Anyone can become a victim of a scam or fraud, even the most vigilant. Fraudsters use a wide range of methods to con people and evade detection. Many of these techniques are outlined in the 'Little Book of Big Scams' produced by the Metropolitan Police Service.
Here are some of the types of scams and frauds currently in operation.
Scams targeting individuals
Advance fee fraud cons you into making an upfront payment for a promise of money, goods or employment which simply never materialise. Victims can be contacted by post, phone, fax or email.
You may be told:
- you have won a large cash prize, but you must send a release fee in order for you to receive your money
- you will receive huge rewards if you help someone abroad to transfer money out of their country by paying fees or giving them your bank account or passport details
- you have been selected for a dream job, but have to pay for taxes, visas or other reason
If you receive these communications, hang up the phone, delete the email, bin the letter or fax.
Never make money transfers in these circumstances and don't enter into correspondence with the perpetrators. Once 'hooked', your details could be shared with or sold to other fraudsters.
This scam targets people shopping online, often during the busy festive season.
Fraudsters exploit a customer's readiness to sign for deliveries without checking the contents. Victims subsequently find the package empty or containing an item they didn't order, but run into problems when trying to dispute the transaction.
To avoid falling into the trap:
- check seller feedback when buying online and focus on the most recent comments; steer clear of anyone with a lot of negative feedback
- consider keeping a list of items ordered if your household is expecting a lot of deliveries; it can be difficult to keep track at busy times, say in the run-up to Christmas
- before signing for a package, consider opening and verifying it first, especially if you are in any doubt about what it is
You can sometimes spot tell-tale signs of scam emails by the generic greeting (e.g. Dear Customer) or poor grammar and spelling contained within them. But sometimes, they look very legitimate.
'Phishing' emails use addresses which have been forged or 'spoofed' from well-known companies. They contain realistic-looking details of an order and invite you to click on a link or open an attachment to find out more. But in doing so, you could be downloading malicious software (malware) onto your computer which could disrupt the operation of your computer or allow the fraudsters to extract passwords or other sensitive information from your accounts.
To avoid being conned:
- don't click on any attachments or links within emails unless you are certain you know who has sent them
- check the legitimacy of the email with the company it is supposed to have come from: don't use the number provided in the email, as it may go straight to the originators of the fraud
- make sure your anti-virus software is up-to-date and perform regular scans
If you have opened the attachment, be extra vigilant when logging on to your online bank account and consider having your machine checked by an expert.
A courier scam occurs when fraudsters phone and trick you into handing your credit or bank cards and PIN numbers to a courier on your doorstep. It usually targets the elderly or vulnerable.
A person claiming to be a police officer or from your bank will call to say they are investigating a fraud relating to your bank account. You may be asked for your account details, PIN numbers and other security information.
If you get suspicious and challenge the caller, you may be invited to hang up and check with the police or your bank to confirm identity. But the fraudster doesn't hang up so when you make the call, you are reconnected to the same people perpetrating the fraud.
You may be asked to withdraw large amounts of cash from your account, but not to tell the bank why as they might be involved in the fraud. Or you may be instructed to put your bank cards or money into an envelope and give them to a courier or taxi driver.
If you get such a call:
- hang up and wait at least five minutes before attempting to make another call to ensure you’re not reconnected to the offender, or use a different phone e.g a mobile or neighbour's phone
- never give your PIN, security or bank details to anyone over the phone
- never withdraw money and send it to anyone via a courier, taxi or by any other means
- never send your bank cards to anyone via courier, taxi or by any other means
Scams targeting businesses
With this type of fraud, letters are sent to a company's accounts departments.
It could be an invoice for an advert in a business directory or it could be a letter threatening legal action for non-payment of an ad. Often, the publication does not exist. Sometimes, a page from the directory listing your business may be included, but usually, it has simply been copied from a phone book. If a publication has been produced with a listing you haven't agreed to, you do not have to pay.
To reduce the risk of becoming a victim:
- don't pay for any unsolicited goods or services
- do alert your staff to these types of scams
- don't be threatened by any proposed legal action against you
Your business may receive a cold phone call from someone claiming to represent a charity or one of the emergency services. The fraudster will claim to be selling advert space in a diary, local business directory or other publication to raise money for a good cause. The ad will never appear or will be used in a publication irrelevant to your business. Or you may receive invoices or threatening letters from alleged debt collection agencies asking for payment.
If you are approached about one of these schemes:
- find out exactly what the organisation is and check if it is genuine
- demand details of who the publication is aimed at, where it is being distributed and how many people will receive it
- don't pay for any unsolicited goods or services
The most likely targets of this type of fraud are suppliers of goods that have a quick turnover and can easily be disposed of, such as electrical items, household goods, toys and foodstuff. It is often linked to organised crime groups.
The fraudster sets up a business, then obtains goods or stock which aren't paid for. The victim will be drawn in by an initial small order and possibly credit references or membership of trade or professional organisations. Trust is built up, then a larger order is placed, but never paid for and the bogus business disappears.
To reduce the risk:
- check the credit references given
- consider visiting the business premises
- be alert to any sudden increase in order size
Some fraudsters have exploited the lack of knowledge about new legislation regarding the recording, storage and use of personal information.
Letters are sent asking for a fee to make sure the company is 'data protection compliant'. The forms may look official, but are not sent by any government department and the notification or registration fee being demanded may be much greater than necessary. Many smaller businesses may not have to notify at all.