It is an unfortunate fact of life that anyone can be targeted by a scam at any time, and in many cases the victim may not even realise that they have been targeted.
There are many different types of scams and they take many different forms. You can bet that if there is a way to make money by targeting the vulnerable and the elderly then criminals will find it; older and vulnerable people are seen as easy targets by criminals.
We all have our pride and don’t like to admit when we have been wronged. Many victims of scams don’t open up to those close to them because they fear being ridiculed or embarrassment; a perfectly understandable reaction. However, if you are a victim it is essential that you seek help and don’t try and brush the scam under the carpet. Although you may not recoup all of your losses you just might help prevent other people from becoming a victim.
So how does a scam happen?
Well, the short answer to this is in many ways. A scammer may approach you at home, contact you through the post, telephone you, or as is becoming more frequent, online by e-mail or by you inadvertently accessing a fake website. A scammer may try to befriend you, especially if you are older, single and have been using an internet dating website. You may unwittingly become the victim of identity theft or you may be targeted by those wishing to gain access to your money.
The charity Age UK have recently published a detailed guide Avoiding Scams, which gives invaluable advice on what to do if you are, or suspect you have been, the victim of a scam. In their guide they identify the seven main scams as being:
- Doorstep Scams
According to Trading Standards 85% of the victims of doorstep scams are aged 65 and over. Traditional doorstep scams include traders offering to fix your property, people masquerading as gas or electricity employees wanting to gain access to your home, or people asking to use your toilet or phone because they need help or feel unwell.
- Mail scams
These are usually letters or promotional material addressed to you that make fake claims, or offers, that are designed to con you out of your money. Regular ones are for foreign lotteries, or prize draws, that claim you have won some money, and that to claim your prize you need to either pay an administration fee, buy a product, or call a premium rate phone number.
- Phone scams
These are usually telephone calls from someone saying they are from your bank, or the police, advising you of the possible fraudulent use of your credit card, bank account or debit card. This is an attempt to gain information relating to your bank account so that the fraudsters can gain access to your cash. Other phone scams include sales or investment opportunities that seem too good to be true (that’s because they are), or calls about your computer saying you have a virus and advising you where to go to download software to fix it.
- E-mail and online scams
Things to watch out for include fake websites, any e-mails that you receive from abroad (usually from somebody who is stranded and in need of help and is asking you for money), and attachments to e-mails, especially if you don’t know or recognise the sender of the e-mail.
- Relationship scams
If you use a “dating” or a “friendship” website be careful. One of the things to watch out for is being asked for personal information early in the conversation. If you are asked for personal information or if you are asked to communicate by e-mail, text or phone (rather than through the website on which you met), then be on your guard.
- Identity theft
This is where personal information such as your name, date of birth or address is acquired and used by a criminal to commit fraudulent acts, such as buying goods and services in your name, taking out credit cards or loans, or gaining access to your bank accounts.
- Investment and pension scams
This is where you receive cold calls about your pensions or investments – the scammers are simply trying to gain access to your cash.
You may well think that you know about all of the above and that you would never fall victim to the scammers but criminals are finding ever more inventive and convincing ways of getting what they need; and remember they only need a few successes to make their efforts worthwhile.
It is important that you remain vigilant at all times and if you are unsure about something then make sure that you thoroughly check it out before going any further. There is plenty of help out there, but ultimately if you are unsure then say no or don’t proceed.
What if I’m a victim?
Well, the first thing to say is that if you are a victim of a scam then the worst thing you can do is to do nothing. This will only result in the fraudster getting away with what they have done and is free to pursue other victims.
By acting on your miss-fortune and reporting the scam you may well help to make sure that others don’t fall victim to the same fraud.
If the scam is financial then you must contact your bank or card provider immediately, and tell them how you have been affected. This will enable your bank or card provider to act quickly and prevent you losing more money. They may even have a chance of pursuing the fraudster.
You must also contact Action Fraud,the national reporting centre for fraud and internet crime. Their helpline is available for advice on preventing fraud and to tell you what to do if you fall a victim to it. You can call them on 0300 123 2040 or visit their website at www.actionfraud.police.uk.
You can order your free copy of the Age UK guide Avoiding Scams by calling their Advice Line on 0800 169 65 65.