Police, Public Bodies and Charities are reporting a big increase in the number of scams being used by criminals to get their hands on cash. The isolation and uncharted territory of the Covid situation has been a windfall for the unscrupulous. 

Letters pop through the door, emails drop into your inbox everything seems fine. “The Post Office has a parcel for you, just pop on line and put your details in, pay the outstanding postage charge and we can arrange delivery”. Before you know it you have handed your personal details to a criminal.

It’s not just your bank details, they will take any information they can get: Date of birth, Place of birth, Schools attended, Places worked, First car, Pet names, Mothers maiden name, Childrens names, Favourite song, Favourite movie.

These are all gold dust to the modern thief. Answers to these questions can be used to obtain credit using your identity, provide clues to passwords and security numbers.

Anyone on social media will have seen posts that ask a series of questions, usually under the guise of “Lets play a game and get to know each other better”. The scammer just unleashes this and waits for people to start sharing it. A quick search and they have a list of information about you combined with your social media profile, all they do then is fill in the blanks.

Age UK have a lot of information on scams and how to avoid them on their website. Here is a summary.

Telephone Scams

Bank scams
Calls claiming to be from your bank saying there’s a problem with your card or account. They often sound professional and try to convince you that your card has been cloned or your money is at risk. They may ask for your account and card details, including your PIN number, and even offer to send a courier to collect your card. They may also advise transferring your money to a ‘safe account’ to protect it. 

This is a common scam and your bank would never ask you to do this.

Computer repair scams
A scammer may call you claiming to be from the helpdesk of a well-known IT firm, such as Microsoft. They’ll tell you that your computer has a virus and will ask you to download ‘anti-virus software’, possibly at a cost.

This turns out to be spyware, used to get your personal details. Legitimate IT companies don’t contact customers
this way.

Compensation calls
This is a call from a company asking about a car accident you’ve supposedly had claiming you may be entitled to compensation. Some of these could be genuine but many are not. 

Don’t engage in these calls. If you’ve had an accident, call your own insurance company on the phone number provided on your policy.

HMRC scams
You may get a call from someone claiming to be from HMRC saying there is an issue with your tax. They may leave a message and ask you to call back. 

HMRC will never contact you this way and would never ask you to reveal personal financial information such as your bank account details.

Number spoofing
Scammers can mimic official telephone numbers so it comes up on your caller ID display. This can trick you into thinking the caller is really from a legitimate organisation.

If you’re in any doubt, hang up and call the organisation directly. If possible, call them from different phone as scammers can keep the phone line open, so that even if you hang up to call the organisation directly, the line may still be connected to the scammer. If it’s not possible to use another phone then wait for at least 10 minutes before you call.

Pensions and investment scams
This is a call about an ‘unmissable’ investment opportunity, or offering you the opportunity to access your pension cash earlier. 

Do not respond to these calls. If you want pension or investment advice consult an Independent Financial Adviser.

Postal Scams

Here are common types of postal scams you should be aware of and what to do if you spot them:

Lotteries and prize draws
You may receive a letter congratulating you on winning a cash prize. But you won’t receive any prize, and you may be asked to call a premium rate number or to pay fees to ‘release’ your prize.

Don’t respond to these letters, even if they look genuine. A genuine lottery won’t ever ask you to pay a fee to collect your winnings.

Psychics and clairvoyants
Psychics and clairvoyants may send a letter claiming to have seen something in your future and asking for money to disclose what it is. Sometimes the so-called clairvoyants co-ordinate with lottery and prize scams to give the impression that they are ‘predicting’ a piece of ‘good luck’.

Don’t respond – although the letter may look as if you’ve been specially chosen, this type of letter is sent out to millions and is a scam.

Pyramid schemes
Pyramid schemes can take the form of chain letters or investment schemes that offer profits for little or no risk. You may be encouraged to ask others to join, or told to send money to the person who has contacted you to receive your return on investment.

Don’t join the scheme – if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Pyramid schemes often involve overpriced products of no real value. You may receive a threat intended to scare you into responding, ignore these too.

Hard luck stories
With these types of stories, the fraudster may claim to have lost all of their money in unfortunate circumstances or that they need to pay for an operation, and will ask you for money.

These stories are fake. Don’t respond, even to say no, as this will encourage the fraudster to keep contacting you.

Unclaimed inheritance
You may receive a letter addressed to you, which tells you that someone has left you money in their will. These letters can refer to real law firms and even have seemingly genuine email addresses, postal addresses, or websites.

Always check with the Solicitors Regulation Authority as to the authenticity of such letters. They regularly receive reports of similar scams and post them on their website.

Advance fee fraud
You may receive a request to help transfer money out of another country in return for a substantial reward. Often the letter will appear to be from a Government official or lawyer.

Do not reply to the letter and never send your bank or personal details. Often these kinds of scam letters are badly written. If you see spelling mistakes and poor grammar, this is a good indication that it’s a scam.

Internet Scams

Basically almost every telephone or letter scam can be found on the internet. Emails and fake websites are common place. 

Many telephone and letter scams will attempt to get you to use the internet to provide details to seemingly official web pages. In the next edition we will look more closely at the world of internet based scams.

Keep Safe

There are a few simple rules to keep safe:
• If something seems too good to be true then it probably is 
• Stop and ask yourself
“Does this seem legitimate”
• Do not provide any information to someone who contacts you
• Validate callers by taking their details and then contacting their organisation
Do not use easy to guess simple passwords
• Do not pass your credit or debit card to anyone to use or swipe for you, they can easily steal your details.

If you have been the victim of this type of crime please ensure you report it to the Police. You may feel foolish to have been ‘duped’ but remember these scammers are duping people every single day, you are not alone and it isn’t your fault.