There’s something ‘phishy’ about this… Recognising and avoiding scams
By Dean Spruce, Communication and Media Manager, VOICES
It’s always important to be vigilant in our efforts to avoid falling victim to crime, there is no end to the lengths some will go to in order to illegally extract cash from our pocket’s or gleam personal information from us that can be exploited. At the moment in the UK, along with the majority of the world, we are experiencing something completely new to us all.
The new challenge that we all face brings with it all sorts of feeling and emotions, leaving us vulnerable to exploitation – uncertainty, doubt, fear, desperation and panic present a whole new world of opportunities for the scammers – preying on people’s fears and uncertainties is, unfortunately, as old as the hills.
At VOICES we work with some of the most vulnerable people in our society, people without homes, people suffering mental ill health and people with little or no income. Life is already extremely difficult for many of us, making ends meet is getting harder all the time and drastic measure like those we are currently experiencing serve to intensify this. Scammers may use this opportunity to target people who are already in one degree or another of trouble or vulnerability. In addition to the potential financial loss, being caught out by a scam could be enough to tip people into serious mental ill health, homelessness, relationship breakdown, etc., all the things we know lead people to experiencing ‘multiple disadvantages’.
An offer of an ‘emergency payment’ from the DWP in the current situation for example, would be a more than welcome lifeline for huge numbers of people. We must however understand, and be aware, that everything is not always as it seems, and these kinds of thing’s have become the ‘go to’ method for the fraudsters. Another example I saw recently was a fake parcel delivery note asking the recipient to contact them urgently regarding a fictitious parcel – the call costs incurred being extortionate if you do so.
Types of scam
There is no definitive list of the methods used to target people, fraudsters are always adapting the way they work in an effort to stay one step ahead of both the law, and us. However it is more than useful to familiarise ourselves as best we can with the methods that we DO know about.
To reiterate, what scams are usually after is your personal information. This could be as blatant as asking for your bank account details, but can also be more subtle, for example a questionnaire which asks, among other things, a person’s name, address, age, marital status and so on, potentially enabling a third party to take out loans or make false claims in our names (leaving us to pick up the bill).
Fraudsters take advantage of every avenue available to them, some methods that we know about are:
- Door to Door cold calling
- Telephone cold calling
- Text messages (phishing)
- Emails (phishing)
- Websites (phishing)
- Social Media (phishing)
With the development of digital technologies ‘Phishing’ has become much more widespread, where text messages, email, fake websites and social media posts direct us to hand over our sensitive information. These can be used in conjunction with each other to give the impression of legitimacy, for example a text message from a ‘bank’ alerting you that your account has been compromised with a link to a fake website for you to ‘login’ to using your personal details. Nobody is immune to these types of scams; I’ve witnessed some exceptionally tech savvy people fall victim to phishing. This is down to the sophistication of the scams; these emails and messages are almost indistinguishable from the real thing in terms of the way they look.
Knocking on people’s doors and telephone calls are also common methods. People presenting at our front doors, uninvited and unexpectedly, to offer us a deal we cannot refuse should have alarm bells ringing in our heads. Similarly, phone calls that we receive asking for personal information of any kind should be promptly ended. It is highly unlikely that any legitimate business would ask for personal information over the phone, especially if THEY have contacted US.
The general rule of thumb is if you’re not sure, don’t act. It’s OK to take time to think things through or contact family, friends or our support networks to get a second opinion. If pressure is being put on you to act without doing so, this is another flag it could be a scam.
Recognising a scam
It might be a scam if:
- It seems too good to be true – for example, a holiday that’s much cheaper than you’d expect
- Someone you don’t know contacts you unexpectedly
- You suspect you’re not dealing with a real company – for example, if there’s no postal address
- You’ve been asked to transfer money quickly
- You’ve been asked to pay in an unusual way – for example, by iTunes vouchers or through a transfer service like MoneyGram or Western Union
- You’ve been asked to give away personal information like passwords or PINs
- You haven’t had written confirmation of what’s been agreed
*info from https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer/scams/check-if-something-might-be-a-scam/
What to do if you think you’ve been scammed
Firstly, make sure you’re as safe as you can be right now, its not your fault and the most important thing is our safety. If you think you’ve been the victim of a scam it is important to report it to the relevant authorities as soon as you can. This will increase the chances of a solution being provided for you and decreases the chances of it happening to others. The Citizens Advice Bureau has an excellent resource for this which you can find here.
In an ever-changing world it is increasingly important for us to be aware, and to help others to be aware and stay safe. If you know someone who you think might likely be targeted by scams, talk to them and find out how much they know. Sharing is caring as they say, and in this case that is especially true, we’re much stronger and safer when we stand together.