Guide: Avoiding scams
We’ve all read about scams that have resulted in large numbers of people losing money, from Ponzi schemes, to emails claiming to be from someone in dire need of help abroad and requesting immediate transfer of several thousand pounds. It’s easy to get caught out sometimes, but there are some simple steps you can take to give yourself a good chance of not falling foul of the scammers, whether they are online or offline.
What to avoid
- Sending cash to anyone that you don’t know. This could be someone you’ve met via a dating site who lives overseas or a company online that you have never heard of before. If you can’t establish the genuineness of the party you’re considering sending money to then don’t do it. When you’re shopping online try to use recognisable sellers or do some research online beforehand to see if anyone has complained about them.
- Responding to phishing. Unfortunately, phishing scams don’t say they’re phishing scams and so sometimes they can be a little difficult to spot. However, if you receive any kind of communication that is trying to get personal information from you this should be a warning sign. Messages could be in the form of emails, text messages or adverts but remember that most genuine companies or banks won’t ask you to click on a link in an email to enter your personal details. Always check the identity of a company or sender if you want to avoid phishing scams – if necessary call the bank or credit card company to make sure the correspondence is genuine.
- Believe in ‘sure thing’ investments. If there really was such a thing as a sure bet high return investment then everyone would be doing it, so when you’re being asked to invest in something that seems too good to be true remember it probably is. If you’re going to invest money then do this through a recognised investment channel and don’t get caught up in schemes that come to you through the internet, or even through friends or family, as this is where most of the problems arise. Even if someone doesn’t mean to get you involved in a scam, they can do so unwittingly, so save your cash for safer, more official investment opportunities.
- Fall for the ‘cash prize.’ We’d all like to believe that we are lucky enough to have been the unexpected recipient of a fantastic prize, or a large amount of cash, but in reality this very rarely happens. If post lands on your doormat that claims you’ve won a prize then try to remember whether or not you actually entered the competition – if you didn’t then this is likely to be a scam. If you think the message might be genuine then find out what you have to do to claim your prize – a genuine prize should be yours for the taking but if you have to hand over bank details, a cash sum or other personal information then most likely it is a scam rather than a genuine prize.
What to do
- Make sure you always know who you’re dealing with, especially when you’re transacting with an online business. Most should have a physical address and phone number and you can always call these to find out whether or not the business actually exists – if the number just brings up a dead tone then avoid at all costs. You can check the identity of a limited company on the website of Companies House – this isn’t confirmation of identity but will show you whether the company does exist (bear in mind it’s quite easy to set up a company so this should be only one of the checks you carry out).
- Keep an eye on your accounts. Sometimes scammers get away with it simply because we don’t notice that additional calls have been added to our phone bills or there are extra transactions on our credit cards. Monitor your bank account, credit cards and monthly statements for any service you use and make sure that your recognise all the activity on there as yours. If you don’t then take action straight away – call the bank or credit card company and report the fraud so that you can make sure the scammers can’t take anything more from you.
- Understand what a scam looks like. Most scams will have some element of pressure i.e. you must respond quickly so as not to miss out, and the offer is always unsolicited (i.e. they have approached you, rather than the other way around). There might be a free gift attached to it and you may also be asked to keep the offer confidential from other people (scammers fear word of mouth). Always be wary if you’re being asked to provide any kind of personal information, particularly information that relates to bank details – an unsolicited email, phone call or letter requesting this kind of data will almost always be a scam.
- Learn to say no. It’s amazing how direct mail, email or various online messages seem to sometimes arrive at exactly the moment that we might be vulnerable enough to respond to them. Often they are phrased in such a way as to be highly emotive, so as to make you act quickly to avoid the lingering feeling of guilt. Just learn to say no – there’s a fine line between the copy used in advertising and scamming, in terms of the emotional pressure that we are put under, but if it feels like you’re really being pushed then it’s most likely to be the latter. Advertisers will have to adhere to codes of conduct and so will be much more cautious about trying to emotionally bully you into giving money or responding to a plea for help than a genuine company or charity. The rule is always that same – no matter how much empathy you feel for the person or the cause, check it out before you hand over any cash and, if in doubt, just say no.