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Scam warning as fraudsters seek to use economic crisis in schemes

Rip Off Britain: Scam victim on knowledgeable' fraudsters

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The public is being warned to beware fraudsters grooming people who are trying to stay afloat during the cost-of-living crisis. It comes after more than £600million was lost to fraud in the first half of this year.

Paul Maskall is Fraud and Cyber Crime Prevention Manager at the Dedicated Card and Payment Crime Unit (DCPCU).

The DCPCU was set up in 2002 as a fully operational police unit in a collaboration between UK Finance, the City of London Police and London’s Metropolitan Police.

He told Express.co.uk: “The biggest concern we have is criminals have always been particularly good at using societal contexts to their advantage, so when you’re expecting a text message, for instance parcel scammers will generally come in the run up to Christmas because we’re all getting notifications. We saw it through NHS Track and Trace, through Census fraud, vaccines, at quite a high level over the last two years.”

Mr Maskall explained how DCPCU is already seeing scams linked to energy rebates, uncertainty over the economy and the rising cost-of-living.

A UK Finance survey found 56 percent of participants said they are likely to seek opportunities to boost their incomes over the coming months because of the rising cost-of-living. It warns this could leave more people susceptible to fraud.

One in six Britons (16 percent) admitted they are more likely to respond to an unsolicited approach from someone offering an investment opportunity or loan, according to UK Finance.

Mr Maskall said in a stressful situation, people are more likely to click on a link or to be less savvy in spotting potential scams.

While older people are more vulnerable to scams and fraud, fraudsters target all ages.

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Younger people may have less to lose compared to older generations, but they can still fall foul of deals which are too good to be true.

On current scams targeting older people, Mr Maskell said fraudsters are impersonating authorities such as energy companies and councils offering council tax rebates.

He added: “In the first couple of minutes, [fraudsters] want to trigger some sort of emotion in you. Very often as well, they say you can trust us.”

Criminals will also target older people who are trying to find ways of making their financial investments do better.

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Mr Maskell said: “If you get an unsolicited call, or you see a promise of higher returns, you may be more inclined to try and take advantage of that offer and very often the offer isn’t there. The investment is potentially bogus. It may be you give the money, you may even get some small returns, but it then opens the door for larger investment. You may then invest further and the communication method disappears and the money’s gone.”

There are also scams involving adverts online or a text message offering a better rate on a loan which urge people to pay a fee up front to unlock the money.

Mr Maskell said agencies have seen a massive increase in fraud in the past year. Figures from UK Finance show £609.8million was lost due to fraud and scams in the first six months of this year.

He added: “We’ve seen massive increases across the spectrum over the last year. Although unauthorised transactions – money leaving your bank – have reduced by seven percent because of the good work the banks have been doing, the problem we are seeing is a 39 percent increase in Authorised Push Payment where you’re essentially taking the gun and shooting the bullet yourself.”

He continued: “A criminal will groom, manipulate and convince you they are who they say they are and they will engineer it so that you circumvent all the security controls the bank has put in place to protect you for you to then just directly transfer the money.”

While impersonation, payment in advance scams, investment and purchase fraud are still prevalent, the grooming of victims is a significant issue.

UK Finance warns criminals will be using similar tactics to those seen during the Covid pandemic with the expectation such crimes will increase during the cost-of-living crisis.

Authorised Push Payment can manifest as romance, holiday, purchase or investment scams, among others.

Approaches from scammers can be made by email or text message with those behind some frauds appearing to make a time limited offer to create a sense of urgency. Social media advertisements are another method used by fraudsters.

Mr Maskell said: “In any case of fraud and scams, criminals want to trigger an emotion in you – whether that’s hope, fear, anxiety, excitment – we don’t necessarily think when we’re emotional.

“You may be in a different frame of mind and not see the red flags. Because everybody is finding their accounds squeezed and trying to make ends meets, [criminals] can use this context against us.”

To help people stay safe, UK Finance is calling on the public to stop and think before parting with their money or information.

It also recommends challenging requests for money or personal details as well as contacting your bank as soon as you think you have fallen for a scam.

Companies offering loans are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority so if you are unsure if a company is legitimate UK Finance recommends checking the FCA’s register.

Some investments are not regulated by the FCA, including crypto currencies, though the regulator may be able to advise you.

Mr Maskell advised: “Do your due diligence.”

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