SAM BARKER: What no one tells you about being scammed

30 June 2020

I thought I knew a lot about fraud, but nothing could prepare me for actually be scammed – especially not three times in one day

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As a financial journalist I have written untold numbers of stories on fraud and scams. I’ve sat in courtrooms up and down the country reporting on fraud trials, I’ve been out with police forces when they kick down scammers’ doors at four in the morning.

In other words, I take a professional interest. But the one thing I had never experienced is the personal side of it – what it’s like to actually be defrauded.

That is, until recently. A few weeks ago, I checked my postbox only to find it unusually full of letters. Sadly, this was not due to a secret admirer or NS&I telling me I’d won a prize on the Premium Bonds.

Instead I had letters from three banks, none of which I banked with. The letters were all congratulating me on having been successful in setting up a credit or debit card, and two of the letters contained said cards.

Straight away I knew this was a deliberate fraud. The way it works is a scammer manages to find out enough information about you to convince a bank they are you.

They then apply for credit and debit cards in your name, which are sent to your home address.

A key part of this scam is something utterly mundane – what sort of postbox you have. The fraudster needs to intercept the cards before you do, which means they need to scam people with an outside postbox they can steal the cards from.

As a result, these frauds tend to happen to residents of blocks of flats with external postboxes and to country homes with isolated ones at the end of a long drive.

If successful, the fraudster goes on a spending spree with the cards, while you are none the wiser. I had inadvertently foiled the scam by getting to the letters before the fraudsters did.

When we think about scams, we tend to focus on financial loss. Quite rightly, as the sums involved can be life-changing for the victim. Fortunately, I have lost no money as a result of this and consider myself very lucky. But I was unprepared for the other aspects of being scammed that no one tells you about.

First, being defrauded meant going through a wide palette of emotions, ranging from worry  and doubt to boredom.

The worry came first. I didn’t know if I would lose money or how many more frauds might occur.

But boredom quickly followed. Being scammed means calling each bank and talking to its fraud team, which then takes on the case.

But these calls can take more than an hour each, which quickly becomes a chore. I also have to say the staff at one bank’s fraud team could not have been less interested, while others were a picture of kindness and competence.

Doubt is also part of the mix. One fraud team call handler asked me if I knew anyone who might have done this deliberately as a form of revenge.

What a question! It is not a nice thought, though I think this fraud attack was random.

There was an element of fear too. The postbox in question is by the one door in and out of the flat. If the scammer comes round, there is a good chance I could bump into them leaving my building – not an interaction I would relish.

Second, fraud has a serious impact on your credit score. Mine has fallen 300 points, from ‘excellent’ to ‘poor’, as a result of this.

The banks assure me this is temporary and that my credit score will bounce back once they have sorted the situation out.

But three weeks on from the incident and nothing has happened. If I were to apply for any sort of loan, perhaps as a result of a financial emergency, this would scupper my chances of a decent deal.

I have interviewed many fraud victims, who commonly say they feel shame that they were caught out. They also felt that there was a stigma against talking about it too widely.

I always tell them that there is nothing shameful about being tricked by fraudsters, most of whom are extremely good at what they do.

But my own experience has shown me that scams are more than just financial loss and shame.

We would all do well to show more sympathy to people who have been defrauded and help reduce the stigma around being a victim of a scam.