There’s no getting away with the fact that there has been a huge increase in fraud over the last year.
Barclays have said 77% of scams they are seeing originate on social media, online marketplaces and dating apps. TSB also reported a huge spike in cases.
UK Finance, who represent the banking industry, reported that fraud losses in 2021 (the last figures available) totalled £1.3 billion with £1.4 billion in attempted fraud prevented.
Alarmingly, that’s just reported fraud. Stop Scams UK – the industry affiliated organisation dedicated to stopping the scammers – tell me that the actual figure is closer to £4 billion.
What’s particularly concerning is the increase in complaints about sites like Facebook marketplace where many fraudsters masquerade as legitimate retailers.
Or the rise of scams on WhatsApp, including the notorious “hi mum, hi dad” con. Scams using these two businesses alone make up a large number of the fraud cases that people contact me about each week.
So here’s my guide on the latest scams you need to watch out for – and I’ve also roped in my fellow TV expert and technology expert David McClelland to help you understand and avoid identity theft scams.
Have you fallen victim to a scam? Let us know: email@example.com
There’s a bit of an urban myth out there that suggests because WhatsApp is encrypted, it’s not possible to use it to commit fraud.
However, while hacking the service might be tricky, it’s not that difficult for an enterprising fraudster to hijack and account or impersonate one.
But most scams are typically low-tech and use tried and tested variations of scams that have been around for years. One of the most common at the moment is the “hi mum, hi dad” con.
You receive a message or call from an unknown number, purportedly from a friend or family member. This usually suggests that they have lost their phone and borrowed one (hence the unknown number).
Next you’ll be told about a potential emergency situation, in the hope you’ll transfer some cash over without thinking. This con is so successful and ubiquitous it even formed the basis of a recent episode of the Simpsons.
Remember, these scams work by putting you under pressure to respond without giving you time to think. So don’t transfer cash.
Remember – if a friend or family member really is in desperate need, they’ll borrow a phone and call you. Not send a WhatsApp or text message.
When you buy goods or services through an online marketplace, like eBay or Amazon, there is at least a dispute resolution centre for you to go through if there’s a problem with the person you bought from.
But some social media marketplaces muddy the water a bit. There are lots of complaints about “official” sites like Facebook marketplace, from fake listings to “groups” that pose as fan sites but are often there to lure you in to making purchases of fake or non-existent goods.
Facebook does have a Purchase Protection Policy for complaints about purchases from its marketplace, though I’ve heard mixed reports about some claims.
On top of all of that, many of the adverts on social media are often for firms based abroad who sell goods that are of… shall we say “variable” quality!’
The best way to avoid these scams is to do your research. Check to see if the firm is based in the UK in the first instance as this makes things easier to deal with if there is a problem.
Always check the contact details so you know that there is someone to speak to if something goes wrong.
Most important of all, only pay for goods by debit or credit card, or by an e-payments system like PayPal which can help you get your cash back if things go wrong.
Do not transfer money direct to the account of another person – chances are you won’t get it back.
PayPal friends and family
Speaking of which, some fraudsters are using PayPal’s “Friends and Family” option to get their hands on your cash.
This allows you to pay people you trust without incurring a fee. However, Friends and Family payments operate in a very similar way to a bank transfer.
Because you’re only supposed to use this method to pay people you know, you are not covered by PayPal’s buyer seller protection schemes.
Fraudsters exploit this by asking you to use Friends and Family when you purchase (fake) goods or services. When the items don’t turn up, you have no recourse through PayPal.
Every week I’m contacted by readers who tell me that they’ve been the victims of identity theft.
So I’ve asked my fellow TV expert and technology specialist, David McClelland, for his tips and advice on avoiding these scams and dealing with them.
Identity theft happens as a result of fraudsters getting enough information about you to impersonate you. This might be applying for a credit card in your name or hijacking your bank account.
David tells me: “The most frightening thing for many identity theft victims is that by the time they find out their identity has been stolen or cloned it may feel like it’s too late to do very much about it.”
But don’t worry – often there is a solution if you act when you discover the fraud.
Data breaches are one of the most common ways ID theft occurs. Alarmingly, almost every week businesses are hacked or allow our private information to get pinched through their own poor security.
It’s really hard to know which business leaked your info, but free websites like Have I been pwned? can help you check if your data has been compromised, like your email or phone. This is not definitive though.
Of course, sometimes we overshare our data on things like social media too (lock your profile and remove things like birthdays). Watch out for those “what kind of personality are you” tests.
These are often designed to harvest personal data. It’s estimated that two-thirds of all personal information comes from business leaks or social media.
Another big source of data theft is phishing, where scammers try to get us to click on links or trick us out of our passwords or bank details. However, there are public records too.
What to do if your identity has been stolen
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when your identity gets stolen. But businesses and official organisations are familiar with many patterns of fraud, so you might not have to fight as hard as you think when seeking help.
Most fraudulent activity is obvious and if you aren’t at fault, you should get your cash back.
Start off by writing down if the fraudsters have gained access to three key forms of data. Contact information (phone numbers, your address, email). Financial information (bank or credit card details, online payment systems).
Passwords, PIN codes and ID requirement information, like your first school or mother’s maiden name.
Next up, have a think about what the scammer is doing with that information.
For example, are they trying to get in to your bank or financial websites, using retail apps to go on a shopping spree, hijacking your email or social media/communications sites to ‘phish’ your friends or apply for new financial services like credit cards or phone contracts?
David has a great checklist to follow that tells you exactly what to do next:
- Firstly, tell your bank, card provider and other financial services about the problem. Go through your accounts and identify anything you have not authorised. They will explain the process and how they will prevent further fraudulent transactions.
- Change your passwords and enable ‘’two-factor authentication’ for any of the main online accounts you’ve identified that might have been compromised (email, banking, payment services, social media). You might want to use one of the online password manager services if you are worried about remembering this information. It’s much easier to use one of these than you think!
- Tell your friends, family and colleagues so they know your account may have been compromised and to ignore any questionable requests for help, money or links that might get sent.
- Notify Action Fraud and the police. Yes, they are overworked but if we don’t do this the scale of fraud goes unreported. It also ‘proves’ to the businesses that you are not faking it and genuinely have been defrauded.
- Contact credit reference agencies. There’s only three – Experian, Equifax and Transunion – so it’s dead easy to do this. You do not have to pay – reporting fraud is free. They can ‘disassociate’ you and your address from any fraudulent activity.
Martyn James is a leading consumer rights campaigner, TV and radio broadcaster and journalist.
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