How do most scams begin? Not with some complicated sting from the likes of George Clooney and his mates in Ocean's Eleven, but with a simple cold call. When finding a victim, the phone is a crook's most valuable tool. And it's used to hook you in with some clever trick.
Analysis of 20,000 scam cases from the past year revealed that two in five began with cold calls. And, tellingly, more than half of the scams seen by Citizens Advice targeted the over-55s.
The charity, with support from Trading Standards, has launched Scams Awareness Month. It's an important initiative, as becoming the victim of a scam is heartbreaking and villains are increasingly deceiving vulnerable people.
Scams thrive on silence, with con artists pressurising people into buying straight away and then not telling anyone about the deal. Yet if people did talk, and report what had happened, it would stop the crooks getting away with it and help others to avoid being caught out.
If you spot a fraud or think you may have been scammed, call Citizens Advice on 03454 040506.
How can you spot one? If you're contacted out of the blue on the phone with a "great" offer, it's almost certainly a scam. If it's a "one-time only" deal, it's almost certainly a scam too. Take callers' details and check them out.
If they say they're calling from a bank, be highly suspicious and call back on a different phone line. That will stop the crooks who hang on the line to trick you into believing they're genuine.
Meanwhile, fraudsters are targeting people claiming tax credits, says HM Revenue and Customs. It had nearly 51,000 "phishing" emails reported to it between April and July 2014 – double the number for the same period tin he previous year. Messages claim to be from a "tax credit office agent" and offer a tax refund, or include a link to a dodgy version of the gov.uk website. But they're all bogus. HMRC has tips on how to spot scam emails at gov.uk/dealing-with-hmrc/phishing-scams.
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