The rise of the scammer in the suit
More people are falling victim to scammers posing as professionals from financial and legal services. Such cons now account for a fifth of all scams reported to Citizens Advice’s Consumer Service, according to new data.
There was a 6% increase of these types of professional and financial scams reported to Citizens Advice’s Consumer Service this financial year. The median financial loss for all scams over this period was £330.
Citizens Advice and Trading Standards are sharing tips on how to avoid being scammed at events across the country in June as part of the government-backed campaign, Scams Awareness Month.
Investment scams in particular - such as cryptocurrency, binary option investments, holiday timeshares - are on the rise, as the number of cases reported to Citizens Advice doubled this year compared to last.
One former finance professional fell for a sophisticated clone investment scam, after investing £25,000 in a company she thought was legitimate. The scammer had set up a clone website in a regulated investment company’s name so it appeared legitimate. Citizens Advice helped her to report the scam to Action Fraud, her bank and the police.
One working mother turned to Citizens Advice after realising her cryptocurrency investment was a scam. She initially invested £500 in what she thought was Bitcoin and, after receiving daily calls about her growing investment, she continued to invest to a total of £40,000. Citizens Advice helped her take appropriate action.
Citizens Advice is urging anyone who thinks they may have been targeted by a scam to report it to authorities, through Action Fraud and the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06, or 03454 04 05 05 for Welsh language speakers.
Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:
“Fraudsters are using new technology to peddle old tricks, posing as trustworthy professionals with persuasive offers.
“Anyone can fall victim to these sophisticated scams, but all too often it’s the victim rather than the scammer who are left feeling sheepish. This isn’t right. So, this year we want to break down the stigma around these serious crimes, which are targeted across all levels of society, yet remain under-reported.
“Scams Awareness Month is a great reminder that we should all become familiar with the common signs of scams. People can take action and report any potential scams to the authorities so scammers aren’t walking away with your money in their bank account.”
Consumer Minister Andrew Griffiths said:
“Scams like these can have devastating financial and personal costs to those affected. Anyone can fall victim, young or old, which is why I am pleased to work with Citizens Advice to break the stigma and encourage people to speak up.
“The Government has been cracking down on these crimes. National Trading Standards have stopped over 8 million items of scam mail reaching UK customers in the past year alone.”
Martin Lewis is the founder of MoneySavingExpert.com. He is currently suing Facebook in a campaigning lawsuit to stop scam ads, as it has published over 1,000 in the last year with his face on. He says:
“Scam ads have exploded across social media platforms over the last year. They look extremely professional, and often use well-known faces to try and add legitimacy – the scum behind these ads are happy to target the vulnerable, unsuspecting, or trusting. But they are sophisticated, anyone can be caught out. Click through the ad, and the fakery doesn’t end there. You will often land on a page that looks like a newspaper article, or BBC report.
“Frankly we are getting close to the stage where you shouldn’t trust any advert on social media, or any automatically served advert. The policing and regulation of them is wholly inadequate. Things need to change. In the meantime, if you see something that intrigues you, independently find a legitimate trusted source that the advert hasn’t directed you to, to check whether the sales pitch is real or a trap.”
Leon Livermore, Chief Executive of Chartered Trading Standards Institute, said:
"It’s worrying that scam victims still feel reluctant to come forward and report the crime. Nobody should suffer in silence. It is therefore reassuring and heartening to know that devoted trading standards and consumer protection champions around the country are tirelessly working in the background in spite of resource cuts, to help raise awareness and drive down criminal behaviour.”
Lord Toby Harris, Chair of National Trading Standards, said:
“Scams Awareness Month is a timely reminder for everyone to be aware of the lengths criminals will go to when it comes to defrauding victims. Fraudsters do not discriminate and we are all potential targets - whether that is on the doorstep or online.
“Citizens Advice and National Trading Standards work hard all year round to protect all consumers from the devastating impact of scams. I would encourage anyone who believes they may be being scammed or who is worried about the legitimacy of a business to contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline number on 03454 04 05 06.”
Advice tips on how to avoid a scam:
Be suspicious if you’re contacted out of the blue, even if it’s from a name you recognise
Don’t be rushed – you never need to make a decision straight away
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is
Be wary if you’re asked to pay in an unusual way (such as vouchers)
Never send money to someone you have never met
Never give out your bank details unless you are certain you can trust the person contacting you
Walk away from job ads that ask for money in advance
Genuine computer firms do not make unsolicited phone calls to help you fix your computer
Suspect a scam? Hang up, wait five minutes to clear the line or use another phone to call
Persuasive sales patter? Just say: “No Thank You”
Don’t suffer in silence – speak out about scams
Types of scams:
Cryptocurrency - Fake websites claim to offer cryptocurrency investments, like Bitcoin. Often, scammers will pretend that household names have endorsed the company to give it some legitimacy
Binary options - Scammers pose as stockbrokers and get you to place bets on whether phoney shares will rise or fall within a certain date. They’ll promise big returns. You should check if they are on the FCA Register and not on the warning list of firms to avoid
Bogus solicitors - A scammer will intercept emails from a legitimate solicitor and pose as them. Scammers often strike when a property is being exchanged on and get the funds diverted to their bank account instead. Check if they are on the Solicitors Regulation Authority to see if they are genuine.
Holiday timeshares - Scammers promise to buy your membership off you for an advanced fee.
Notes to editors
The charity analysed 6,426 cases of scams from its Consumer Service helpline comparing available data from October 2016 to April 2017, to October 2017 to April 2018.
Scams Awareness Month is supported by the Consumer Protection Partnership. The CPP brings together key partners within the consumer landscape to better identify, prioritise and coordinate collective action to tackle detriment more effectively than they could through working in isolation.
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