Scams: how to recognise and avoid them


Around three million UK customers lose a total of £3.5 billion to scams every year.

scam.jpgFebruary 2010. A scam is a scheme designed to steal people’s money by several means of deception. The scam may take the shape of someone using a false name or a false qualification or even abusing of his true name or his true qualification in order to convince someone else to give him undue money.

Today, scammers are more numerous and more dangerous than ever because of their ability to use the classical services as well as the new technologies. Nowadays, you are likely to face scams by post, phone or emails.

According to the UK Office of Fair Trading, around three million UK customers lose a total of £3.5 billion to scams every year.

I) How to recognize a scam?

Warning signs

Broadly speaking, when an advertising or something promises you a great deal or a good for a very cheap price, in other words if it sounds too good to be true, it is likely to be a spam. If someone you have never heard of contacts you by post, phone or email for instance and makes you an offer that you have to accept or refuse immediately it might be a scam. Actually, scammers don’t want people to think too much and to find out. They will try to force a quick decision by saying things like “there is almost no more models in stock… it is now or never”.

There are different types of scam, according to the shape they are likely to take and according to the deal they propose. Historically, the first scams took the shape of face to face discussions and post mail letters, whose victims were often elder people. Later, the phone has been fully used by scammers.

What is known as “telemarketing fraud” is a crime and these criminals use the phone to commit many types of scams: lottery fraud, loan fraud, credit card scam… You have to be careful because telephone scammers are very good at what they do. They will use every ways to make you send them money, including implying that they work for a company that you trust.

Phishing scams: Scammers often use emails to ask people to give them out their personal information such as banking details, credit cards numbers or various passwords. Phishing emails may look genuine: scammers will copy a firm’s logo and its typography in order to make you believe it is coming from an established legitimate business, for instance your bank or a well known company.

TV scam: many English people use Sky television, if it is your case, you should be aware of the risks of TV scams. Some recorded voice may call you and ask you if you are a Sky subscriber, if you say yes, you are likely to receive a second phone call one week later. This time, you will speak with a live person who will claim to be from Sky billing department. He will ask you for your bank account numbers, claiming that you did not pay your subscription for the last month. He won’t hesitate to tell you that Sky TV will be suspended if you don’t give him the details he asks. Some people even received phone calls from supposed Sky employees who informed them that they were paying a little bit too much and offering them to reduce the bills. Once again, they were asked for their bank account details… You must be aware of that Sky policy is that they will never ask for these details by phone but always by writing. For the moment, the only TV scam has been noticed with Sky TV but it could come soon with other TV networks.

Scams may also vary according to the trick they contain, here are some examples of the most notorious:

Lottery scam: In olden times, lottery scams were only sent by post, today, they are mainly shaped as emails. Someday you are likely to receive a message in your email box supposedly coming from the National Lottery (with its address details and references…). This message will happily announces you the online draw of the UK National Lottery held on a specific day and it will inform you that your email address attached to a ticket number drew the lucky numbers. Then, you will be asked to contact their fiduciary agent on his email address to claim your prize, a total sum of £150.236… You should know that the lottery in UK is the government’s business and, as a general rule, if you have not purchased a ticket for the National Lottery, you will never win any prize. Secondly, the National Lottery will never tell you, even if you are a player, how much they won in an email and if the email says “winning notification” or “lottery sweep stake” in the text, then that email is not from the National Lottery.

‘Nigerian’ scam (or scam 419): In an email or post mail, scammers may pretend they are officials, businessmen, or former politician from an African country (often from Nigeria but not always), whose bank account is unfortunately frozen in an Africa bank. They will propose you to pay a small fee in order to help them to get their money back. They will pretend to reward you by transferring a big sum of money on your bank account (as a percentage of their money kept in the bank account). If you accept the deal, pay the fee and give them your bank account details, they are even likely to send you fake documents to make you believe that you really made a good deal, which is of course the opposite. Worst, they can also propose you to come in Africa to bring the money by yourself and you will be stolen at the arrival.

Work-at-home scams: Don’t get taken by these advertisement messages which will offer you a home-based business for great income. They will let you know that every day, thousands of people just like you are working at home in the various fields of telephone work, computer work, assembling products, envelope-stuffing, crafts and much more. They may also say things like “hundred of companies all over the country want to hire you as an independent home worker” and often insist on the fact that you will earn “fast cash” for minimum work. The sender will usually ask you to pay for a registration fee and you will, off course never receive any real work opportunities in return. They may even ask you to place their own scam to your contacts in order to recruit new victims.

The romance scam: this kind of scam, also known as the “Spanish prisoner” scam is one of the oldest confidence trick. It is usually perpetrated on the online dating services or on the chat rooms. In some ways, it is a variant of the Nigerian scam. It usually works this way: the scammers post fake profile on a dating site. The woman’s profile picture will of course be very attractive and often there is just one. The targets are both sex, but more frequently men, of any age and of any sexual orientation. The scammers will try their best to seduce and then communicate with their victims searching for a love affair. They will try their best to communicate outside the website area. If they come to talk to each other on the phone, the scammers will even hire real women to do this job. The supposed woman will always live in a foreign country, often West Africa and will not be able to move in the victim country unless he helps her by sending her money. The money will usually have to be send via Western Union due to the supposed inefficient banking system in West Africa. Like in the Nigerian scam, you may be asked to come somewhere and being robbed at your arrival.

2) How to avoid scams?

Ask your bank not to accept any payments abroad unless you previously authorized them.

Never answer the scam messages listed above: just delete them. Don’t even open the email messages when the title looks strange and when the mailer address is unknown from you. The simple fact to open such a message may let the scammer know, via a spy software, that your email address exist and that you are one of his potential victims. Many good antivirus programs and firewalls are sold, so you should always download one on your computer and be careful to update it.

If any company, including your own bank or your credit card company calls you and asks to confirm your personal information (bank account details, passwords…), you should decline, even if they dislike it. If you are on line with your real bank or any trustable company, they will let you call them back through a central switch board. They also should be able to give you a name and a contact number.

If you are moving out, you should think to give your new address to all the companies you are dealing with, especially your bank. Remember that you have to re-direct your post mail via Royal Mail, otherwise the new tenants might get your post mail and thus get free access to your personal information.

When you wish to throw your old stuff in the garbage, like your old correspondence and papers, including your paper credit card statements, you should use a shredder. If you do not own one, burn these papers or at least tear them into small pieces. Just do the necessary to prevent anyone ill intentioned to use them against you.

Do not post too much personal details on the internet in general and in particular via social life network such as Facebook, Twitter or Myspace. Always be aware of the people who get access to these information, they might be your “friends” but also the “friends” of your friends… or even someone unregistered to the website. These website also have privacy policies and allow you to decide which information you wish to share with who. These information are likely to be used by scammers to clone your identity (for instance to create a romance scam profile). On this kind of websites, you should also be careful before accepting a new friendship request, especially if you have never heard of the person before.

3) What to do if you are a victim of a scam?

Be aware that you are a victim

First of all, make sure that you notice the signs. Usually, your concern should be things regarding your bank account: if you are charged for stuff you didn’t buy, if you don’t receive your monthly financial statements anymore (some fraudster might receive them). If any debt collection agencies contact you about unexpected payments (regarding items you never ordered for instance).

Don’t underestimate the problem

If you catch any signs of scam, don’t ignore them or don’t minimize the situation. Of course, It might just be a mistake from a company which takes you for someone else. It also could be some scammers who stole your identity and your bank account details and thus the debt will fall to your name and address. If bank blacklist you, it might take a long time to prove you have nothing to do with these expenses. It could be a problem in the future to obtain a mortgage or a loan from them.

Report the scam to the Office of Fair Trading

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is a non ministerial department of the United Kingdom which enforces consumer protection and competition law. Established in 1973 by the Fair Trading Act, the OFT is the UK’s economic regulator. If you are the unfortunate victim of one of these scams, you should report it to the OFT. The OFT’s agents will investigate and possibly prosecute the criminals. To help them, you should give as much details as you can.

If you have given out your credit card or debit card information

When you realize that you have been trapped by scammers, the first thing to do is to report the theft of your information to your bank, the card issuer, as soon as possible. Most of the banks have a special service, working 24 hours a day which you can call anytime at a special free number. If you don’t possess this phone number, you should find it on your bank’s website. Credit companies and banks are responsible for verifying the crime and reporting it to the police.

Afterwards, if your bank account is not cancelled, you will have to check your billing statements carefully in case they show an unauthorized charge. If this is the case, tell the bank and give them all the details regarding each questionable charge. Credit companies and banks are responsible for verifying the crime and reporting it to the police.

If you are the victim of a national identity fraud

You should advise all the creditors with whom you have an account: bank, store cards, phone and utility companies. Even if no one tried anything on your behalf, they will be aware of the threat and will monitor your accounts to prevent them from any theft. You should also inform the protective registration service. They will place a notice on your credit file in order to prevent any identity fraud with your personal information.

By Alexandre Blondieau,

Cartwright Adams Solicitors
16 Old Bond Street, Mayfair, LONDON W1S 4PS

The above article is meant to be relied upon as an informative article and in no way constitutes legal advice. For legal advice regarding your case, please contact Cartwright Adams on +4420 74089270 for a Consultation with a Solicitor.

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