Scams Awareness Month is in June and the proposed theme is "Don't Miss A Trick, Be Scam Aware". Scams awareness month is an annual opportunity to raise awareness and take a stand against the crimes and predatory practices which affect millions of people. Citizens Advice research shows that 72% of people surveyed had been targeted by scammers over a two year period (2015-2017). Over a third had been targeted five or more times.
Whether you’re an individual consumer looking to protect yourself and family from scams or an organisation or group representing consumers, your efforts during Scams Awareness Month are important because they will help spread the message that scams can be tackled if we take our time to spot the signs and share what we learn with others.
Citizens Advice and Trading Standards Services lead activities through Scams Awareness Month every year.
What are scams?
Scams are schemes to con people out of their money. Other names for scams include fraud, hoax, con, swindle or cheat. Scams come in a variety of ways: post, phone, email, online, sometimes via a knock on the door.
There are hundreds of scams: fake lotteries and prize draws, bogus health cures, dodgy investment schemes, pyramid selling, phishing – to name just a few. These may change as more people become aware of them and as scammers attempt to keep one step ahead.
Every year more than three million people in the UK fall victim to scams losing hundreds and even thousands of pounds. It is estimated that nearly half of people in the UK (48 per cent) have been targeted by a scam and that £3.5bn is lost to scams every year.
People from all walks of life get conned because scammers are clever and always on the lookout for dubious new activities.
There are some practices which may leave consumers deeply frustrated or even out of pocket, for example, a legitimate company providing a poor service or a utility company representative persuading people to switch without any financial benefit. These unfair practices are not specifically addressed as part of Scams Awareness Month however people who do experience them should contact the Citizens Advice Consumer Service 03454 04 05 06.
Common types of scam
Lotteries - A phone call, text or email proclaims a huge lottery win – even though the receiver hasn’t bought a ticket. In order to collect winnings people are asked to send money to cover "processing" or "administration" costs.
Advance fee - A letter offers a huge payment in return for help in getting money out of a foreign country. People are promised a slice of that money for helping with the transfer. They may be asked for bank details. Once they have these the fraudsters raid the victim’s bank account.
Clairvoyants and psychics - Mailings from a so-called psychic or clairvoyant make predictions. Some warn of dire consequences unless a fee is paid, some promise a bright future with details to follow if people pay up first. Those who send money get little or nothing in return and are likely to be bombarded by further scam mailings.
Phishing - an email apparently from the receiver’s bank arrives requesting them to update, validate or confirm details. It’s designed to trick people into revealing personal information and passwords so that scammers can access their account. SMShing is when mobile phone text messages are used to lure people onto fraudulent websites or invite them to call a premium rate mobile number or download malicious content via the phone or web. Voice Phishing or Vishing is the criminal practice of obtaining personal or financial information over the telephone.
Pyramid selling - People are told they can earn money by recruiting new members to a money-making venture. This is pyramid selling and its illegal – only a tiny minority make money, everyone else loses. To see the result of a major investigation carried out on a pyramid selling scheme that was operating in the south west of England go to Sky News of the 18 September 2014.
Property Fraud - Fraudsters can and do target properties for fraud. By pretending to be you they can try to sell or mortgage your property, leaving you to deal with the consequences. To reduce the risk of being a victim of property fraud, sign up to Property Alert at www.gov.uk/property-alert
New scams are emerging all the time. Some seem far-fetched as scammers seek new variations on familiar themes. They employ well-honed techniques to create a sense of urgency, opportunity, threat - whatever it takes to cajole and coerce people into parting with money or their potentially valuable information.
Current scams reported by Action Fraud:
- Phantom debts – cold callers threatening potential victims with arrest unless they pay a debt that is owed.
- Rare metal investment scam – cold callers contacting people to persuade them to invest in "rare earth metal oxides."
- Assassin scam email – a sympathetic assassin who thinks that the recipient of the email has wrongly had a contract taken out against them.
Printer Helpline Scam
Victims usually come across the 'helpline' numbers on online adverts placed high on search engines or social media, which are actually fake. In one case they tried to charge a victim £700 after he called a helpline, while another was told their identity and passwords had been stolen and a £200 fee was required to correct it.
Don’t buy supposedly ‘cheap’ mattresses from the back of a van. At worst they could be fire hazards and at best uncomfortable and dirty. That’s the warning from the National Bed Federation (NBF). The NBF believes hundreds, possibly thousands, of so-called ‘bargain mattresses’ are being sold across the country each week. The sales are often straight from the back of vans by rogue traders touring neighbourhoods and looking for opportunist sales. But they are not bargains at all: often they are simply discarded old mattresses that have been recovered by unscrupulous dealers who then sell them on ‘as new’.
For further information visit the National Bed Federation website.
Local Government Association
To see the position of the Local Government Association on this particular scam as detailed in a press release of the 8 October 2016 go to LGA. A related article was published on the BBC News website of the 8 October 2016.
Individuals are telephoning households posing as police or bank workers informing them about serious problems with their bank accounts.
During the conversation they try duping the caller into withdrawing large sums of money or convincing them to hand over their payment card details. The caller later arranges for a ‘bogus courier’ to visit the property to collect the money.
The police are advising anyone who receives such a call to hang up immediately and report the issue to 101. To see a press article where Northumbria Police have taken action against two individuals convicted of involvement in a courier scam go to the Chronicle of the 11 June 2017.
If any residents have already made arrangements for a ‘courier’ to visit their property, they need to urgently contact the police.
Officers are asking people to be on their guard and to take steps to avoid becoming a victim:
- Be aware that fraudsters often use techniques to hold your phone line open, so that when you try to dial out to verify the caller, they intercept and re-answer the call, claiming to be the bank or law enforcement. To ensure that your phone has not been compromised, we recommend using a different phone line to verify the caller.
- Where a second phone line is not available, try calling a family or friend on the line first, as the fraudster will find it difficult to impersonate a voice that is known to you.
- Never disclose your PIN or online / telephone banking log-in information or card reader codes to anyone, even if the caller claims to be from the bank or police.
- Remember, banks NEVER call and ask you to disclose these security details. If you receive a call requesting your PIN, card details or online / telephone banking log-in information, end the call immediately.
- If you receive a suspicious or unexpected call, always verify the caller by taking their phone number and getting it checked independently. Ensure elderly relatives and neighbours are aware of the fraud and crime prevention advice.
For an indispensable resource when combating scams and to keep up with new scams visit Action Fraud. On the web www.actionfraud.police.uk ; on Facebook facebook.com/actionfraud; and on Twitter: @ActionFraudUK.
What can be done to tackle scams?
There are three things people can do to help tackle scams:
1. Report it
If you have been targeted by a scam, or know someone who has then call Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040. Action Fraud is the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and internet crime. (If debit cards, online banking or cheques are involved in the scam the consumer’s first step should to contact their bank or credit card company.)
2. Get advice
Phone the Citizens Advice Consumer Service 03454 04 05 06: You can get online consumer advice and information at: www.adviceguide.org.uk.
To report a problem to Trading Standards you can contact the Citizens Advice Consumer Service. Trading Standards are responsible for protecting consumers and the community against rogue traders and traders acting unfairly.
3. Tell others
Warning family, friends, neighbours can help people avoid scams. If you get a suspicious circular or are contacted make sure you tip off others.
Age UK. Applying the brakes
On the 9 March 2018 in the published report Applying the brakes (pdf 830 kb), Age UK warned that a 50% cut in Trading Standards budgets over the last seven years – rising to over 60% in some areas – has undermined the ability of local authorities to tackle scams among older people. And with the latest crime figures showing that people are now five times more likely to be targeted by a fraudster than a burglar, Age UK is calling on the Government to ensure that all local authorities have the resources needed to meet their safeguarding duties under the Care Act 2014.
Trading Standards services have a key role to play in tackling fraud yet severe budget cuts are damaging their ability to act according to Age UK – with many spending little more than the price of a latte, per head, per year. A 56% reduction in Trading Standards officers from 2009 – 2016 have left some services with just one qualified officer to cover the entire area, forcing some to stop tackling doorstep crimes or providing consumer advice altogether.
To see a photograph from the campaign in 2017 go to photo (pdf 1 mb)
To see an article highlighting the continued success of our work go to the Chronicle of the 22 January 2019.
Please contact the Trading Standards Service, Directorate of Operations and Regulatory Services, City of Newcastle upon Tyne, Civic Centre, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 8QH.
Phone: 0191 2116121