/ Scams

Time for government to tackle Big Tech over their scams failing

A man looks in horror at his laptop screen, realizing he may have just been scammed

In this comment piece for The Telegraph, Which? CEO Anabel Hoult calls on the UK Government to stand up to tech giants to end the scourge of online scams.

By the time you finish reading this article, criminals will have scammed innocent victims around the UK out of more than £32,000.

When you open your paper or log in for a news update at this time tomorrow, more than £4.6 million will have been lost to fraudsters.

We all hope the tremendous success of the UK’s vaccine programme means there is finally the prospect of an end in sight to our shared experience of the terrible coronavirus pandemic. 

But Britain is firmly in the grip of a scams epidemic, which shows no sign of abating. 

Official figures from Action Fraud show £1.7 billion was lost to scams in the last year – but as many victims never report their losses, even that is likely to be an underestimate of the true figure. 

Even pre-Covid, the figures were mind-boggling. But the unique circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic have made the last 12 months a boom time for fraudsters.

As the UK’s consumer champion, Which? recognised this threat and launched a free scam alert service, which has helped us – and tens of thousands of subscribers – keep track of the latest tactics used to trick unsuspecting victims into handing over their cash.

There have been HMRC coronavirus support payment scams and lockdown breach fine scams, seeking to exploit uncertainty around changing rules and regulations. Now fake vaccine invitations or fraudulent requests for payment to book appointments for jabs fill our inboxes. The audacity and cruelty of these criminals knows no limits. 

If you think you won’t be caught out, think again. We hear from victims from all walks of life. Even a former executive director of the Bank of England has gone public with his story of being conned out of tens of thousands of pounds by fraudsters posing as BT staff offering to “protect” his computer.

The impact of scams for victims can be truly devastating and it is heartbreaking to hear their stories – of homes, life-savings and hopes for the future stolen.

Recently we heard from an 83-year-old retired teacher, who lost around £70,000 after falling victim to convincing “clone” investment websites. She had searched online for a better savings deal, as so many do in this era of record-low interest rates. She said she felt “totally mortified” and had to seek help from her GP following her ordeal.

Little wonder that in a Which? survey of investment scam victims, as well as financial losses, almost half reported a negative impact on their mental health (47%), stress in general (44%), anxiety over their finances (43%) and physical health (29%). 

Tackling scams is complex and businesses across various sectors of the economy – telecoms firms, software providers and of course banks – all have a part to play.

The biggest trend of recent years has been scams shifting online. But our laws and regulations designed to protect consumers have failed to keep pace with the criminals. 

The search engines and social media platforms, used on an industrial scale by scammers to target victims, take very little responsibility for preventing fraudulent content from being posted on their sites. Their current approach is woefully inadequate. 

Despite claims from tech giants like Facebook and Google that they are taking strong action to crack down on fraud, they continue to profit from adverts posted by scammers that take the top slots in news feeds and search results. 

At the same time, the FCA’s list of companies potentially running investment scams more than doubled from 573 in 2019 to 1,184 in 2020.

Yet Which? researchers found adverts for investment scams running on Google for days after the financial regulator had warned about them, while fraudsters’ websites remained live for weeks or months after the alarm was raised – giving the criminals time to lure in more victims.

Even when one fraudulent investment site is closed down, it is all too easy for those intent on defrauding consumers to get back up and running simply by changing their web address and buying new ads on search engines like Google and Microsoft’s Bing. We came across one company that had been linked to 28 websites on the FCA’s warning site.

To tackle this avalanche of online fraud, Which? believes the government must include the content that leads to scams in its proposed Online Safety Bill. This should give online platforms legal responsibility to identify, remove and prevent fake and fraudulent content from appearing on their sites. 

These companies, which have some of the most sophisticated technology in the world, must step up and use it to be part of the solution to protecting consumers, rather than remaining part of the problem.

Campaigners like the family of Molly Russell, backed by the Telegraph, have fought admirably to secure much-needed greater protections for young people from hateful and abusive content online.

The case to also include the financial and equally devastating emotional harm caused by online scams in this vital legislation is overwhelming. It was encouraging to hear the Home Secretary tell MPs recently that the government is asking how it can strengthen the bill to tackle economic crime.

The Digital Secretary, Oliver Dowden, must now show that he is prepared to stand up to the tech giants and do what is needed to stop the epidemic of online scams.

These changes can’t afford to wait. With every day of delay, criminals are making off with millions of pounds. More lives destroyed as whole lifetimes of hard work and careful saving vanish into the digital ether.

Britain can set the global standard for safety online – but only if we tackle the scammers.

A version of this article originally appeared in The Telegraph on 27 March 2021.

Comments

Facebook is a scammers paradise. You can report fake pages and scam posts all you like, and the vast majority of the time you get the response “this doesn’t go against our (p**s poor) community standards”
So I for one welcome which’s action. I just don’t feel anything will happen.

Getting story lines involving scams added to soaps wold I feel be a better way to protect people along with a simple video explaining how to understand a URL cos many text scams are easily thwarted wit just a basic understanding of how to read a URL

Explaining URLs and other web technoligies in layman’s terms is something I’ve done numerous times in comments, which are also there to provide feedback to Which? researchers. No one seems to take the hint that this is needed. Just preaching to the Government and Big Tech when they don’t listen to their own members shows just how ineffective this is likely to be.

This is good as far as it goes in pressing for legislation and calling on the government “to stand up to the tech giants”. Laws and regulations are only as good as their enforcement so I think there is a need for more practical action.

I would suggest we need to –

:: Detect the destination of funds stolen through scams, close down the bank accounts and arrest the account holders.

:: Urgently find a way of preventing number spoofing for cold calls.

:: Set up a special trading standards unit to police internet marketplaces.

:: Make receiving banks liable for refunding money diverted via Authorised Push Payment/Payment Redirection scams.

:: Make all traders on marketplace websites declare their location and provide a UK contact address.

:: Make marketplace platforms liable for electrical product safety and for false/fake product substitutions.

:: Make carriers responsible for compensation for delivery problems where no or false consignor information is supplied.

:: Ensure all customer reviews are genuine from recent purchases and control the manipulation of reviews.

There should also be a review of whether Action Fraud is effective and is worth its running costs. The money could possibly be spent on some more purposeful activity. Judging by comments to Which? Conversation consumers are disillusioned by Action Fraud and consider it ineffectual.

There is widespread concern that scamming as a crime is routinely side-lined by the police because it is not conducive to the physical forms of action for which police forces are better trained and equipped. As an intelligent and deskbound crime it requires intelligent and deskbound disruption by dedicated investigation and enforcement units not forming part of the regular police structure and with an entirely different culture.

Thanks John, those are all excellent suggestions.

If it can be done via changes to banking regulations, then making receiving banks liable for the refund of money paid to them by scam victims would be a great start.

After that, I like the idea of preventing telephone number spoofing. That may require changes to both regulations and technology. But I’m sure it could be done, if a determined approach were taken.

I agree that where a scam has been perpetrated the payer’s bank should attempt to recover the money from the payee’s bank. I am not in favour of the payer’s bank providing a refund from its own coffers, unless it has been negligent.

I am still of the view that the payer who instigates a payment should have to show they were not negligent or irresponsible in making that payment. Just because criminals – scammers- are clever is no excuse for making banks responsible.

We all have to deal with our possessions, including money, responsibly. If we are not up to it then we should accept restrictions on how we can operate our bank accounts to protect the more vulnerable, irresponsible, ignorant, from themselves. I would like to see Which? exploring this – we have made proposals in the past on this topic but, as seems often the case, Which? Ignores them.

If a clampdown on fraudulent accounts is effective then the incidence of APP scams will be greatly reduced and little or no compensation will be payable.

I agree. I was simply making the point that the payer’s part in any loss needs to be taken into account.

Thanks for the round-up John, they are excellent, sensible suggestions that have mostly been posted many times, but seem to end buried here.

I just hope the next step from Which? is to actually tackle some of this fraud and not start demanding compensation.

Thanks, Alfa. Annabel wasn’t exactly looking for concrete action points – since that is not Which?’s style these days – and might not have been able to find them easily anyway. Reminders might not be welcome and we have to accept that this Conversation might not be revisited so our comments could be in vain.

I find it frustrating that so many useful comments are made in vain. Just as I find it very frustrating than, when Which? is (rightly) so vocal about product safety, often regulated by international stands, I am told it chooses not to take any formal part in developing those standards by joining BSI committees. Maybe it prefers just to be a voice, rather like an ethical newspaper.

Public frustration with Action Fraud and Police is not totally surprising. Their job is to catch criminals and obtain convictions “pour encourager les autres”. Recovering your money is the last thing on their agenda.

I remember attending a presentation to a large financial services company, made by a consultancy who included a number of ex-police officers in their team. The message was simple:

If you have been defrauded, the number one priority is to recover the money for you and your clients. You need to do this quicky, and through the civil courts or other means.

If you report it as a crime to the police, they will take months or years bringing a case through the CPS. Unless the law has changed recently, you cannot pursue both civil and criminal cases at the same time, so you can kiss your money goodbye.

I was obviously wrong when I said this Conversation might not be revisited, so thank you Anabel. [See – https://conversation.which.co.uk/scams/scams-tech-giants-failing-consumers-anabel-hoult/#comment-1622268 ]

Janet Carter says:
3 April 2021

A couple of years ago I was very nearly scammed out of £8000. I had only recently moved house, and the scammer’s story was very plausible. His ‘story’ talked me me right through to my bank (FirsDirect) who recognised what was going on and stopped me. The bank then phoned me back (using our recognised security questions) and recommended me to install ESET software on my computer, which prevents this kind of action. It throws up warning flags whenever I try to make payments to an unfamiliar or suspicious sounding payee. It is well worth the few pounds I pay each year.

”Which? believes the government must include the content that leads to scams in its proposed Online Safety Bill. This should give online platforms legal responsibility to identify, remove and prevent fake and fraudulent content from appearing on their sites. ”. Is it really that easy or is it just a “something must be done” approach. We need real workable suggestions as to how we can limit scams. We cannot stop them because before they might be “removed” they will already have caused damage.

We do need, whatever else we do, to concentrate on educating consumers on spotting scams, some of which stem from ignoring advice, others that stem from unrealistic expectations. “High rewards” promised – above the norm – are always accompanied by fraud or equivalent high risk.

Which?’s reach is very limited. I’d like to see it exploring how scam education can be widely broadcast.

Please delete previous post held for moderation.
Blaming and pushing responsibility at someone else’s door seems to be the norm these days malcolm. I don’t care how ‘sophisticated’ scams are made out to be, in the majority of cases, the signs will be there and people need to learn to recognise them.

If a stranger knocked on your door and said ‘give me £25 now and I will send you a heavily discounted designer pair of boots’, you would send them packing. But that is exactly what people do every time they buy a fake product they find on facebook. In every website example I have seen, there is no contact information, bad English and the same 60-80% discount banner.

Education is the key, both in awareness AND how to take responsibility by researching who you are dealing with. Many tools are available for free and people need to learn how to use them and I am rather disappointed that there has been no acknowledgement from Which? of the shopping checklist I have now posted several times to enable people to learn how to protect themselves from being scammed.
https://conversation.which.co.uk/scams/citizens-advice-pandemic-scams/#comment-1621694

@ahoult Anabel, I don’t know if you will read this, but I posted this latest version a few days ago. I was hoping it might get its own convo where it can be regularly discussed and updated then periodically sent to people as a reminder, especially at sale times like Black Friday.

Encouraging people to live their lives and do everything where there is no depth or context on the latest smartphone won’t be helping and this is something Which? is very guilty of. What use is a very small amount of information on a very small screen that the reader may give a fleeting glance to before it quickly disappears from view likely never to be seen again? It is too easy to flick a screen, press a button or two and DONE with little thought to what you are actually doing.

Which? product reviews are now so streamlined, there is no context to them unless you go out of your way to find information, which is scant if it even exists. Do they think we now all shop on our smartphones? I have multiple pages open on a large PC screen when I shop, just so I can see ALL the information available to me.

I recently found a Which? page entitled ‘Get involved’
Giving us your views will help others to choose the best products for their needs . . . and a section that I thought was worth highlighting as in my opinion as a member for at least 30 years, product reviews have gone way downhill:
https://conversation.which.co.uk/which-membership/which-discussion/#comment-1618768

‘Difficult by design’ is simplifying information into (hidden) one-liners then expecting users to base decisions on them, resulting in uninformed bad decisions. And this is what social media turns people into doing and why they easily fall for ads on facebook.

These are the number of Which? posts from 26-28th March:
Facebook – 9 posts
Twitter – 16 posts
Convos – 2 posts

Says it all really doesn’t it.

That would be my bad @alfa – I did see it when you posted, however haven’t had the capacity to follow up on it as yet. You may have also seen our scams protection toolkit launched last week which gives similar additional support (particularly to the neighbourhood watches mentioned earlier). Neither of these are an exhaustive list of resources, so certainly one we can support and expand here on Convo.

I take your point on social media being a bit more transient in its nature and harder to track back if you’re looking for information. Equally though, it would be hard to argue that we’re making our message as accessible to as many people as possible without social media as one of our tools, and while fleeting, this does also draw people in to sign up for services or explore deeper on Which.co.uk. Ultimately it’s up to consumers to make the choices best for them, and we’re here to support their doing so, both in terms of what they may choose to buy or learn more about, and which channel they’d use to do so.

I’ll pass on your feedback on reviews to the reviews team as well as see what I can find out about people buying on their phones. It’s an interesting question: we see more traffic from mobiles than we do desktop here on W? Conversation, however I’m curious to know how that extends to buying.

Yesterday, I suddenly had an urgent need to shop online and buy a product I had never purchased before.

Just like alfa says, I found that I needed to open up multiple web pages in order to find the least expensive trustworthy looking supplier, so I was pleased to have a laptop available for the task. When I can only work with a tiny screen on a smartphone, I find it much harder to see the complete picture of all the details from any website.

I eventually whittled the choice down to two suppliers, both of which gave UK addresses and phone numbers on their website and whose prices were within about £1 of one another. I then ordered from the one with the slicker looking website. Neither Amazon nor eBay had offered keener prices than going direct to those firms. I do hope I won’t be disappointed.

however I suspect that Which? may be correct to fear that the majority of vulnerable internet users are those who only surf via smart phones, as opposed to via proper computers.

If I may comment as someone who has spent my working life in education, teaching has to be appropriate for individuals for them to engage and learn. School teaching relies on progressive learning of new skills and their application. Few would perform well in an A-level exam if they had no background knowledge of a subject and had just been given a textbook.

I have found Alfa’s growing list of shopping checks interesting but I would not expect that many people would gain much unless they already had a fair amount of experience. If any elderly parents or relations are around it might be useful to see how much they take in.

I prefer a simpler approach to get people started on using websites safely for making purchases. Maybe using a computer with current anti-malware software, rather than a phone could go at the top of the list.

Other simple suggestions could be to ignore Facebook ads, buy from familiar companies and make sure that you are looking at the correct website. The latter could be a challenge but once you have the right site it’s easy to bookmark it for future use.

Nearly all the links I have given are self-explanatory, and if people are capable of negotiating facebook, adverts and online shopping, they should be capable of doing a bit of research.

If the checklist was given its own convo, then people would be able to ask questions and get help if they needed it. I certainly agree with using a laptop or desktop with internet security instead of a phone for the internet.

Amazon used to undercut all its competitors, but now both it and ebay are often the most expensive places to shop.

I hope your purchase works out for you Derek.

I know someone who lives their life on a smartphone and is gullible [or ‘vulnerable’ as we must now say]. They have got themselves into a deep financial hole and are still digging. This person is a secondary school teacher. This is now a serious societal problem afflicting many and it could have long-term behavioural and psychological consequences and pass down through later generations.

John, in my experience, it not uncommon for apparently sensible people to end up deeply in debt.

Although the individuals themselves should take some of the blame for this, I also blame all those banks, credit card, finance and pay day loan companies who seem all too prepared to set up loan after loan in such cases.

I wonder how many people would complain if their full financial details – income, outgoings as well as history, existing commitments- were centrally held so any prospective lender could make a rational decision as to what they could afford, and justify that decision in the event of a default. Credit cards charge up to 49.9% interest to protect themselves, payday loans have disgraceful costs and do it to cover all the defaulters but, as you say, they are partly to blame when some take an irresponsible financial route. High risk involves high charges and institutions exploit that. I would like to see proper regulation of what could be lent and to whom but that would upset many people, and probably the economy.

Education, so people enter into loan arrangements with their eyes open, could help but some will not want to know. Education seems a topic raised elsewhere and maybe should be something we address more closely.

I absolutely agree with Derek about blaming companies for helping many people get into debt. There needs to be credit available to help people out of a mess but being able to get another credit card because you have reached your credit limit should not be allowed without investigation of a person’s ability to clear their debts in a reasonable period. My relation who has worked part-time for Citizens Advice in an affluent London borough has to deal with well paid professionals whose lives have become a financial mess, sometimes helped by stress, depression, alcohol, gambling, etc.

Do we need ‘buy now, pay later’? Maybe ‘save now, buy later’ would be a better option. If you can avoid using credit you have more money to spend.

Try telling many people, particularly the young, to save for what they want. Mobile phones are frequently paid for monthly – would they fork out £1000 up front every couple of years? Some things do require loans – few could get on the housing ladder otherwise. Possibly a new car – but why not buy a used one?

I blame those who make loans easy, whether in cash like payday, or in goods like credit cards offer and in shop deals. People seem to like all the goodies now, not saving for them.

Who is to blame? It is not a blame issue, but a responsibility one. Making money too freely available without checking a person’s real ability to repay simply means others who are able will fund those who default. Those who do borrow beyond their means have responsibility; we cannot blame someone else for their actions, only for providing the means to easily. We do try to blame, and shift the blame, far to readily.

Alfa – I support having a Convo about how to avoid fraud but I suggest starting at Key Stage 1.

I think we are all agreed that low prices should ring alarm bells but as well as avoiding Facebook adverts that are to good to be true, is it not best to avoid buying from overseas companies unless there is a compelling reason to do so. A good enough reason is that you are unlikely to get a refund or replacement if the goods bought from an unheard of foreign company are faulty. Those who are familiar with having 14 days to return products for a refund need to know that a seller in China is not bound by our Consumer Contracts Regulations etc.

The willingness of other lenders to advance more money is the major cause of the problems in the case I mentioned. The pressures of a consumer society were another significant factor.

I should like to see Which? devote as much effort to countering the adverse influences of consumerism through education [its primary charitable purpose], responsible reporting, lobbying, and using its special status with regulators, as it does to promoting the latest gadget or ‘don’t need’ accessory.

The broadcasting point has been one we’ve actively been exploring @malcolm-r.

  1. You’re likely already familiar with the free Scam Alert Email service, delivered weekly and very much powered by the insight and experiences people share here and elsewhere with Which?. Currently more than 100,000 people have signed up.
  2. If you’re a Which? Member you may have seen as well the supplement we’d put out on Scams that came with your magazine, and/or a digital version we sent out recently. If you haven’t and you’d like to, we can send you a link.
  3. Offline we’re working on a variety of mediums – radio, newspapers- all to raise awareness of the work we’re doing in the scams space, across consumer education, working with businesses and banks, and pushing the government.

There’s also a mural down in Brixton that went up over the weekend:

We’ve also started working with Neighbourhood Watches and local businesses so they can share scams alerts more locally with their networks.

It’s a start, and we’re monitoring and seeing how we can better get the message out to inform and empower people as we go. If there’s a space where we could reach further, where the message is getting confused, or indeed isn’t working, we’re keen to hear your thoughts about it (NB I’ve already brought up the prime time TV show idea you’d shared earlier).

Back to @alfa‘s point about shopping on a mobile phone …

I agree, working as a financial product designer, that it is almost impossible to provide all the necessary product information, consumer protections and other terms and conditions on anything smaller than a tablet device. Information that depends on content (text – price – image), format (font size, style, emphasis) and layout (order, columns) is always going to be compromised, unless presented as a PDF. Otherwise, you simply cannot guarantee that what you see is what your customer is going to see.

A large computer screen displaying a web page is already a compromise. We can’t know in advance the screen resolution or whether the customer has changed the zoom, and hence how most text will wrap. After that, the wide (in both senses of the word) variety of tablets and mobile phones become progressively more difficult to manage.

I believe (cue howls of protest here!) that transactions on mobile phones need to be confined to repeat orders from suppliers you have already signed up to. So ordering something off Amazon or Ocado or buying/selling shares from HL or AJ Bell, whilst on the train or exercising, is fine for existing customers. You know whom and what you are dealing with.

So what happens if you just have a mobile phone, no large format display and no printer, but you want to buy something off a new supplier? You can still do so, by signing up with just your name and address. The supplier will need to mail you a full disclosure of the first product you wish to order, along with their business terms and conditions, which you will need to acknowledge both receipt and agreement, perhaps by texting back a unique code to speed things up.

Otherwise, I don’t see how anyone could claim that a legal contract exists, other than for very simple, low value (£20 max?) transactions – booking an Uber taxi or a Deliveroo pizza, maybe. And the terms and conditions of those simple contracts need to be standardised and set out in regulations, so there is no to read the small print before signing up.

Make’s sense Em, and you won’t get any howling from me!!!

One thing that rarely gets mentioned is internet security. I don’t have any on my mobile, but would look into it if I intended using the phone for financial transactions. Samsung and presumably Apple support their products for so long but do they provide sufficient security?

Desktops and laptops usually come with internet security installed. It may work for a year or a 1-3 month trial. Whatever, it will need paying for or uninstalling and a free one installed. I wonder how many don’t bother and leave their computers unprotected? Is Win10 security sufficient?

I started using paid for security software on my phone when I started using mobile banking about 15 months ago. I have the same on my Apple computers. I know plenty of Apple users who think they are safe without any additional protection but I would not risk it.

I’m interested by Em’s thoughts on the limitations of using mobiles for online orders etc. It’s fine for us to debate this but I wonder what the banks and other companies have planned to help protect us.

I have never found the need to use my mobile phone for financial transactions. So I can live with an old Samsung.

If, as Em says, they are inherently unsuitable then perhaps their restrictions and deficiencies should be better publicised.

I was concerned about the security of mobile banking via a bank’s app but have seen suggestions that it might be safer than using a web-based online banking. At present I have not used the phone for anything else but might use Apple Pay.

I understand Em’s point about how web pages are displayed on different computers. A proper mobile app for a phone/tablet can avoid some of the problems.

What annoys me is the number of organisations arranging their data primarily for mobile phones when they are not necessarily the best platform.

Hubby had a regular report emailed to him today in a new format that used just a narrow strip on the side of his laptop screen, that he then had to scroll down and expand each section. He got so annoyed with so few words per line, he didn’t bother reading it after a while.

Probably long-winded on a mobile and frustrating on a laptop so quite possibly left unread on both platforms.

Like it or not, smart phones are becoming the most common means of accessing the internet. Hence a lot or organisations will put a lot of effort into making their online presence work well there.

Some go to the further stage of having separate sites for mobile and pc users, but not all.

Pre-covid (remember that?), I used volunteer in my local library, sometimes by helping folk print off stuff. I did sometimes see webpages that just printed as a narrow band on about 1/3rd of the width of an A4 sheet. What a waste of paper! Given time, i could probably have reformatted them to make better use of the paper, but most folk did not want to wait while I did that.

When smartphones first appeared a separate graphical user interface was developed for viewing web pages, as Derek has said, meaning that the appearance on computers was unaffected. I presume that this still applies. Although it is possible to print from phones to modern printers I doubt the result will be good but for someone without a computer it’s better than nothing.

My comment above was not really concerned with the security of Android or iOS devices. It was more to do with how anyone can be expected to perform due diligence on a tiny mobile device, before entering into a legally binding contract agreement with a legitimate company, or accidentally fall foul of a fraudster posing as one.

I’m not an expert on mobile operating systems or vulnerabilities, but I feel more secure using my Andoid device for making financial transactions than a web browser.

Firstly the banks and share dealing services provide dedicated Apps that can only be used to access their systems. As a result, you are less likely to be spoofed into carrying out a transaction on a cloned web site. We use generic browsers like Chrome for so many other things, that we don’t tend to notice subtle differences if a web site isn’t quite right. The picture frame is the same; we don’t immediately notice that the painting is a forgery.

Secondly, fingerprint security is less vulneable to shoulder surfing or key logging, than entering a password using a keyboard. In fact, I am more wary when an App occasionally forces me to log in “for my security” using the old authentication methods like password and pin or pet’s name.

Because it is the bank’s own App, they have to take more responsiblity for its operation and provide a dedicated helpdesk to address concerns and queries. I expect a security breach would be harder to pass off. “Someone in Wolverhampton has used my fingerprint to access my account without my knowledge? How could that happen?” Apart from the unlikelihood of accessing my fingerprints without my knowledge, both my own phone’s GPS and my mobile supplier’s GSM will show that at least the rest of my body was in Brighton at the time.

Thirdly, these systems should – if they don’t already – sit behind the mobile phone’s own security systems as first line of defence. To start your phone up to access the Apps, you need a password, PIN or fingerprint.

One other benefit of easy smartphone access for me – and hopefully for no-one else – is that I now check all my accounts at least once a day. So any unexpected bank balance, shareholding or credit card transaction gets investigated that day. It’s become a habit, like turning out the lights.

Thanks Em, those observations on mobile security tend to confirm my own thoughts on the subject. I do also find that my bank app is more convenient for banking than using a PC.

But when there is a lot of new information to present, review and comprehend, I do still prefer to surf from a PC.

Em says:
1 April 2021

Agreed. But it is amazing just how bad some web site designs are, even on a PC.

I ordered six bottles of Pino Grigio on a great offer from a well-known grocery retailer for the first time last weekend. They were delivered yesterday and they had substituted Sauvignon Blanc. I’m guessing if I ordered buffalo Mozzarella, I might end up with Cheddar.

Back to the web site and ticked “No Substitutions”, which I am now going to have to collect before the offer expires today. When I printed off the order it says “Allow Subs”! Cancel order and try again. Same thing!

I call Helpdesk who talk me through changing my order not to allow subs.

Print off order again. Same thing! Then it dawns on me that “Allow Subs” is a column heading, like “Quantity”. If I allow subs, there will be a tick next to the item(s) concerned. But I just have a blank against the one item ordered, which makes it look like my entire order allows subs. Since that is the default setting when you order, I think I’m justified in my confusion.

If this is the performance of one of the largest retailers in the world, it is no wonder that online shoppers are getting scammed with a pair of fake Ray-Bans. You should have ticked “No substitutions” when you ordered!!!

Darn it, no free slots. Can you give us a reminder a bit earlier next time please Em? 🙂

I usually find that good offers sell out fast on-line but they don’t tell you until delivery day. You could probably have handed the wrong vin back to the van driver.

More than one with 25% off wine, now ordered. 🙂😋🙂
Sorry off topic, but a drop of wine does assist pondering over scams.

Em says:
1 April 2021

B*******s (no – that’s not the official store name!) have now just cancelled my Click and Collect order for 10 bottles of Villa Maria Pino Grigio at £5.30 per bottle, with no explanation what-so-ever and not even a proper apology.

Their offers all say “subject to availablility”, but they are still advertising it online as “In Stock”.

As they are failing to supply an in stock item and hiding behind their terms and conditions not to fulfil the contract, can I go ahead and sue them for about £40 – the higher cost of buying it elsewhere? I don’t see how you can order something 4 days in advance and only find out on the morning of delivery that they aren’t going to honour it.

Do you hear Miele say – “Oh sorry, we won’t be delivering your washing machine today after all. We’ve sold out since you placed your order!”

Mods – sorry this is going off topic, but it just shows even “reputable” retailers don’t play fair with consumers.

I discovered 3 supermarkets were doing 25% discount on wines. The first that could deliver was Asda so will be getting a delivery later, and I am guessing it might be the same as Em tried.

They allowed me to order 10 bottles, but when I went to amend the order, it had been reduced to 6 and other products were now unavailable.

Everything is substitutable unless you specifically say ‘Don’t Substitute’. Asda has a small section that you can easily miss on the payment page with a link to a page where you can tick/untick subs.

Ah well, if half the items don’t turn up, I have a Tesco order lined up for Monday.!!! Interesting that I can now get home deliveries with all the supermarkets although Sainsbury’s had no available slots for the wine discount. I was going to cancel it when I found I could order from Asda but will hang on to it. Their charges for Minimum basket charge, Pick, pack and deliver plus Bag charge add up to £9.90 so worth considering if it is worth it.

Substituting products with items you don’t want is a bit of a scam as it allows them to get rid of products they don’t want. Ocado seem to now spread similar items into different categories hoping you won’t notice and order more than you need. Same product but different supplier or size: wine, fresh veg, fruit, toiletries, loo rolls seems to go in their relevant categories and also in the food cupboard. When Ocado has developed its own tech and customer interfaces, manipulating it to boost sales is not playing fair. This rarely happened before M&S were involved.

I am a bit sceptical about large discounts on wine. Are they overpriced in the first place? I doubt they are sold at a loss. Mind you, if you enjoy the particular wine and don’t buy it just as cheap alcohol its OK.

I buy most wine from the wine society and generally pay around £8 a bottle for the types of wines I like – currently Malbec, Beaujolais, Muscadet, Manzanilla. I occasionally buy Loire wines from the M&S own label range. They suit my taste.

I have decided I haven’t a particularly discerning palette as, when I have ventured into trying much more expensive wines I generally have not been overawed; I don’t really want to train my palette in that direction until I win the lottery. As an alternative to wine I enjoy a double gin made up to half a pint with tonic.

Em says:
9 April 2021

I checked my credit card last night and found that Asda have charged me for the substituted wine that I refused delivery of! I called last night and I was told it would take a further five working days to refund me for something I have never had.

As they have actually taken the money (acceptance of offer), I think they will be getting off lightly with a refund for a contract they have failed to honour.

Hello everyone, I just wanted to drop in to say thank you for your comments, ideas, insights and suggestions off the back of this Which? Conversation piece – its given me a lot of food for thought.
You are right to point out that from regulation to education, there’s more that can be done to protect consumers from these harms.

As the team said, Which? is working with consumers to ensure they have the information they need, but we will also continue to make this case across the national media through to the government. This campaign certainly isn’t going away until the big tech companies up their game and start protecting their users.

Thank you for all your support so far, and to everyone who has signed up for our free scam alert service.

Hi Anabel,

Thanks for posting here. It is good to see you looking into what we’ve been up here.

Clearly there are many fronts on which we can progress the fight against scams.

steves says:
5 April 2021

Although this topic is about scams, others have been pointing out problems over online food deliveries that either fail to deliver actual orders or put in a “substitute”. With Covid more people have been doing this online and I cannot help wonder if some stores are scamming their customer into taking goods they would never have bought to get rid of stock.
Whether the story was true or not ,some local fella ended up just getting a bag of frozen chips ! I assume he ended up paying the delivery charge too which was more than the chips another scam caused when items are removed(unavailable?) to below eligible free delivery as has happened to some friends.

If you end up paying a delivery charge because the supermarket cannot deliver all the goods that were ordered, then ask for a refund because it is not your fault.

I had some inconclusive correspondence with Waitrose a few years ago about the unavailability of many items ordered. They clearly had no system for reserving products ordered and, even though we had to order a week in advance, it was pot luck what tuned up on delivery day. It meant we had to over-order alternative products to make up for any missing items. We soon gave up using Waitrose for that and a few other reasons and have since used Sainsburys to general satisfaction. I don’t think Sainsbury’s reserve products against known orders either, but they seem to have a more athletic logistical system that ensures there are few drop-outs from our orders. They also have a better idea than Waitrose had of what substitution means, but Waitrose might have got better over the last couple of years.

Online orders have improved, John. With Morrisons and Tesco you can place an order in advance and finalise it by midnight on the previous day. Waitrose requires longer notice but sends an email well in advance so you can decide whether to accept substitutions and know what will be missing.

I usually start setting up our fortnightly Sainsbury’s order about a week in advance adding to it as things crop up, but when finalising the order the evening before delivery there are occasionally notifications that certain items are now unavailable; that at least gives me a chance to select alternatives or increase the quantities of other products. It is therefore much less likely that there will be unavailable items or substitutions on delivery day. I think the systems across most major supermarkets are now about as good as they need to be and certainly streets ahead of where they were pre-coronavirus.

Sainsbury’s now offer a cheap [£1] 4-hour delivery window and notify a specific 1-hour slot the night or morning before delivery. It is also possible to buy a 1-hour delivery slot at variable prices from £1 to £6 according to day, time and demand. Delivery is free if the order costs over £100 under either process. We rarely have to pay for delivery. They also advertise ‘green’ delivery slots when their van is covering the same area but there is no financial incentive; I usually select that if possible – a minor contribution to reducing emissions and presumably popular in some areas.

Sainsbury’s have now given notice that the free deliveries for spending over £100 will cease with effect from 27 April 2021. I think this could be hard on large families or on those who are also shopping for other members of the family or neighbours, but the £1 charge for a 4-hr delivery window with a 1-hr slot notified a few hours prior to delivery will remain available plus the variable price 1-hr slots from £2 – £7 [there seems to have been an increase in the charge for this service].

I take your point John, but feel more sorry for those people with little money, where the delivery charge on their smaller orders is proportionately more expensive than for those able to place large orders.

I was slightly annoyed when Tesco started charging £1.50 for all click & collect slots, especially since Morrisons and Waitrose do not charge. Waitrose is offering free delivery for orders over £40 (I thought it was £60), which is a bargain if you are able to buy overpriced items elsewhere. Iceland offer free delivery for orders over £35.

I do not see the justification for charging for click and collect. However, delivery costs money and saves the customer the cost of travelling to and from the shop, whether by private or public transport. Nor do I see why other customers should subsidise those who have deliveries. Sainsbury’s £1 delivery charge seems more than reasonable.

What I do object to is paying postage and packing that far exceeds the real cost. I paid JLP p&p £3.50 for something that occupied a cheap Jiffy envelope and came second class post – about 70p at the time. We should pay what it costs. Not difficult for the supplier to work out.

It takes staff time to go round the supermarket or depot picking my groceries. Some of them will have to be refrigerated until the appointed time for collection and then another member of staff will be involved. I don’t mind paying £1.50 to reduce the risk of infection during the pandemic.

I used to buy electronic components and other hobby supplies by mail order and high carriage charges did put me off buying. It really annoys me that some online traders do not provide information about carriage charges until you have put together an order and are ready to pay. I guess I am not the only one who abandons their online shopping basket in disgust.

Not sure this is the best place to post this information. There are so many convos about web scams now, it is hard to keep track … . Mods – please feel free to move it.

I’ve used Norton Antivirus for years and the Norton Safe Web extension that plugs into Google for traffic-lighting web sites. Green is rated safe, Amber is use with caution. Red is a known threat to the health of your computer – a source of viruses and other malware. Never paid that much attention, as most of the websites I want to visit are green anyway.

However, over the last three days, I reported a couple of companies to the FCA that front unregistered or illegal financial services. Also “getvoltex” that is selling a scam plug-in electrical device which is supposed to save you money on your electricity – it won’t!

The customer reviews for Voltex are all fake and I’ve reported it to the ASA – not that they can do much. Quite simply, Google shouldn’t be running the ads. I’ve reported it to them as well, but money still speaks louder than words.

I also reported them via the Norton Safe Web pop-up. To my surprise, these sites have all been flagged Amber by Norton, within hours of reporting them. I guess they won’t get Red status because they are not technically a threat to your computer system, just engaged in dodgy business practice, which Norton are not in a position to evaluate.

It appears that Norton Safe Web is a free to use extension via the Chrome store, if you don’t have it already. Anyone like to try that? There appears to be at least one company (Symantec, who sell Norton) who take consumer concerns seriously and act on them quickly, so get reporting.

I note that Stratton Capital Ventures LLC – reported in another Which? Convo – is already flagged Amber, as are a few dodgy women’s fashion outlets.

I stopped using Norton many years ago when a new version brought my PC to a virtual standstill and was probably the time I switched to Kaspersky.

Kaspersky gives a website address either a green or grey indicator. Stratton Capital Ventures LLC gets a grey indicator that I treat as ‘don’t touch with a bargepole’.

Em – thanks, that’s interesting. I may try adding Norton Safe Web to some of my browsers.

I normally use Chrome or Brave for Gmail, YouTube and other social media, then use a different browser (e.g. Firefox or DuckDuckGo) for more general surfing

I looked at the Voltex website and saw the following claim: “Voltex provides your home with a smooth, stable electrical current that leads to an increase in efficiency, and reduction in dirty electricity.” From the very limited information I presume that their device contains surge protection such as metal oxide varistors (commonly used in socket bars for computer equipment plus a capacitor that might improve the power factor of small loads such as chargers. Power factor does not affect what domestic customers pay for electricity in the UK. I don’t see any extravagant claims for energy saving, though these can be found on other websites.

I don’t know what we do about companies that make questionable claims for their products, or let retailers make such claims. I wonder if these devices conform to current safety standards.

This sort of snake oil device advertising is not new.

Years ago in our local paper, I am told, was an advert claiming to cut your electricity bills in half. A pair of scissors arrived. Apocryphal?

New national police cyber crime division at gchq for UK scams

New? or nearly new? – see:-https://www.theregister.com/2020/04/21/ncsc_email_scam_takedown_address/

They have a website too:-https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/

Lorraine Murphy says:
20 April 2021

I’ve been scammed numerous times, to the extent that my son made sure I got an iPhone, he said, scammers find it harder to get into them! I’ve had it 15 months n they’ve succeeded in getting to me, most recent was the Dyson hoover one!
I’ve also had a few phone calls saying that my national insurance number has been compromised n I should press 1 to find out details before they suspend It! Who the hell do they think they are? How can anyone suspend anyone’s NHS number??? I’m dubious about these scams now, cos around 16 months ago I was scammed big time! I had a phone call (supposedly) from Amazon saying that they were going to take £39-99 from my account unless I pressed 1 to stop the transaction! Then I was on the phone for more than an hour n he was going through my mobile phone (which was a Samsung 7!) putting loads of viruses onto it n he got me to phone the bank, then a friend walked in n he said “oh, have you got company, will ring you at 3pm, luckily I saw someone I knew from Mind, who I told her about, to which she replied, you need to go to the bank n get this sorted, well, when I got to the bank, they’d suspended my account n card! N they’d buggared my phone up! As I needed a few photos from it,