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Expert Reveals Common Scams and How to Spot Them

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From preying on loneliness and vulnerability to pretending to be organisations we trust, online scammers are sneakier than ever before.

In fact, fraud is now the most common crime in the UK, costing the nation £2.3 billion in 2023. This marks the second-biggest year for scams in the last two decades and is double what it cost us in 2022. But for those who are potentially less tech-savvy, knowing when you’re being scammed can be particularly difficult.

Dr Richard Anderson, head of learning and development at safeguarding course specialists, high speed training, shares common scams to be aware of and telltale signs that someone is trying to trick you.

Purchase scams  

Dr Richard Anderson explains: “With the majority of our purchases taking place online and more people opting for second-hand products, it’s unsurprising that scammers are using online advertisements to sell services and products that don’t exist in an attempt to scam us.

“Always double check who you are buying from, taking a good look at their profile and reviews and conducting an extra Google search. If you’re unsure, it’s best to avoid and instead choose a trusted online seller you can find more information on.”

How to spot purchase scams

Dr Anderson advises: “If a seller asks you to send payment via instant payment apps like Cash App, it’s usually a telltale sign that the transaction isn’t legit. Always ensure you’re transferring money using apps that offer buyer protection, such as your banking app or PayPal.

“While purchase scams can happen regardless of the product, generally speaking game consoles, vehicles, designer clothing and tickets are common products used in this tactic, so be extra vigilant when purchasing these goods online.”

Family and friend scams

Dr Anderson explains: “Most of us would do just about anything to help out our loved ones when they’re in need. So when scammers message you pretending to be someone you know and ask for money to pay urgent bills, it’s understandable people will oblige and fall victim to this scam.”

How to spot family and friend scams

Dr Anderson advises: “If you receive a message claiming to be someone you know from a number or account you don’t recognise, there’s a chance it could be a scam.

“Contact the loved one in question through a reliable contact method, such as the number you have saved for them, and check it’s them before transferring any funds.”

Romance and be-friending scams 

Dr Anderson explains: “A bit like family and friend scams, this tactic taps into the human need for connections. Scammers will build a relationship with you in order to create trust before asking you to send them money or pay for things on their behalf, such as bills or paying off debt.

“This is usually done over a longer period of time to help create a sense of security before asking for anything from you, which is why it can be difficult to spot.”

How to spot romance and be-friending scams

Dr Anderson advises: “The scammer will likely shower you with love, affection and admiration pretty early on in an attempt to make you feel special and appreciated. Some people refer to this as ‘love bombing’ and is designed to cloud your judgement with a sense of being valued and cared for by the scammer.

“When it comes to asking for cash, these kinds of scams tend to include a desire to visit or meet in person but being unable to due to an emergency or lack of funds. They’ll then prompt their target to send them money to remove this barrier.”

Parcel delivery scams 

Dr Anderson explains: “Approximately 14 million parcels are delivered every day in the UK, making it a prime opportunity for scammers to target consumers. Pretending to have a parcel for you, they will call, text or email pretending to be a delivery service and claim additional fees need to be paid before the parcel can be delivered.”

How to spot parcel delivery scams 

Dr Anderson advises: “Always be on the lookout for unrecognised numbers and email addresses, as these are a telltale sign someone is trying to scam you. When delivery companies actually contact you about a delivery, it will include your order number and or who you purchased the order from. If this isn’t the case, it’s likely a scam. Similarly, they may try and rush you to make a payment or respond to them, indicating it’s not legit.”

Pension scams

Dr Anderson explains: “Similar to investment fraud, which includes applying pressure to invest by promising huge returns, pension fraud involves persuading a target to withdraw from their pension in order to reinvest again, with the promise of a higher return.”

How to spot pension scams

Dr Anderson advises: “It’s important to remember that cold calls regarding pension schemes were banned in the UK in 2019. So, if someone calls you to review your current pension, it’s wise to be cautious.

“Work only with FCA-regulated financial advisors you trust, and be conscious of terminology when you’re speaking to them. No one can guarantee your return on investment, so anyone who does is likely trying to scam you.”

Charity fraud 

Dr Anderson explains: “Scammers have gotten pretty good at replicating well-known charity websites in order to encourage fraudulent donations, while also emailing with false appeals and asking for a contribution.”

How to spot a charity scam

Dr Anderson advises: “When it comes to charity, it can be easy to miss telltale signs of fraud, as we’re often coming from a place of compassion and wanting to help. The best thing to do is double-check a charity’s registration number before making a donation. All charities with an annual income of £5k plus must, by law, be registered with the Charity Commission and follow a set of rules.

“For extra security, always go to the website yourself using a search engine rather than clicking through any links in emails or text.”

Ghost broker scams

Dr Anderson explains: “UK car insurance has risen 43% in the last 12 months, meaning many of us are looking to save as much as possible on these purchases, which can lead to falling victim to this type of scam.”

How to spot a ghost broker scam

Dr Anderson advises: “Victims to these schemes tend not to realise until they need to make a claim on the policy, making it tricky to spot. Especially as the scammers tend to send you false documents to help ‘legitimise’ the sale.

“A good indication that someone is trying to scam you with this ruse is if they reach out to you, particularly on social media. When looking for a new insurance policy, be sure to use a reputable comparison site or go directly to the provider.”

Effective safeguarding is essential across all settings, ensuring you can feel more confident in spotting online scams and helping to safeguard vulnerable adults and children. Sign up to a safeguarding course today.

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