Top 10 scams to watch out for this summer
Protect yourself from the fraudsters who have 'never had it so good', and who cost Britons £38bn a year. Alison Shepherd lists the cons to watch out for
Sunday 26 June 2011
From boiler rooms to bogus Syrian protesters looking to use your account to launder money, the financial fraudsters have never been as active.
Fraud in all its guises costs Britons more than £38bn a year, according to the latest police estimates, and following a warning from trading standards officers last week that conmen preying on the unsuspecting "have never had it so good", now is the time to ensure that you protect yourself from unscrupulous, smooth-talking salespeople.
To help you be on your guard, here are our top 10 scams to watch out for this summer.
1. Online shopping and auctions
Fake luxury-brand websites attract more than 120 million visitors a year, according to Brand-i.org, a website created to help consumers search for legitimate online stockists of their favourite designer brands.
"These fraudsters use every trick in the book to lure their victims online. They tout their wares via professional-looking, flashy sites, offering designer perfumes at tempting prices," says Detective Superintendent Tony Crampton, director of the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB). "However, there can be 'tell-tale' signs that all is not as it seems. Customers should check the http address has 's' at the end, or that there is a small padlock in the browser window indicating it's secure. Most fraudulent sites will not show either."
Auction sites can be a minefield for buyers – who receive counterfeit goods, or nothing at all – and sellers, who send out goods to those who have used stolen credit cards.
2. Fake tickets
The arrest earlier this month of a man alleged to have sold thousands of fake tickets via a website to Take That fans desperate to see the Progress Tour, highlights how easy it can be to allow emotions to cloud common sense. And the police fear that with the music festival season under way, and 2012 Olympics tickets so hard to come by, ticketing fraud run by organised crime gangs is only likely to increase.
"There is a big element of self-responsibility," says Det Supt Crampton. "Don't try to convince yourself that someone is selling genuine tickets when all the reputable distributors say the event is sold out."
If you just can't resist, paying with a credit card could get your money back if your tickets don't appear.
Visit getsafeonline.org for more advice on avoiding scams.
3. Tax credits
Criminals have noticed the deadline for renewing tax credits is 31 July, and have contacted more than 46,000 families by email claiming to be from HMRC. HMRC says it has closed 150 fraudulent websites since April, but as one closes another one or two spring into life. The emails suggest people are due a refund, and direct them to a clone of the HMRC website, where they enter their bank details to receive the "refund".
But the con is easily avoided: "We only ever contact customers who are due a tax refund in writing by post. We never use telephone calls or email," says Joan Wood, director of HMRC online and digital.
4. Electricity meter top-ups
This is a relatively new fraud targeting people who have fallen on hard times, and is being treated as a high priority by Det Supt Crampton's team. Conmen offer to top up the household's electricity meter with a forged master key by £50, in exchange for £25. But when the householders next use their legitimate key, the system recognises that the previous top ups were illegal and will charge for the missed payments.
5. Online dating
The NFIB is correlating all the intelligence in its supercomputer on reports of the lovelorn being conned by those pretending to be soulmates, who would love to have a face to face meeting, only they can't afford the fare. Or have a sick child and can't afford the medical bills, or, well, you get the picture. "It is early days yet," says Det Supt Crampton, "but it appears that the most common victims of such scams are aged over 50".
The advice from ActionFraud.org.uk, the website set up by the Government to receive all scam reports, is to break off all contact immediately, report the fraudster to the website, and do not send any money.
6. Debt management
Another attack on those suffering most during the economic squeeze. The scammer will try to extract an exorbitant fee for what turns out to be a fake debt-management service. Or they may simply be after your bank details to plunder your account.
The Office of Fair Trading has launched a three-month consultation on guidelines for the multibillion-pound debt-management industry. But for now, if you need debt advice, try the legitimate and free Consumer Credit Counselling Service or the Citizens Advice Bureau.
7. Advance fees
These scams take a myriad of forms from guaranteeing a new job, equipment to set up a business from home, or even "clairvoyants" promising good news.
The best way to avoid being suckered, says Peter Chue of Action Fraud, "is to check if the scheme operators give contact details that include mobile phone numbers beginning with 07, or email addresses such as @yahoo or @hotmail. Genuine businesses do not use them.
"If you do respond to these emails or letters you might find your personal details sold on to other scammers."
This form of scam, where the conmen try to garner your bank details with a sob story or by pretending to be your bank, has been around as long as the internet. The criminals are masters at picking a topical world event and creating a plausible tale: the Nigerian general has over the years become an Egyptian or Syrian protester.
"The villains have become more believable and sophisticated over the years," says Det Supt Crampton. "But the advice remains the same. Ask yourself 'why has this come to me?'. And check all the website addresses you may be linked to very carefully. It may look like your bank's address but it will vary by as little as a single character."
Susan Marks, from the Citizens Advice Bureau, just adds: "Never give out your bank details in an email. All they will do is empty your account."
9. Premium phone numbers
Ever received a text or email telling you that you have won a prize draw, or that you have a secret admirer and all you have to do is ring a number?
Hopefully, you will have been wise enough to delete, because phoning that number will cost you dear, while the fraudster pockets thousands. "Never ring a premium rate number, it will cost you much more than any prize. Premium rate numbers start with 090, but watch out when calling abroad, too, if international numbers don't start with 00, then it's premium rate," says Ms Marks.
10. Boiler rooms
The first clue that you are not on the verge of sealing the deal of the century, whether in shares, wine or land, is that fact that the salesperson has called out of the blue. "Be wary of any cold call whether it's by phone, text, email or letter," says Ms Marks.
Often in these scams you will receive nothing at all for the hundreds or thousands of pounds that you have "invested". At other times you will receive worthless pieces of paper claiming to be share certificates, or the deeds to land in a green-belt area, without the promised planning permission. Or even bottles of wine, but they will not be from the vineyard or of the vintage claimed, with counterfeit labels.
"Don't allow yourself to be rushed into a decision," says Ms Marks. "Stop, think and think again. Get advice. A reputable firm will give you time.
"The message is: if anyone offers you anything that looks too good to be true, it generally is. And if you have been scammed, be part of the solution, and report it to the police or Action Fraud."
Five Questions On: Pensions advice
Problem gambling: Amid heavy advertising and a surge in remote sports betting, more and more 16 to 24-year-olds are now seen as 'at risk'
Simon Read: Retirement advice is good - if it's impartial
The HiFX guide to managing corporate foreign exchange and international payments
Bank-beating exchange rates on your international payments
- 1 Is Gideon Levy the most hated man in Israel or just the most heroic?
- 2 Students offered grants if they tweet pro-Israeli propaganda
- 3 Satellite full of sexually experimental geckos adrift in space, Russia loses control of mission
- 4 Exclusive: Cameron’s Big Society in tatters as charity watchdog launches investigation into claims of Government funding misuse
- 5 Israel has discovered that it's no longer so easy to get away with murder in the age of social media
The 'scroungers’ fight back: The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Arizona execution lasts two hours as killer Joseph Wood left 'snorting and gasping' for air
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Ukrainian military jet was flying close to passenger plane before it was shot down, says Russian officer
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Massive rise in sale of British arms to Russia
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: victims’ bodies bundled in black bags and loaded onto trains
John Barrowman praised for Commonwealth Games opening ceremony gay kiss
iJobs Money & Business
£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...
£18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: SThree, International Recruitme...
£280 - £300 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Test Analyst, Edinburgh, Credit Ris...
£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...
Day In a Page
A three-bedroom 16th-century home with an aga kitchen, private gardens and heated outdoor pool, in Hadleigh
A three-bedrom home in sought-after Queen's Gate Mews, with Italian marble-finished bathrooms
Surrounded by glorious countryside in the village of Udimore, sits this impressive four-kiln oast and barn conversion
A five-bedroom house in the picturesque village of Kettlewell, north Yorkshire
An 18th-century former coaching inn with original staircase, open fireplaces and beams throughout
A Grade II-listed Georgian town house with three bedrooms and a south-facing courtyard, near Arundel Castle
Feel on top of the world at this über chic penthouse on the 37th floor of one of Europe’s tallest blocks.
A Grade II-listed Victorian villa with six bedrooms and two further cottages, all with spectacular sea views
A grade II-listed, Georgian cottage with mature 50ft garden, perfect for summer entertaining
A magnificent Georgian pile with turrets, seven bedrooms, a heated pool and four acres of gardens
Fairoak Farm has five bedroom suites, gym, outdoor swimming pool and golf course
Chic two-bedroom river-fronted flat with a private lift that delivers you directly to your home
A spectacular seven-bedroom Tudor pile, once owned by Henry VIII, with 18 acres of land
A seven-bedroom Georgian property previously used as a picturesque wedding venue
A split-level flat in a church conversion with two en suite bedrooms and 1,200sq ft of living space
A three-bedroom bungalow situated behind an impressive stone wall, £645,000
Windsor Castle overlooks this three-bedroom Victorian cottage located on one of Windsor's smartest roads
Chapel House is a former vicarage with nine bedrooms in the beautiful Upper Wye Valley
A five-bedroom B&B and separate owner's accomodation with potential for conversion
Enjoy summer by the Thames in this two double-bedroom converted warehouse in Rotherhithe village
A one-bedroom, luxury apartment with private gym and concierge service in Moorgate
A four-bedroom house in Hermitage Gardens with three reception rooms and landscaped gardens
A seven-bedroom Grade II-listed property with a separate self-contained apartment
A five-bedroom Victorian house with three reception rooms and galleried landing, £695,000
A six-bedroom farmhouse with five acres of land in a former cloth-making village
A secluded seven-bedroom detached house with large private garden, £490,000
A three-bedroom cottage overlooking Sarratt village green with open fires and solid oak floors
A three-bedroom maisonette flat in a Grade I-listed, Georgian townhouse in a sought-after location
A one-bedroom apartment located within a private gated development, north of Turnham Green
Look forward to a brighter future at two-bedroom Sunny Cottages, ideal for Londoners looking to downsize
A three-bedroom red-brick cottage with outbuildings and pretty gardens, £200,000
This three-bedroom flat within a former textile factory spans the corner of the fourth floor and has a balcony
A charming four-bedroom Oxfordshire cottage with oak floors and chunky-beamed ceilings, £465,000
A beautiful one-bed flat in a sought-after portered block, with access to Norland Square communal gardens
A one-bedroom flat within a Sixties school conversion with high-spec design and open-plan kitchen, close to Lambeth North Tube, £435,000
A 17th century four-bedroom house, with open fireplaces, cellar and pool, £600,000
A three-bedroom, coach house with luxury open-plan living space and contemporary breakfast bar