Consumers are losing more than £3.5 billion to fraudsters each year, the National Fraud Authority has announced.
In the last six months, the authority’s reporting centre, Action Fraud, has recorded 15,000 incidences of fraud, with individual losses ranging from £1 to £1 million.
But the likelihood is that there is far more fraud going on unreported.
Sarah Garrett, spokesperson for Action Fraud, says: “People feel very embarrassed if they become a victim of fraud. But that is why fraudsters are so clever. People feel they can't tell friends or family, seek help, or report it, but that just makes matters worse.”
The most commonly reported fraud in June was online shopping and auction fraud, with romance and dating fraud also featuring high on the list.
“With the advent of the internet, fraud incidences are now fairly evenly spread across the country. London has a slightly higher percentage, but many of the fraudsters are based abroad and mass market through emails, so it is a UK-wide problem,” says Garrett.
Another scam that made it into the top five most commonly reported, is advance fee fraud.
This is when somebody promises you a large financial gain in return for an upfront sum of money.
Typical formats include claiming you've won an obscure lottery, that an unknown relative has died leaving their estate to you, or that there is a trapped fortune you could get a share of if you help the fraudster to retrieve it.
Due to their ever-changing nature, fraud threats can be hard to keep on top of. But there are ways you can stay ahead of scammers:
1. If it sounds to good to be true it is
This is one of the oldest sayings in the book, but you really should trust your instinct. If something seems unbelievably good – you get told you're the next of kin to an extremely wealthy relative, for example - then question how plausible it is. Instantly delete any emails regarding the issue and blacklist the sender.
2. If you didn't enter, you can't have won
This is common sense, but it’s surprising how many people fall victim to the scam. If you know you haven’t bought a lottery ticket then you can be assured you haven’t hit the jackpot, no matter how tempting the prize is.
3. Do your research
If someone calls you with a tempting offer, give them a good grilling. Think of it this way – if a company is legitimate, it will not pressurise you or dodge your questions. However, even if the fraudster does have smooth answers up their sleeve, don’t commit to anything. Ask for a name and number you can call back, and then do some research on the company.
Check it has a professional looking website and see if it belongs to any relevant regulating bodies. Also ring the company directly and ask if it has a member of staff with the name you were given. If it doesn't, you know you have been targeted by a fraudster.
4. Guard your personal details
Once you have been targeted, it is highly likely you will be targeted again and the more personal details fraudsters have, the more convincing they will be when they target you in the future. Professional fraudsters might work for a large organisation or boiler room scam, which means you could be added to a suckers list. Legitimate companies will rarely cold call customers touting for business. The best way to deal with such approaches is to hang up immediately. Don’t let yourself be drawn into conversation with the scammer.
5. Report any fraud or attempted fraud to authorities
Don't stay silent. You might feel like burying your head in the sand, particularly if you’ve lost a significant sum of money. But this is the worst thing you can do. “If people don’t report these incidences, it makes it harder for us to raise awareness,” says Garrett. “We also provide intelligence to the police to help them crack down on fraudsters, so the more information we receive the better.”
If you’ve been targeted by a fraudster and lost money contact Action Fraud at actionfraud.org.uk or call 0300 123 2040.
Also, share your experiences in the comments box below.