July is Scams Awareness Month

July is Scams Awareness Month, a campaign from Citizens Advice and Trading Standards aimed at improving our ability to stop and avoid scams.

Thousands of people fall for telephone scams each year.  And it’s not just vulnerable people who get caught out – professionals, professors and even bank managers have fallen prey to some of the tricks detailed below.

The Scams Awareness Month tag line this year is ‘Don’t be rushed, don’t be hushed’.

This is  particularly appropriate when it comes to telephone scams, people calling out of the blue offering investment opportunities with phenomenal returns, or calls to say your computer has a virus, when it doesn’t or of course the one we all know about the call from ‘your’ bank.

So, lets take a closer look at just how 10 common telephone scams work, and how to protect yourself.

1.  Investment scams

Many of us will at some time receive a phone call out of the blue from someone promising us a great way to make money.  Often it will be enticing you into investing in something exotic like wine, carbon credits or land in Brazil.

The deal on offer will sound fantastic.  You’ll be told that the investment is low risk, there’s no way it can loose.  And the returns will be unbelievable, far more impressive than anything you can get from your bank or even by sticking your money into a few FTSE 100 shares.

Of course, it will all be a con.  The callers are scammers, trying to get your to sign over your cash into an investment where the only winner will be them.

Citizens Advice reported that one person it spoke to was convinced to invest £100,000 wines, only to discover they were worth less than half that amount.

2. Pension Scams

One of the most common cold call topics at the moment are pension.  Thanks to the new pension freedoms over-55’s have far more control over what to do with their pension pots.  And that presents a massive opportunity for scammers.

Back in May, the Information Commissioner’s Office reported receiving more that 1,000 complaints about pension-related cold calls and texts this year already.

Beware, if someone calls you out of the blue offering to help you access to your pension particularly if you’re not yet 55, its going to be a scam.

3.  Computer virus phone scams

Some scammers will simply prey on your fears to con you out of your money.

For example, some scammers will call and tell you that you have a virus on your computer and that only they can help you remove it.  They will pretend to be from Microsoft or another big tech company, and talk you into downloading some form of software that allows the caller to access your computer, so that they can ‘remove the virus’.

They will almost certainly try to empty your bank account or spend on your credit card too.

4. Bank account scams

Scammers may also call and say that there has been a security breach on your bank account that they need to fix.  Of course, to do that they’ll need your account details, including your PIN.  Give these details and your account will be drained!
Or there is the courier scam.  You receive a call, supposedly from the police or your bank, stating that it has seen fraudulent payments on your card and it needs to be replaced.  A courier will be sent to collect your card and arrange for a new one.  By now they have your card, your name and your home address.
5.  Tax rebate scam
You will receive a call informing you that your are due a tax rebate.  You are then asked to divulge your bank card details over the phone so the money can be paid in to your account.  Of course the fraudsters plan is to take money from your account.  
If you are due a tax rebate, you will only every be contacted in writing by post.
6.  Telephone disconnection scams

Here the scammer will call posing as a representative of a major telecoms provider.  You will be told that your account is in arrears, or your telephone line needs digital upgrade work.  As a result, you will need to hand over your bank details to make a payment.  You’re then tricked into believing your phone line has temporarily been cut of – which leads you to think the call is genuine.  However, in reality the fraudster stays on the line with the ‘mute’ button on meaning you can’t make any calls.

7.  Spoof phone number scams

It is easy for scammers to buy ‘spoof’ phone numbers, which look like genuine UK telephone numbers, in order to give themselves more creditability.  One particular warning sign is if the caller tries to draw special attention to the name and number which appeared on the screen when your phone started ringing.

8.  Council Tax Scams

Bogus callers posing as council officials inform home owners that they’ve either paid too much or too little council tax due to their due to their homes being put into a new tax band.

During the scam, the victim is urged to hand over their bank details to ensure a refund can be made or to avoid a fine for late payment.  Of course, what actually happens is very different – the fraudsters empty the victims bank account and are never heard of again.  Local authorities have stated that no council would ever contact a resident in such a way and that all correspondence in such cases is written.

9.  Text Message Scams

A new scam is doing the rounds which trick victims into handing over bank security details through spoof text messages.  The text appears to be sent from the victims bank, claiming that the recipients account or account details need to be updated.

They encourage people to call a number or visit a website stating that the matter is urgent.  What the recipient doesn’t know is that the number or website is controlled by fraudsters, allowing them to steal security details which can then be used to access the recipients bank account to steal money.

Scammers use specialist software which alters the sender ID on the message so that it appears as the name of the victim’s bank, adding it to any existing message threads on the recipient’s phone.

10.  How to protect yourself

You should always be suspicious of any call out of the blue.  If an investment sounds too good to be true, then chances are it is.  If the caller says they are from your bank, don’t be afraid to hang up then call the bank directly to establish if the caller’s claims are genuine.

The person on the other line will be trying to hassle you into agreeing to whatever they want, whether that is investing in a diamond mine in South Africa or handing over remote access to your computer.  Don’t let them.  Always take your time.  Or just hang up, don’t get scammed because you didn’t want to be rude.

You could invest in a ‘nuisance calls blocker’ telephone and make sure you are signed up to the Telephone Preference Service.

And you should always report any attempted scam calls to Action Fraud.