Updated on 19 May 2015.
This week alone I must have received at least ten emails from Nationwide and Abbey National urging me to 'renew my security certificate' or some other nonsense. I know it's nonsense because I don't bank with either of them. Doubtless if I had visited the website these emails asked me to visit, I would have been asked to input all manner of personal details, including my internet banking username and password.
Obviously it's a scam, someone, somewhere wants to siphon money out of my bank account. Now there's nothing new about this kind of crime - conmen have been around since the year dot - but the sheer quantity of fake emails hitting my junk folder got me thinking...
You'd think that hard economic times would be bad news for scammers as people keep their money close and treat every request for cash with suspicion - plus you'd think there would be less money to steal. Well, maybe not. It is equally possible that a recession actually presents an opportunity for scammers - if we are all worried about money, some might be more likely to be taken in by fake emails. It's easy to see why people might be taken in by an email telling them 'your money might not be safe, visit our website to make sure it is'. Even fake money making schemes might have a few extra takers. Let's face it your average scammer doesn't care how much 'disposable income' you have - as long as there is money in your account they'll be all too happy to help themselves.
The fact is that these schemes cost the UK a total of £1.3 billion every year (and rising), and the average victim loses a staggering £31,000. That's more than enough, I'm sure anyone would agree. So maybe it's time to remind ourselves of the most common scams and remember to avoid them like the plague:
If you receive an email from your bank asking you to visit a website, no matter how official it sounds, don't do it. If you are worried that it might be genuine and ignoring it could be costly, telephone your bank to check.
A reworking of the age old 'Spanish Prisoner' scam, these emails asking for a small amount of money in return for a small fortune may seem laughably amateurish, but people are taken in and the fraudsters do make money - otherwise they simply wouldn't keep doing it. Ignore it and don't be tempted to reply - even to give the sender a cyber dressing down
This is a new one. Essentially, someone hacks a Facebook account and then sends messages to all associated 'friends' asking for money to help in a dire emergency. Ask yourself if one of your real friends would ask you for money via a social networking site, or if they would give you a call. Don't take this kind of message at face value - check it out before you part with your cash.
Proof, if proof were needed that hackers are getting ever more cunning. In a recent case in the US, people were conned into downloading malicious software from a website address printed on fake parking tickets. The lesson is, if it is website you don't already know, download nothing before you check it out properly.
Not all money scams exist in cyberspace, as the telephone scam proves. OK, this one really is for the gullible, but it does pay to know how they work. In essence, you get an answer phone message or letter telling you that a fortune in lottery money (or some other such enticement) awaits if you will only call the following number. When you call, you get to listen to a loooong message and come away none the wiser. The scammer on the other hand is directing your call through a premium rate phone line and making a small fortune in the process - you won't know you've been ripped off until the phone bill arrives.
Given the horrible events unfolding in Australia, I'd expect a series of fake charity appeal emails to start doing to rounds quite quickly. Just remember that charities rarely ask for money by email, so if you want to give, ignore any emails you might receive and go direct to the charity of your choice. At least that way you know your money will end up going where you intended.
Another golden oldie, the petrol scam is a face to face job. Essentially, the scammer approaches you saying that they have run out of petrol. They ask to borrow anything from £5 to £25 for petrol, leaving their car keys with you as security. In most cases it turns out that there is no car, rendering those keys worthless and you're out of pocket to the tune of up to £25.
It could be that you've won an obscure overseas lottery that you didn't even enter, or that you've won a cruise, or someone offering you a 'too good to be true' credit card - but in every case, they will want a 'processing fee' up front before you get whatever it is you've won. Basically, if it seems too good to be true, it is.
Identity theft is so profitable that scammers are more than prepared to sift through rubbish looking for anything with useful personal details on - bank statements for instance. The plan is to use the details to 'steal your identity' - allowing them to either buy expensive items using your money (or simply steal it from your bank account) or, even worse, take out loans and such in your name (Not that you'd see the money). Just be careful what you throw in the bin.
So much for chip and PIN eh? If anyone thinks that the technology has stopped credit card fraud, just ask one of the 47.5 million TK Maxx customers whose credit card details were stolen from the company. It's almost impossible to prevent your details going astray in this way (short of boycotting all shops), so you just have to be vigilant when checking bank and credit card statements - if you see anything unusual contact your bank or credit card company immediately.
Written by Sally at money.co.uk
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