Scamming money out of people is a lucrative business for fraudsters but there are many ways to prevent yourself becoming a victim
Fancy a job where you bombard thousands of people in a matter of seconds, and if just one of them bites you net £2,000 or £3,000 pounds a day? That?s half a million quid a year. Tax-free.
Sounds too good to be true? Most scams are, yet reports in newspapers of people falling for them proliferate. And the rewards for stealing other people?s life savings run into millions, perhaps billions. We don?t know the true scale of fraud because many victims keep quiet out of embarrassment, wondering why they fell for a persuasive patter.
Typically they ask for details of your bank account or credit card, which the scammer uses to gain access to your cash; or you are urged to hand over money on the promise of great rewards to come; or they pose as officials and blind you with technological jargon.
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One recurring scam is the man claiming to be working for a company with Microsoft in its name who tells you your computer is sending out signals that malware has been installed. He is not from Microsoft and there is nothing wrong with your computer. If you agree to pay to have a non-existent fault put right he debits a large sum on your credit card ? far more than he said he would charge.
More sophisticated scammers have found ways to hack into email accounts so they can send apparently genuine messages asking for funds to be diverted into a bank account that they control. There has been a spate of cases where homebuyers sent deposits to what they thought was a new bank account set up by their solicitors.
There are recurring themes ? and ways to protect yourself from falling victim:
Never take the word of a complete stranger
Whether it?s someone on the phone, the internet or your doorstep, why should you believe anything said by someone you don?t know?
If a stranger rings you to tell you there is something wrong with your computer, or knocks on your door and says your roof needs fixing, decline their services politely and get someone you know and trust to take a look.
Scammers will tell you some scare story about your credit card being cloned or your bank account being raided in order to stop you from thinking clearly. In fact, if the police have arrested someone with your cloned card or the bank has spotted a fraudulent transaction being made, that?s a reason not to panic.
The caller is in effect saying that a fraudster has been prevented from robbing you. Therefore you don?t need to hand over your credit card to a motorcyclist courier or move money into another bank account.
Do not give information about your card or bank account to the stranger on the line. In particular, neither your bank nor the police will ever ask for a password or pin number.
Do ring the fraud department at your bank, but use a different phone line or wait for three minutes in case the scammer has kept the line open. And no, you can?t dial 999 and ask to speak to a specific police officer, so if you are told to do this it is blatantly a scam.
Scammers try to get you to act in haste because most scams have a fatal flaw if you only stop to think. Many people who have fallen for scams say afterwards how stupid they feel because with hindsight it was obvious.
For example, you get an email purporting to come from a friend stranded in a foreign country who has been robbed of cash, cards and passport. Or you are asked to send money to a bank account in that country and will be reimbursed when your friend gets home.
Ask yourself these questions: how can the friend send a message when his or her laptop has been stolen and they have no money to pay for a session at an internet cafe? How can they open a foreign bank account with no identification, or draw money from it? How do they buy an airline ticket abroad without a passport?
Don?t let greed get the better of you
How come someone out there can tell you that you have won millions on a lottery if you didn?t already know that you had won anything ? or hadn?t even bought a ticket?
Why is someone offering you shares in the next big thing, rather than ploughing their own money in?
Don?t get involved in anything blatantly illegal
If you agree to help in a dodgy scheme you are putting yourself at the mercy of someone who is openly willing to cheat. Don?t be surprised if you are the person who is cheated. And how are you going to complain to law enforcement agencies that you lost money trying to break the law, even if it was a foreign law?
Don?t pay anyone to collect money on your behalf
If you are genuinely entitled to something and hadn?t realised, then let the person giving you the good news and offering to help you take their cut from the cash once you have received it. If they say they can?t, then they can?t really help you.
Don?t throw good money after bad
If you have fallen for a scam and handed over money, resist the temptation to part with more cash in the hope that it will all come right. These people will keep taking until you have no money left.
Don?t carry out financial transactions on a public internet connection
Your messages can be intercepted and your email account hacked into.
Make a fuss
If you were a victim, you are not alone. Nor are you stupid ? many intelligent people, often successful in business, have been conned. Tell everyone you know about the scam and save others from the clutches of the fraudsters.
Rodney Hobson is author of The Book of Scams, published by Harriman House