Me too. I have read so many distressing tales from people who have fallen for the fake Get Rich Quick adverts it would be heartening to learn about the genuine ones and how I could enrol.

It seems that many people, in the spirit of mutual friendship, have put their names and details forward so that they can get a nice pair of shoes for a very low price which they could then sell on an on-line auction site and make a lot of money. Their sense of betrayal and shame are heart-rending to witness so an official scheme that would make them rich for little effort or expense would help them get over it . . . and the sooner it happens the better in order to get rid of this persistent and all-consuming misery.

BJ – Employing an independent financial adviser is a good idea when making substantial investments but it is no guarantee of safety as many can testify.

It is often the case that the forecasts attached to some investments are exaggerated but also that some investors think there is a quick and easy way to make lots of money.

There is an infinite number of safe investments but the yields might not be as spectacular as people are hoping for so they look for a product that promises double or triple the return, especially at times like this when the interest on money in traditional forms of saving and investment is so low.

“Eggs in one basket” and “not counting chickens” are proverbs that come to mind.

The monthly Which? Magazine occasionally has general articles on this topic but does not give detailed information and advice of the kind you seek. I do not subscribe to Which? Money so I don’t know how good it is on warnings of potential risks, but it might provide more specialised insights. It can be had as a supplementary subscription to Which? Magazine. You might also find it useful to pay close attention to the financial pages of the better newspapers or to specialist investment publications and reports.

BJ says:
24 June 2021

John Ward: If advice is given and a product fails (totally) then FSCS applied up to £85,000. This has been the deciding factor with LC&F where some investors received compensations. Those that did not get this will get the lesser treasury compensation of 80% on £85,000. One thing for sure do not trust Google which promote such scam investments On and don’t expect anything from FCA.

Surely no serious investor would look to Google for recommendations. I suspect Google is not even authorised to promote any forms of investment.

People have always been advised, including by Which?, to review their investment exposure and keep their funds below the FCSC limit in any individual institution [i.e. not in each separate account]. It is difficult to feel much sympathy for those who think they know better.

BJ says:
25 June 2021

Google is/was full of advertisements (not recommendations) of legitimate British companies that pay off early investors interest with new investors money. 11,600 intelligent investors fell into the trap of LC&F who promoted themselves on a comparison website as FCA accredited and as an ISA manager. The definition of a ponzi scheme.
In The Telegraph yesterday:
“MPs on Treasury Select Committee find Financial Conduct Authority failed to learn lessons from past mistakes and had lax boardroom standards”
“We agree with the recommendation that fraud via online advertising should be included in the Online Safety Bill, as online platforms are now the single biggest channel of financial scams and fraud.”

One of the newer types of scam attempt that has proliferated in 2021 is what I call the false jeopardy trick: “something has gone wrong with your payment/order/delivery/system/account . . . if it wasn’t you, Press 1, (etc)”. It involves setting up a worrying scenario with a critical deadline thus panicking the individual into reacting quickly and doing what the perpetrator says, and ultimately giving away personal information that enables the criminal to execute the scam.

Being a text message or telephone call adds urgency to the trick and the choice of a well-spoken English or Scottish announcer adds authenticity and makes the call seem personal even though no attempt is made to identify the target nor the specific item said to be involved. The white goods cover plans and the parcel delivery payment deceptions are branches of the same kind of attempt based on a false premise. There is considerable psychology being deployed in these scams, albeit not particularly sophisticated when analysed in the cold light of hindsight.

It seems a shame to me that the agents of law enforcement have not applied their considerable brainpower to getting inside these operations and disrupting them. The police’s tools of choice for catching criminals, the crowbar and the battering ram, are not suitable for this task; they need to engage intellectual techniques and pick their way into the emotional locks that conceal and control the fraudsters’ minds.

Em says:
23 June 2021

I thought the ANOM sting operation was pretty clever.

Yes, that was a brilliant sting using the criminals’ own secret network — supplied clandestinely by the police — to intercept and gather information. The FBI and other forces had the good sense to accumulate huge amounts of contact details, save it securely, and then pounce in one fell swoop so that the criminals were not alerted. I don’t think all the intelligence gathered has yet been used so more arrests could follow. That’s the sort of confidence trickery that I should like to see deployed on the scam bandits.

Read all about it here –
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-57394831

Or with a little drama added: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yVrZIKRFZNk

Thanks for that, Em. It shows what can be achieved if there is the will and the resources.

I liked the prescient Marcus Aurelius quotation – “The obstacle is the way”.

It worries me that we could be dealing with educated criminals. I feel safer with scammers who seem unable to create sentences without spelling and grammatical errors. 🙁

sally says:
24 June 2021

I remember a hilarious conversation with one Scots chap who kept saying my name:
“Well, Sally, I hope you are feeling well, Sally, I’ve got somethings really good here for you Sally !!” etc
but he said my name in a way which just made me laugh!!! I got out of that one !!

And yet, when I have reported scams to Citizen’s Advice and/or Action Fraud, nothing has happened.

They just record reports, as far as I know, for their own purposes and not to directly help the complainant. It is frustrating when you have a problem but have no idea what action is taken.

From the Action Fraud website: “When you report to us you will receive a police crime reference number. Reports taken are passed to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau. Action Fraud does not investigate the cases and cannot advise you on the progress of a case.”

It would be good if individual cases were investigated on our behalf but that is clearly not the role of Action Fraud. My understanding is that reports to Action Fraud help to deal with organised crime and protect us all in future.

Perhaps @esutherland Eleanor Sutherland, the author of this Conversation, could provide some examples of the help that Citizens Advice can give those who have been scammed and which other organisations they might refer victims to.

nick says:
24 June 2021

If you are responding to a telephone call you are unsure of by phoning the organisation back having checked their telephone number, do not call immediately on the line on which you received the call, as the scammer may have been able to hold the line open. Use another telephone to verify the call.

We discussed scammers being able to keep a line open recently, Nick. It’s no longer necessary to take this precaution. See: https://conversation.which.co.uk/scams/national-insurance-number-compromised-phone-scam/#comment-1628014

quentin says:
24 June 2021

Two simple rules
1) If you receive a suspicious email do not press buttons for more info. It merely tells the scammer that you are a genuine receiver, and confirms your email address (which may well be passed on to other scammers)
2) Send the email to the authorities; it helps them to know more about the scammers. I send mine to ‘report@phishing.gov.uk’

Very useful article.
My 3 rules

Here is an easy one don’t give your bank or building society your e mail address that way if you get one you know its a fraud

Before buying check research check and check again.

Don’t buy over the phone or from “push” adverts

Hi one issue stands out in the scams approach….a benefit in some form is dangled before the intended victims …it may be financial gain…a product at exceptionally low price…getting in first on some wonderful deal….trying a product then reporting your experience…..you get to keep the product for free….I delete any such opportunities .as I would rather lose a possible benefit than give a scammer my details….if you do not respond they have no hold on you once you provide contact they can possibly damage you in some way

Many of my scam calls seem to be in a South Asian accent, which immediately rings alarm bells, so I put the phone down

Robert – I don’t understand why a South Asian accent “rings alarm bells”.

South Asia covers a huge territory. It is generally taken to include Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives. Within that area are many different ethnic languages and variations in English pronunciation.

I am not sure it is appropriate to categorise people on the telephone by a presumed geographical or ethnic origin and it could also cause offence, especially since so many residents of the UK are of Asian origin and have similar speech characteristics but are not in any way involved in telephone scam attempts.

I know several people of South Asian heritage who speak with a Yorkshire accent. Would that not also sound alarm bells?

Some of the scam attempt recordings I have heard on the telephone have an American accent or project an authoritative English or Scottish style. Are we to assume they must be trustworthy?

We are discussing criminals; trying to pinpoint their locations is unnecessary.

Some firms don’t help. Including links in SMS and text might be ‘helpful’ but encourages people to use them – if people knew any email or SMS with a link in was a fake that might slow the scammers.

Also – a recent call to my mum on her landline asked her questions (full name, DOB, address/postcode) before they would came to the point of the call – a GDPR requirement apparently

This is really dumb. Firstly anyone answering the landline is likely to know all three answers so this does not prove identity, secondly its encouraging my mum to give out such details when asked (I’ve told her not to answer in future, if the caller is genuine I’m sure there will be the facility for a follow up letter (which of course can be opened by anyone that can also answer the landline….)

Companies need ot think about how they contact people.

So scammers are preying on vulnerable younger people, who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and more likely to have lost jobs and be behind on their bills. Does that make sense?!

uk — Scammers are preying on people of all ages indiscriminately. They don’t know who is going to answer each call or what age they are.

In the Introduction, Eleanor Sutherland said “. . . research found that while scammers are most likely to target over 55s, under 34s are almost five times more likely to fall victim.” That is because of the economic effects on them of the pandemic.

In reality, scam attempts are aimed at anyone who picks up the phone. Eleanor was making the point that while public opinion believes that the older section of the population are more easily exploited, that is not borne out by the evidence: younger people get tricked as well. As ever, generalising is not helpful. and all age groups must be vigilant and remain cautious.

As John has said, people of all ages have to take care. Some scams are targeted at young people and others at older people and even if few become victims there are rewards for the scammers.

Much is said about the need to educate us to avoid scams, but we also need companies and other organisations to help protect us.

John Jorfan says:
24 June 2021

On addition to the scammers there are also genuine companies who offer gifts that encourage you to buy their products.
Sometimes they also invite you to make a donation to a deserving charity.
While these offers are not illegal, they can lead you into making an agreement to buy an item through a series of direct debit instalments or a delivery service.
Often this is not discovered until you check your bank statement. Be very careful.
I have fallen for this and had to contact my bank to stop the direct debit payments for something I did not need.

John — Good point.

The general view is that the amount of money that people have at their disposal is such an important matter for them that they will give it all their attention when they come to spend it. Unfortunately, many people take what they see at face value and do not read everything that is in front of them.

Entering into a direct debit commitment is a very important matter and the individual must be sure exactly what they are paying for month after month.

Fortunately, it is quick and easy to revoke a direct debit authority by notifying the recipient formally in writing and, as an added precaution, informing the paying bank; this can usually be done via on-line banking or by attendance at the bank and completing a form. Finally stopping collection of the payments does, however, require a specific action by the payee as that is with whom the contract exists. The banks involved just operate a payment transfer mechanism.

People who also make an upfront payment for a promotional subscription service must also make a note of the date by which they can cancel it without obligation and act by then if they no longer want the service to continue. The terms have to be fully and clearly disclosed to be legal but it is amazing how many people ignore or overlook them.

Unlike the wicked scams, there is no actual trickery involved in these arrangements but, as you say, people must be very careful.

Far too often the terms, and the “privacy” policy are far too LONG and complex and we need some serious action from the government to get terms and policies made far simpler and easier to read in all plain english and this should be compulsory for anyone operating services here in the UK, even if they’re based abroad. Especially as there’s people out there like myself with serious learning disabilities who live alone and have to run their own affairs.

I agree, Crusader. Insurance companies that I have used have managed to set out the most important details in simple terms that are easy to understand and compare with what other companies offer. Unfortunately it may be necessary to refer to the full document for more detail in specific cases.

Having the key information in a concise and carefully written summary will help everyone and not just those with learning difficulties.

roy Gibson says:
25 June 2021

Golden Rule. if any call says “press 1 to be connected to our adviser” be it internet discnnection threat, HMRC or Amazon in fact any official sounding call to press 1 ignore it, if they are a genuine call they will write to you after no contact. Some genuine organisations like NHS may ask you to press one to confirm it is the person they are calling – again if you do not recognize the number hang up.

I’ve worked in a prison,and any inmate who wants to are shown all and everything about how to use computers.

Norman White says:
25 June 2021

Though I would not claim to be totally immune to scammers, I have a simple principle. Any phone call from an unrecognised voice or number is disconnected. Any email that even has a remote financial content is deleted. Approaches from financial institutions are deleted and I contact them separately direct. I never order direct from media adverts or email adverts. I go to the company’s web site. The principle? Never react to any approach that you haven’t initiated yourself through safe channels. This includes the door-step.

Kevin Riley says:
25 June 2021

Latest scam – telephone call purporting to be from BT stating that they had identified suspicious activity on my land line/internet connection and are now going to terminate my BT connection and leave me without a land line and without internet access .Caller a had an Indian accent.
.I terminated the call!!

One very simple rule for suspect phone calls: If it’s important they’ll ring again or write. So just hang up.

Jenny says:
28 June 2021

I had a different type of thing happen a couple of days ago which neither myself or my daughter had come across. Call to my mobile which I missed, when checking phone it said from Jenny, so thought it was from my contacts list. When I checked it was from me (on my phone) to me. How could my phone phone me. When daughter checked there is something on the go where they have tech to make it appear from yourself. If you answer as it appears from a contact they will know the number is live and can then be used for their attempted scam whatever it might be