The UK is experiencing something of a fraud epidemic if the latest figures are anything to go by.
Bank scam victims lost £207.5million in the first six months of this year as a total of 57,549 cases of ‘authorised push payment scams’ – where the victim is conned into transferring from their accounts to the fraudster – were recorded by banks.,
That’s a 69 per cent rise compared with the same period in 2018, according to trade body UK Finance. But only £39.3 million was refunded, with banks blaming victims for approving the payments.
Criminals are increasingly sophisticated in how they persuade people to hand over their money. But many scams follow similar patterns, meaning there are tell-tale signs in most initial contacts from fraudsters.
Here we break down some of the most common types of scams and the messages that precede them, so you know what to look out for.
Don’t pick up the phone: Text messages or calls from people claiming to be HMRC, Thomas Cook, your energy supplier or your bank could easily be a scam
This is when fraudsters pretend to come from a financial organisation by mimicking correspondence such as a genuine contact number.
This often takes the form of a query about a suspicious transaction, telling the target to call ‘fraud prevention’. Because the bank or other firm’s number is successfully spoofed, these texts often look like they’ve come from a legitimate bank number.
Because this is also something that banks actually do, as we reported in the case of a Metro Bank customer who lost £10,000 to smishing crooks, victims often fall for the bluff.
Text message scams often come from the spoofed number of your real bank, and usually query a suspicious purchase
When you call the number, fraudsters will then attempt to take you through security.
In the case we reported on, the victim was taken through security and asked to provide characters from his password and 12-digit security number, with the ‘bank’ telling them they’d cancel his card and send him a text message with a code authorising that cancellation.
Instead the fraudsters set up new payees to transfer money out of his account.
HMRC in particular have tried to clamp down on the practice of number spoofing, but it still abounds because it is relatively easy to do.
Two instant checks you can make is by checking the number you are told to phone matches the one on the back of your card, and then check your bank balance online to see your ‘available balance’ and see if it is minus the amount someone has supposedly just spent on your card.
If it is a fake message, then you can use a 7726 service, or 87726 if you’re on Vodafone, to forward messages to telecoms companies so they can block them. Most banks also have phishing email addresses that you can report these scams to.
Fake HMRC tax rebates
Everyone loves a tax refund right? Well, fraudsters know that too.
Victims are lured in with the promise of a tax refund, usually delivered by email.
More than 620,000 tax-related email scams were reported to HMRC last year, and students have been increasingly targeted in recent times, despite the fact that most will have never paid tax because they don’t earn enough.
One example of a fake tax refund email received by a former University of Kent student
HMRC only last week warned of a fresh wave of tax scams aimed at new university students. Often these fake emails come with ‘.ac.uk’ at the end of them, though this isn’t always the case.
Regardless of whether you’re at university or not, the advice is the same. HMRC don’t email you out of the blue to let you know about a tax refund.
And they certainly wouldn’t send you an email with a ‘start claim’ link or password-protected PDF document that encourages you to hand over your bank details.
You can forward suspect emails claiming to be from HMRC to firstname.lastname@example.org, and fake texts to 60599.
Another example of fraudulent email
Scam refund emails
Money Mail reported this week on how one British Gas customer was sent a phishing email letting them know they were due a £467 refund. Paul Henthorne, who received the email, described it as ‘one of the best phishing emails I think I’ve seen’.
Fraudsters are increasingly adept at copying the email formats of companies and stealing their logos, and using them to scam consumers with phishing emails.
One British Gas customer was sent a phishing email claiming to be from the energy supplier
Given the news this week, you should also be on the lookout for scammers offering you refunds on Thomas Cook flights or holidays in a bid to get hold of your card details.
It claimed he was eligible for a £467 refund due to overpayments, and the email used the right logo and fonts
Utility companies like British Gas would usually write to you to inform you you’re in line for a refund, though with the rise of smaller web-based suppliers more firms are using messaging to contact customers so it’s understandable that people are drawn in.
While these emails are usually very sophisticated, there can still be some giveaways. Sometimes they will address the email to your email address rather than your name.
Again, if you’re unsure about something, go to a firm’s website and look for their phishing address to forward the email to or call them up. If it turns out to be legitimate, there’s no harm done.
Fake savings products
People are offered best buy savings and Isa rates from fraudsters masquerading as legitimate financial institutions.
Readers have been offered four per cent fixed-rate bonds from ‘JP Morgan Chase’ and best buy savings rates by the supposed asset management arm of Dutch bank ABN Amro. In both cases the paperwork looked authoritative, featuring the logos of the legitimate institutions and details, including an FCA registration number in the case of the latter.
The ABN Amro scam was particularly crafty because while they claimed to be offering rates that beat rivals, they weren’t so good as to instantly arouse suspicion.
A This is Money reader was called directly by people purporting to be from Dutch bank ABN Amro, offering cash Isas with great rates
A one year fixed-rate savings bond of three per cent, for example, at a time when the top rate was 2.1 per cent.
Beyond the fact that banks wouldn’t usually hawk you savings products by email, there are some other things you can do to check.
Go to the institution’s website and look at the relevant products pages – if the account or bond exists it will be there somewhere.
If the firm’s paperwork contains an FCA registration number, go to the FCA’s register and input that number to see if it matches up.
The authoritative looking documents detailed full terms and conditions and even an FCA registration number – though the phone number wasn’t ABN’s and the registration number linked to the bank’s Luxembourg subsidiary, which was sold to BNP Paribas last year
In the case of the ABN Amro scam, the registration number on its documents took you to the Luxembourg branch of the bank, which had been sold to BNP Paribas last year. The name ABN Amro Asset Management didn’t crop up anywhere.
Alternatively, find the actual number of the bank in question and ask to speak to their fraud team to see if they are aware of anything like this, or whether the promotion in question is true.
‘Get rich quick’ social media scams
One scam reported to digital bank Mozno showed a stack of £20 notes with a message asking interested users to get in touch
Instagram is all about the fear of missing out, so online get rich scams that try to entice people in with displays of wealth are fairly commonplace.
They can take many forms, from cryptocurrency investments to forex trading, but they usually follow a similar template. Users interested in making money are encouraged to message a scammer in return for a quick return.
In February, fraud reporting website Action Fraud released a report that found between October 2018 and February 2019 it had received 356 reports of Instagram scams where victims lost a collective £3.16million.
Action Fraud’s Paul Carroll advised users never to respond to any requests to send money to someone you don’t know, and to ask for the name of the company you are being asked to invest in and check it against the FCA register.
And of course, if something sounds too good to be true, especially if its cloaked in jargon you don’t understand, it almost certainly is.
Money mules are recruited with promises of making easy money in return for simply accepting deposits into their bank account and then forwarding it on somewhere else.
The victim will effectively be laundering money.
The money has usually been defrauded from someone else, perhaps in one of the scams mentioned above, and because you’re aiding a perpetrator, you could be prosecuted.
Younger social media users are frequently recruited as money mules with the prospect of making easy money
The number of money mules, according to fraud reporting service Cifas, rose 26 per cent last year to 40,139, nearly half of whom were under 25. According to figures released by Barclays, the number of under-21s enlisted as money mules rose to just over 6,000 between 2016 and 2018.
Like get rich quick scams, younger people are frequently recruited on social media or messaging apps and roped in with images of wealth.
Cifas said: ‘On many of these pages there will be images or videos designed to lure in potential mules by showing individuals flashing lots of cash, high-end trainers or other luxury items.’
Beware of hashtags on social media like #Moneyflipsuk, #legitmoneyflips, #PayPalFlip and #EasyMoney, job offers for ‘money transfer agents’ or ‘local processors’ and refund requests after ‘mistaken overpayments’ in particular, as it could all point to money laundering.
And of course, never accept money from people you don’t know.
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