Have you experienced the “Scamdemic?”

Date Published: 01/09/2021 20:27

Here, Future Life Wealth Management’s independent financial planner Emma Baumback and director of operations Keeley Woodcock argue that we need to be more aware of online scams - and do whatever we can to stamp them out...

Thanks to the lockdowns and Covid restrictions, all of us have become more reliant than ever before on online communication.

As a result, we have seen a rapid increase in phone and online scams over the past 17 months as scammers prey on new opportunities to take advantage.

We have all come a long away from the days when we used to receive an email from a royal relative of a far-away nation - with their sudden death resulting in one of us being identified as the sole heir of their £10m legacy.

Although some people still do fall victim to fraud of this nature, the old saying of “if it seems too good to be true then it probably is” protects the vast majority of us - more often than not.

Nonetheless, there’s a huge difference between frauds involving £2 million and those that involve £2.99.

While it’s hard to believe that we’ve been chosen to receive a share of a king’s fortune, it’s all too easy to believe the text message that appears to come from the Royal Mail.

They have been unable to deliver a parcel, there’s £2.99 to pay and all we need to do is click the link in order to make the payment.

After all, with the inexorable rise of online shopping, who isn’t waiting for a parcel?

According to the credit-reporting agency Credit Karma, more than half the people in the UK have been targeted by text scams since lockdown began.

Worryingly, a third of us have fallen for them and, with the average person receiving four scam messages a week, it’s only a question of time before we all fall victim.

Along with the Royal Mail, messages supposedly from PayPal are most likely to have caught us out, but criminals posing as the NHS and HMRC – saying you’ll shortly be arrested or commit a criminal offence if you don’t pay a tax bill immediately are also high on the list.

The official term for all this is Bulk Telephony-enabled Fraud (BTF). There are services allowing customers, legitimate and otherwise, to send up to 30,000 messages a minute.

Looking on one company’s website, the cost of sending 100,000 messages is just over 2p per message.

For the criminals it is purely a numbers game. With so many messages going out, some of them are bound to hit the target.

And while the average age for postal scams is 74, the age group most likely to fall victim to text scams are the under-35s.

It’s unlikely that this problem is going away any time soon.

All the above information begs the following question: “Why doesn’t the Government do something?”

The problem is that so many of these scams and frauds are based offshore.

While there are no fool-proof ways of protecting ourselves, we need to have a constant vigilance.

And caution and a healthy scepticism can also help.

When receiving a text message asking us to take action and pay - whether it includes a threat or not - stop and ask yourself these questions: 

  • Have I ordered a parcel?
  • Is there a tracking number elsewhere?
  • Did I pay delivery at the time?
  • Also take a close look at the link within the message.

Never automatically click it.

Take a look at whether it matches up with the link for the government website – there will usually be anomalies.

The long and short of it is that Royal Mail, Paypal and HMRC plus many others will never contact you by text, email or phone demanding money so if in doubt, contact the company and check.

Here are some additional tips to prevent scams:

  • Don’t open emails or attachments from someone you don’t know.
  • Your bank will never call you and ask for your PIN number or for you to give your card to a courier.
  • With doorstep callers remember: Stop, Lock, Chain, Check
  • Avoid pension scams by getting independent advice before making decisions.
  • Don’t believe letters or emails claiming you have won a fortune. If you haven’t entered a lottery or prize draw, you can’t have won it.
  • Don’t be embarrassed to hang up, say no, or ask someone to leave.

If you are unlucky enough to encounter a scam, please do report it to Action Fraud at the earliest opportunity. For additional consumer advice, make certain you head to Citizens Advice .

It's imperative that we're all more aware of online scams than ever before.

And it's equally important that we work together to stamp them out.

 

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