A ‘scam’ is a slang term used to mean personal fraud. This usually comes in the form of a communication that convinces us to part with our money, to claim a reward, or help someone in trouble.
We’ve all been affected by a scam at some point in our life, though fortunately most of us do not respond. However, what might obviously be a scam to one person, may seem like a perfectly genuine communication to another. It’s a huge problem. In fact, an estimated £10 billion is lost each year in the UK by scam victims, with older people and those with mental health issues the most vulnerable to being scammed.
It is critically important to educate yourself and those around you (particularly vulnerable people) about what to look for and what to do if you fall victim to a financial scam.
Scams come in all shapes and sizes, by email, by post, and sometimes even in person. In addition to the infamous Nigerian Prince scam, there are several other common themes to look out for:
You will receive a letter (by post or email) informing you that you’ve won a cash prize and that you need to call a number to claim it. This number is a very high rate premium line. No genuine lottery or prize draw will charge you to receive a prize.
These scams can look fairly sophisticated, using the names and addresses of real law firms. If you are told you have been left some money in a Will, look up the law firm’s real telephone number online and telephone them that way.
These letters will usually be in a friendly but pleading tone, asking for money to help the sender get through a difficult situation. It could be a member of their family having an operation, or loan sharks threatening their lives, or a similar tale that invokes sympathy from the reader.
If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Offers of no-risk investments or buying products that are guaranteed to sell at a profit, are usually pyramid schemes and will simply result in you losing your money.
These scams from so-called clairvoyants offer apparent information about your future and, of course, you must pay to receive this information. You will either have to call a premium rate telephone number or send money.
It’s a good idea to minimise the possibility of being scammed by taking the following actions:
Do not put your email address into unknown websites, they may sell your data on to scammers
Join the Royal Mail’s Mail Preference Service
Put a ‘no junk mail’ sign on your door
Be careful when disposing of confidential documents
Ensure online sites you use are reputable and secure
Remember, as before; if it seems too good to be true, it most likely is.
First things first – do not be embarrassed. Scams are clever and are constantly evolving to better fool people. You’re not the first to be scammed, and you certainly will not be the last. Take the right action and you can prevent this from happening to someone else.
Gather all of the information together to form evidence should you need it. Keep copies of letters and records of phone calls, along with any names, numbers or addresses involved.
Contact Action Fraud, a facility set up by police to help people and businesses who have been scammed, and report what’s happened to you. The Friends Against Scammers and Scam Marshals network are National Trading Standards Scams Team initiatives – they have lots of advice, and you can sign up to try and prevent scammers from continuing to operate. You can also seek legal advice to check if the scammers have potentially broken the law.
The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.