With one in 10 Which? members scammed in the past five years, we expose some of the ingenious ways that criminals are conning people out of their money.
UK consumers lose over £6 billion every year from scams. Which? has investigated the top scams and how you can avoid them.
Common scams included unsolicited correspondence, cold calls, fake lotteries, competitions and even extortion. Almost 30% of Which? members who have been scammed said they were caught out by schemes claiming their bank accounts or computers had been compromised.
The scams uncovered by Which? include:
> Banking scams: a call pretending to be from a person’s bank saying their account has been hacked, and a courier is being sent to collect their bank cards. They are told to ring their bank helpline, but the scammer doesn’t hang up and plays a dial tone. The victim, thinking they are talking to their bank, is then asked for their PIN number, before their cards are collected.
> Lottery scams: An email telling someone they have won $540,000 in a US lottery, even though they haven’t purchased a ticket, and asking for bank details to receive the prize. And an organisation calling itself the ‘International Monetary Fund’ promising an $8m windfall, if £960 is paid to release the funds.
> Security scams: a message claiming to be from the Metropolitan and Strathclyde Police saying that pornography has been detected on a person’s computer and they have to pay £100 to unlock it.
Fraudsters target victims through criminal syndicates who generate email lists, sometimes comprising up to 10 million names. Only a few responses are needed for the fraudsters to succeed. ‘Sucker lists’ are then compiled from the details of people who’ve responded to scams in the past and are therefore considered an easy target. The best way to avoid getting on these lists is by not responding to any unsolicited emails or calls.
Which? has compiled a checklist of seven ways to spot a scam.
It could be a con if:
1 You were contacted out of the blue;
2 The deal seems too good to be true;
3 You have been asked to give personal or financial details or pay an upfront fee;
4 You are under pressure to respond quickly;
5 The contact details are vague, for example a PO Box or premium rate number;
6 The correspondence contains glaring grammatical or spelling mistakes; or
7 You have been asked to keep the matter confidential.
Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said:
“Some scams are very sophisticated and tricky to spot but the golden rule is always if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
“Your personal and financial details are precious so if in doubt, double-check exactly who you are dealing with before giving anything away.”
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Notes to editors:
1 The total amount lost to individuals including ID theft, mass marketing and ‘other’ scams is estimated to be £6.1 billion a year. Source: National Fraud Authority ‘Annual Fraud Indicator 2012’
2 Which? surveyed 1,009 of its members between 11 and 14 June 2012 and investigated a number of scams over the last three months.
3 For a rip-off to be considered an offence under the Fraud Act, the perpetrator must intend to steal from their victim. If the provider is deliberately misleading or grossly negligent, they could be in breach of contract.