The top 10 scams to know and avoid
Scams, rip-offs and frauds cost us a staggering £30 billion a year, according to National Fraud Authority estimates. Here we list some of the best-known ones - and some you may not be aware of - and show how you can protect yourself.
1. BOGUS TICKET SELLERS
Websites claiming to be official ticket vendors for sporting events and pop concerts often take your money and run, with no intention of ever sending you the tickets. Some fraudsters ask you to meet them in person outside the venue to pick up your tickets - but, of course, never show up.
You will be covered under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act if you pay by credit card, but this only applies to sales over £100.
2. THE PC SCAM
You get cold-called by fraudsters claiming to work for a legitimate computer company - often one of the big brands. They spin you a tale - for example, that your computer is riddled with viruses, endangering the network, and assure you they can help you get rid of the problem.
They direct you to a website in order to download software or change the settings on your computer (in order to give them remote access). The downloaded 'malware' will then search for your usernames, passwords and other security details so the fraudsters can access your bank account or credit card details.
If you think you've been scammed get in touch by leaving a comment below or emailing us on firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know exactly what has happened.
3. ONLINE DATING
The online dating scam or 'romance fraud' preys on people's vulnerability and loneliness.
Fraudsters - who may pose as men or women - will often claim they work abroad, in the army or on an oil rig, for example, to explain why they can't meet you in person and why their personal details are sketchy. Your stunning Estonian blonde could actually be a bearded West African fraudster.
Once they have won your trust, the requests for money start - usually to pay for a medical emergency or a flight. Once you've fallen for the scam and crossed the trust threshold, more payment demands usually follow.
4. ADVANCE-FEE FRAUD
This classic scam, often called '419 fraud' after section 419 of the Nigerian Penal Code, appears in many guises but all have the aim of enticing victims into paying smaller amounts upfront in the hope of winning vast riches later.
You're told you've won the jackpot in a lottery and need to pay £10, for example, in order to release the cash prize, or you're spun a line about some foreign dignitary in a troubled country who wants help to transfer millions from the country and needs payment upfront to establish your trustworthiness.
If you get sucked in, your details are likely to be sold on to other fraudsters.
5. THE BOILER ROOM SCAM
High-pressure telephone salesmen use a potent mix of friendliness, coaxing and bullying to sell worthless, overpriced or even totally fictitious shares to investors looking to make a quick killing. UK victims are estimated to lose around £200 million a year.
Even experienced investors are often made to believe - through flattery and suggestion - that they've been specifically chosen to benefit from this golden opportunity, and if they don't act now the chance will be lost.
6. THE RECOVERY ROOM SCAM
Sister to the boiler room scam, recovery room fraud targets victims who have already been defrauded.
The con artist poses as a reputable firm that will help you recover the money you've lost through share investment or property scams. For an upfront fee of typically £1,000 to £2,000, the firm pledges to take up your case and apply to bogus 'European compensation funds', or other plausible-sounding schemes.
To add a veneer of legitimacy, it will often claim to be linked to official bodies such as the Financial Services Authority or the police.
Unfortunately, you can then end up being bitten twice - often by the same bunch of shysters who ripped you off in the first place. Authorities estimate at least £5 million is lost each year through this especially pernicious type of fraud.
This recent scam involves fraudsters claiming to be wine experts who sell fine wine en primeur (that is, while it's still in the barrel). This is a legitimate way to invest in fine wines because well-known brands markedly increase in value once the vintage has been bottled and released to the general public.
Vintners will often keep the wine safe for you in their temperature-controlled warehouses, so you may never even see your investment for several years.
Such a scenario is perfect for fraudsters: money upfront and a two or three-year time lag before investors could expect to see their en primeur wine in the bottle.
8. PHISHING SCAM
The 'bank' then asks you to enter your security details, leaving you open to theft from your account and ID fraud.
9. ID FRAUD
ID fraud alone costs the country nearly £3 billion a year. Criminals purloin your security details through a variety of methods - online and offline - then steal money from your credit card or bank account, or buy goods and services using your money.
In the digital age, leaving your computer unprotected is akin to leaving your front door wide open and inviting thieves into your house. The rise of social networking sites has also given scammers more opportunities to glean personal data, which they then use to build up a plausible copy of your identity.
10. LANDBANKING AND OTHER PROPERTY SCAMS
In this scam, you're persuaded to buy a plot of undeveloped land, with assurances that planning permission will be granted, so you can then sell it on at a profit to developers.
But the 'property company' often doesn't even own the land or knows that it's unsuitable for development and planning permission would never be granted.
Other property scams involve high-pressure techniques to sell off-plan properties at supposed discounts, with promises of high rental incomes that never materialise.
Phishing scams are typically fraudulent email messages from seemingly legitimate sources (your internet service provider, mobile phone provider, bank etc). These messages usually direct you to a counterfeit website or ask you to divulge private information (password, PIN, credit card numbers, or other account updates), which is then used to commit identity theft.
An off-plan property is one sold to the buyer before it has actually been built and so the prospective buyer relies heavily on architect drawings, scale models and the assurances of the property developer in order to “see” what they’re buying. For investors or speculators, in a rising market, buying off-plan means you buy at this year’s prices and, when you take possession, the market value will have increased. The biggest risks with off-plan are the developer will go bust or not complete the project or that the market will fall and the completed property will be worth less that the agreed purchase price.
Used by the holder to buy goods and services, credit cards also have a monthly or annual spending limit, which may be raised or lowered depending on the creditworthiness of the cardholder. But unlike charge cards, borrowers aren’t forced to pay the balance off in full every month and, as long as they make a stated minimum payment, can carry a balance from one month to the next, generating compound interest. As the issuing company is effectively giving you a short-term loan, most credit cards have variable and relatively high interest rates. Allowing the interest to compound for too long may result in dire financial straits.
This is an umbrella term for an organisation, usually unlicensed by the financial authorities, which uses forceful, persistent and highly aggressive telephone sales techniques to sell unlisted or non-existent securities to private investors. In the majority of cases, the shares being sold are worthless and the boiler room vanishes, leaving the investor out of pocket. Although they boast impressive UK addresses, the firms operate from boiler room “hotspots”, such as Spain, Switzerland, Dubai, Japan, Bermuda or the US, so they are outside the remit of the Financial Services Authority.