Five scams to watch out for

14 April 2010

Fraudsters are thinking of new and innovative ways to steal people’s identities and persuade them to part with their cash.

Phishing emails, dodgy Tweets, fake charities and phantom flat transfers are among the new ID scams that have recently been uncovered.

Credit reference agency Equifax says a recessionary climate signals new opportunities for criminals.

“As quick as expert organisations and the crime prevention agencies are trying to tackle the latest scams, new frauds are being invented,” says Equifax external affairs director Neil Munroe.

“And at the moment it seems that identity fraud and theft is particularly appealing to the fraudsters,” he says.

So how do the new scams work and how can you avoid them?

1. Phantom flat transfers

In this scam potential tenants are being targeted by fake landlords. When they ask to view a property they’re asked to provide a “proof of funds” by transfer of money into a friend’s account. The “landlord” then asks to see the money transfer receipt and uses the number on the receipt to gain access to the money at the transfer agency.

Legitimate landlords and letting agencies won’t ask to see proof of funds but they will run a credit check to check potential tenants can afford the rent.

2. Fake charities

Since the Haiti earthquake there have been a raft of websites set up which claim to collect money for charity but are actually fakes run by criminals.

If you want to give to the Haiti appeal, or any other cause, make sure you use a recognised charity.

3. Twitter

Energy secretary, Ed Miliband, fell victim to a Twitter scam whereby fraudsters accessed his account and posted Tweets under his name linking to dodgy websites. When people responded to the Tweets, they too had their accounts hacked into.

To keep safe on social networking sites, be careful when opening messages or emails from unknown senders or directing you to websites that you don’t recognise.

4. Email phishing

Phishing emails involve a fake email from a well-known website such as a bank or Hotmail requesting “security updates” and asking you to confirm your username and passwords. But once the fraudsters have this information they can access your account.

Banks and other websites won’t email you asking for your password so delete any emails that do.

5. Identity theft of the deceased

A disturbing kind of identity theft is that of the identity of someone who has died. In one case a criminal gang was arrested for stealing the identity of a baby that had died 16 years ago, with his birth certificate being used to defraud more than £20,000.

There are a number of things you can do to protect yourself against ID fraud:

First check your credit report with one of the three credit reference agencies; Equifax, Experian or CallCredit. By law all credit agencies are required to provide you with a one-off copy of your credit report for £2. However, you can also purchase additional products that allow you unlimited viewings of your rating online.

* Experian offers a 30-day free trial of CreditExpert, which allows you unlimited access to your report online.

* Equifax charges £11.95 for a copy of your report.

* CallCredit charges £9.95 for a one-off online copy of your report, or £8.95 for unlimited access to quarterly updates.

Secondly, never give out your personal details on the phone or by email until you know exactly who you are dealing with and that they are from a legitimate organisation.

Also avoid telling anybody your PIN or passwords and keep them secure. Use different PINs and passwords for different cards and accounts.

Make sure you dispose properly of any bills or bank statements with your account details on after checking them for any unusual activity.

Finally, ensure you log out properly when using any online banking, so that your details aren’t visible to anyone else who logs on after you.

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