Play your part: act on Scams Awareness Month
According to research by Financial Fraud Action (FFA), a financial scam was committed once every fifteen seconds during the first half of 2016.
For some, scams are relatively easy to identify. They present themselves as unsolicited emails, phone calls and even traditional mailings. There’s usually something that gives the game away; a poorly-constructed opening paragraph, dodgy ‘reply-to’ email address or obviously mocked-up webpage.
However, scams are becoming more sophisticated and increasingly rely on social engineering techniques to fool people into giving away precious personal and financial data. As a result, nearly £11 billion was lost to the UK economy due to fraud during 2015/16.
With this in mind, and following a successful campaign in 2016, Citizens Advice has again partnered with the Consumer Protection Partnership to run Scams Awareness Month.
The aim is to reduce the risk and impact of scams by raising awareness and encouraging us all to take action. According to their research, just 5-15% of scams are reported, which means the lion’s share of online fraud and identity theft still slips quietly under the radar.
Protecting the young, ‘life-established’, elderly and socially isolated
Citizens Advice have identified four groups they believe to be mostly likely at risk of scammers:
- Young people (18-24). Evidence suggests there has been a sharp rise in the number of under-25s hit by scams – particularly in the realm of online and identity fraud.
- ‘Life-established’ (40s-60s). Statistics show that this group are the most affected by scams and are generally targeted because of their circumstances (more settled, and with access to financial assets).
- Over 70s. Research has found that 75 is the average age of reported scam victims, with older people generally falling victim to phone and traditional mail scams.
- Socially isolated. Although this group makes up a smaller number of reported scam cases, they’re often hard to reach and unable to access the same level of support as the above.
What is a scam?
A scam is a scheme designed to steal someone’s financial assets, data or personal information. Modern scams arrive in many forms, but some of the most prevalent in society are as follows:
- Copycat. Callers or websites claiming to be official bodies (e.g. a service that offers to process your new passport for a fee).
- Pension scams. Unsolicited pension reviews and advice that usually promise ‘big returns’ on pension investment.
- Subscription traps. Unscrupulous companies that use the Continuous Payment Authority (CPA) to lock people into regular payments for services, such as health and beauty-related products.
- Computer scams. Cold calls designed to trick people into paying for computer repairs they don’t need.
- Advertising scams. Cold calling or direct email campaigns targeting small businesses and the self-employed that request payment and verbal consent for costly advertising ‘opportunities’.
- Vishing. Phone scams impersonating financial institutions, designed to obtain personal data or money transfers.
- Smishing. SMS text messages designed to lure people to call premium rate numbers or download malicious content.
- Phishing. Emails that contain harmful links or attachments designed to fool people into revealing personal or financial details.
What can I do to help?
If you suspect you’re the target of a scam or know someone who is, there are three things you can do:
1. Get advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 (or 03454 04 05 05 for a Welsh-speaking adviser). Online consumer advice and information can be found at www.citizensadvice.org.uk.
2. Report scams and suspected scams to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or at www.actionfraud.police.uk. Action Fraud is the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and internet crime.
3. Tell family, friends, neighbours so that they can avoid scams.
Further support and useful links
- Scams Awareness Month official website (link)
- Which? has some fantastic advice for identifying and dealing with phone scams (link)
- Citizens Advice offers free advice and helps people find a way forward (link)
- Friends Against Scams is run by the National Trading Standards scams team and aims to protect and prevent people from becoming victims of scams by empowering communities (link)
- Pension Wise is a free, impartial service for people who want to discuss pension options (link)
- The Pensions Advisory Service offers impartial information and guidance on scams (link)
- Think Jessica is a charity protecting elderly and vulnerable people from scams which come through the postal system and by telephone (link)
- Voice is a free, confidential support service for victims and witnesses of crime (link)
You can also take to Twitter and spread the word about Scams Awareness Month by using the hashtag #ScamAware.