Each year millions of people in the UK fall prey to scammers. Some frontline scam fighters estimate the total cost to consumers of mass-marketed scams could be as much as £5 billion. The truth is – with reporting levels as low as 5 per cent for some types of scams – we don’t really know.
So the figures don’t always help. Talking in hundreds, thousands, millions even billions of pounds undervalues the true cost of scams: the blight they bring to lonely lives, the emotional trauma for families, the widespread loss of confidence among consumers. Sometimes the impact is ruinous: a lifetime of careful planning and saving wiped clean in the space of a telephone conversation, at the stroke of a pen, in the click of a mouse.
Some scams may seem by comparison trivial, the losses low-impact. But try telling that to a family living on a breadline budget being stung for charges on non-existent loans by unscrupulous credit brokers, or a mum or dad looking for birthday presents online only to end up empty handed and out of pocket.
Scam Prevention Advice
• If it sounds too good to be true it probably is.
• If you haven’t bought a ticket – you can’t win it.
• You shouldn’t have to pay anything to get a prize.
• If in doubt, don’t reply. Bin it, delete it or hang up.
• Contacted out of the blue – be suspicious.
• Don’t be rushed – resist pressure to make a decision straight away.
• Never send money to someone you have never met.
• Walk away from job ads that ask for money in advance.
• Your bank will never attend your home to collect cash, your pin, payment card or chequebook if you are a victim of fraud.
• Your bank will never phone you to ask for your PIN or your online banking password.
• Your bank will never ask you to transfer money to a new account for fraud reasons.
• Suspect a phone scam? Hang up, wait five minutes to clear the line or use another phone to call your bank.
• Genuine computer firms do not make unsolicited phone calls to help you fix your computer.
• Don’t suffer in silence – speak out about scams.
Don’t be Rushed Don’t Be Hushed Scams Awareness Month 2015 (SAM15) is about consumers getting together with the help of their representative organisations including the Citizens Advice service and trading standards services. It’s about consumers refusing to be rushed by scammers, refusing to be hushed into silence by a sense of shame, foolhardiness, or weary acceptance. It is about creating a community of informed, confident consumers, alert to the dangers, assertive in dealing with that out of the blue contact; that ambush lurking in the detail; consumers decisive about what to do next. And consumers prepared to share what they have learned, look out for others in their communities, the vulnerable, the inexperienced, who – as the statistics tell us – will be targeted repeatedly unless we all speak out about scams.
Some key facts about scams
• £5 billion – the estimated amount lost each year by UK consumers to mass-marketed scams via phone and post.
• Nearly half of people in the UK (48 per cent) have been targeted by a scam.
• Scams by contact method reported to Action Fraud in 2014: telephone (including internet assisted calls) 38 per cent; online sales 20 per cent; email 14 per cent; doorstep/face to face 14 per cent.
• Every year more than three million people in the UK fall victim to scams losing hundreds, sometimes thousands, even hundreds of thousands of pounds.
• Just five per cent of scams are reported.
• Losses to vishing (phone) scams more than trebled in 2014 from £7m to nearly £24 million, according to Financial Fraud Action UK; 58 per cent of people reported receiving suspicious calls.
• Job scams are on the rise: £4,000 is the average loss with the 18–25 the most defrauded age group in this category.
• More than half (52 per cent) of the number of victims of dating fraud reported suffering ill-health as a consequence.
• £495 million – the total cost of pension scams known to the Pensions Regulator.
• £670 million – the total annual cost to victims of the top ten online scams.
• There are some dubious practices which may leave consumers deeply frustrated or out of pocket, for example, a legitimate company providing a poor service or a utility company representative persuading people to switch without any financial benefit. These unfair commercial practices are not specifically addressed as part of Scams Awareness Month however people who do experience them should contact the Citizens Advice consumer service 03454 04 05 06.