Britain’s scam epidemic

20 April 2017

Arm yourself with the lowdown on some of the very latest online scams.



Britain is in the grip of a fraud epidemic. 

There were 3.6 million cases in England and Wales alone last year, from bogus builders to identity theft, making it ‘the most commonly experienced offence’, according to the Office for National Statistics. In fact, cyber offences now account for almost half of all crime. So arm yourself with the lowdown on six of the very latest online scams – and some common cons to be aware of too

The scam: The suspicious Amazon order

How the scam works

Potential victims receive an email from the address ‘service@amazon.co.uk’, or similar, that appears to confirm a newly placed order for a pricey product. The email says you can cancel the purchase and get a refund if you click through to a linked page and enter your personal and bank account details. But the page is a fake, and your information is collected by scammers.

According to Action Fraud, the national fraud-reporting body, one man who recently fell for the con had £750 taken from his Nationwide account. Fortunately for him, the building society refunded the cash.

6 worrying things about online shopping


How to protect yourself

If you get this kind of message claiming to be from Amazon or any other company, log in to your account by typing the company website address into your browser yourself, rather than clicking on any link in the suspicious email. That way, you can be sure you are on the real site, and you can safely see if any orders have been made.

Indeed, a good habit to get into is avoiding clicking on links contained within unsolicited emails as a rule.

If you think you’ve been sent a fake link, contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040. If you’ve entered any account details, ask your bank to stop your card immediately.

The scam: The dodgy court summons

How the scam works

The UK Supreme Court recently issued a warning to members of the public after it emerged that fraudsters had been sending official-looking subpoenas via email.

These messages say they are from a court or the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and often state that you have been summonsed to court to act as a witness. They then contain a link or attachment that purports to provide details of the case in question.

However, this is either a fake web page asking for your personal or financial information or a virus designed to infiltrate your computer and steal the likes of online banking passwords.

How to protect yourself

The Supreme Court says that neither the courts nor the CPS ever summon individuals by email. Official communications typically come in the post and will carry the relevant seals and logos. If you receive such an email, delete it and inform Action Fraud, as above.

What is jury service really like?

The scam: Diverted tradesman’s payment

How the scam works

People receive an invoice by email for property or home improvement work – seemingly from the company that did it – asking to settle by online bank transfer.

But the email comes from a fraudster and not the actual company or tradesman who did the job. The bank account details are also fake. 

Police suspect that criminals are taking note of company details on workmen’s vehicles parked at victims’ homes and then setting up email accounts in these firms’ names. The fake email seems extremely convincing, as the individuals targeted are likely to be expecting an invoice.

How to protect yourself

Action Fraud advises checking that the email address on the invoice is identical to any previous correspondence with the company that did the work. You should also telephone the firm to confirm that the message did indeed come from them – and to check their bank details.

Consider making any payments by credit card or PayPal rather than direct transfers.

Saga have partnered with Rated People to help connect you with over 50,000 trusted tradespeople across the country. Find out more.

The scam: The fake landlord

How the scam works

This scam takes advantage of the increasing popularity of short-term rental services, such as Airbnb. 

As with all these new cons, it’s not yet clear how widespread it is, but London police recently reported that a fraudster rented a flat on Airbnb, then listed the flat as a long-term rental on the Gumtree website, passing himself off as the landlord. 

A man responded to the listing, the criminal showed him round the flat and took a deposit of £1,600 from him. Both money and fake landlord promptly disappeared.

How to protect yourself

Whether you’re renting a property through a short-term rental site or looking for a long-term tenancy, it’s vital to check the credentials of the people you do business with. 

Never pay a deposit or rent upfront before signing a contract or viewing a property twice. 

If in doubt, deal only with landlords through a letting agent you trust. Find one registered with The Property Ombudsman Scheme at tpos.co.uk/find-a-member.

7 tips to remember if you’re thinking of renting a home

The scam: The Facebook marketplace fraud

How the scam works

The police say they have received numerous reports over the past few months of people purchasing items through Facebook’s Marketplace service – where people can buy and sell items to friends and others – that either never turn up or are counterfeit. 

In the majority of such cases, sellers demand that payment is made through direct bank transfer, offering almost no consumer protection. 

Fraudsters often invent a string of excuses as to why they are unable to use safer methods, such as PayPal, or meet in person to carry out the transaction.

How to protect yourself

Facebook Marketplace is much more ad hoc than other online sales platforms such as eBay – it is really up to buyers and sellers to agree on how trades are completed. 

Be very suspicious if a seller refuses to use secure payment services or to carry out the transaction face-to-face. 

Never transfer money to someone’s account until you have actually seen the item you are buying in person.

Don’t get stung by a social media scam

The scam: The ugly beauty-product con

How the scam works

A particularly nasty online shopping scam involves companies that advertise items, such as make-up, with the promise of highly competitive deals. 

Shoppers typically have to enter personal details, such as their name and address, before they are allowed to see the actual prices. The companies then use these details to ship products along with an expensive invoice – even though no order has actually been placed.

When people complain, the companies threaten legal action to recover the alleged debt. One EU-based business in particular has been widely criticised by British shoppers for this kind of practice on consumer websites.

How to protect yourself

Be very wary of any business that requires personal details before letting you see prices. If you come across this kind of scam, you can report it to, and seek advice from, the UK Government and EU-funded European Consumer Centre, ukecc.net, email ecc@tsi.org.uk or call 01268 886690.

The scam: The not-so-free pension review

How the scam works

New rules introduced in 2015 that make it easier for people to take money out of their pensions have created a number of opportunities for criminals.

One of the latest pension-related scams involves individuals being cold-called or emailed out of the blue and offered a “free pension review” to check they are maximising their retirement income.

Fraudsters may pretend to be working for the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) or the government’s Pension Wise guidance service, for example. But in fact, they are looking for a way to persuade people to move their money into dodgy or non-existent investment schemes.

How to protect yourself

The FCA says that individuals who do business with companies that are not registered with the watchdog will not be protected if they receive bad advice, even if the investments they make are genuine.

In general, however, responding to unsolicited contact such as this is a very risky strategy. If you are unsure how to make the most of your pension, speak to an independent financial advisor - you can find one at unbiased.co.uk - or contact Pension Wise on 0800 138 3944.

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The scam: The bogus animal charity

How the scam works

Fraudsters use social media to encourage individuals to make online donations to what they believe are overseas animal charities. In reality, these charities do not exist.

According to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB), criminals based in Cyprus and Spain take advantage of social media’s ability to rapidly spread information about apparent worthy causes. The fact that users can donate money with simply a couple of clicks makes this type of fraud particularly effective.

How to protect yourself

The NFIB says that social media users should carry out their own due diligence when deciding whether or not to support a particular cause. This can involve checking whether a charity is registered with the Charity Commission in the UK: search for the commission’s register on the government website gov.uk.

Also make sure that fraudsters aren’t using a genuine charity as a front: contact the charity directly to check the collection is not a scam.

Common cons that we’re still falling for… and how to deal with them

Be aware of these face-to-face, phone and postal scams

The scam: The ‘helpful’ call

The Financial Conduct Authority says fraudsters are phoning people who have previously been scammed, pretending to be solicitors offering to help recoup losses, selling anti-scam technology or even a charity supporting scam victims. 

Individuals are asked to pay an upfront fee for some service, after which the criminals disappear.

How to protect yourself

Politely but firmly say ‘No thanks’. As a rule, never give money or financial details to any incoming call.

The scam: The parking fine that isn’t

Letters, apparently from the police or local parking authorities, arrive saying you have been seen parking illegally and need to pay a fine. But the bank details given for payment of fines belong to fraudsters.

How to protect yourself

If you receive a fine by post, contact the issuer or your local authority to check it is genuine, by using contact details you look up yourself rather than the one printed on the letter, which is likely to be fake.

Parking fines on private land – do you have to pay up?

The scam: Fake courier

Criminals intent on identity theft often want a copy of your signature, as a ‘missing piece’ to add to other details they have obtained. 

They can do this by posing as a delivery courier, often in a convincing-looking high-vis jacket, and asking you to sign for a letter or parcel.

How to protect yourself

If you receive an unexpected delivery, print your name to confirm receipt rather than using your normal signature.

Can I keep goods delivered to me by mistake?

The scam: The call-back con

Members of the public are warned to always be wary of telephone calls purporting to be from their bank, with the advice to call back. 

But in some cases, criminals are able to make a call and then stay on the line for a few minutes, even after their victim has replaced the receiver. 

When the individual makes an outgoing call to what they think is their bank, the fraudsters intercept it and impersonate bank staff.

How to protect yourself

Use a different phone to make a verification call or wait for at least ten minutes for the line to clear. And remember, no bank will ask you for your complete password over the phone.

Avoid the 0845 missed call mobile phone scam

The scam: The bank card blag

Criminals phone victims to tell them that their credit or debit card has been copied and needs to be cancelled. They then tell the cardholder that a courier will be sent to pick up and return the card to the bank.

In fact, it will simply be stolen and then used to empty the victim’s account.

How to protect yourself

Put the phone down and contact your bank straight away if you get a call like this.

The scam: Fake trader

Someone might arrive on your doorstep purporting to be a builder, saying you have something wrong with your house that needs fixing urgently. Or they offer to tidy up the garden or mend your path. They’ll put pressure on you to have the work done now.

They then do a shoddy job and charge an extortionate amount for the ‘work’, often aggressively.

How to protect yourself

You may be tempted by the price but don’t be; you could be taken up the garden path in more ways than one! Always get three quotes from reputable builders – and tell the caller just that!

The scam: The hard-luck scam

It’s one of the oldest in the book. A stranger (who seems to be perfectly pleasant) turns up at your door wanting help.

1: They need to use the phone for some emergency;

2: They are feeling faint and need a glass of water;

3: They claim to have lost their dog.

While you fetch the water or go to get the phone, they pocket your valuables. Or they might work in pairs – while one distracts you looking for the ‘dog’ in the back garden, the other will gain access to your home.

How to protect yourself

You might appear uncharitable but always close the door before fetching the water or getting a phone. 

If you’re not sure they are genuine, offer to make the call for them. If it’s a missing pet, say you’ll check the garden yourself. You never know, it could be a real emergency.

How to protect yourself from bogus callers

The scam: Home identity theft

The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau has uncovered a new scam that involves criminals identifying empty homes – perhaps after the death of an owner or an empty rental property. They then create fake ownership documents to try to get mortgages against the properties.

How to protect yourself

If you or a relative think you have been targeted, contact the Land Registry’s property fraud line on 0300 006 7030.

Follow these easy rules to help protect yourself

Lock Keep all your outer doors locked as someone at the front door may intend to distract you while an accomplice gets in through a back door.

Stop Think – are you expecting anyone?

Chain Always have a door chain – and use it – or look through a window or spyhole to see who’s there. Don’t recognise them? Talk through the closed door.

Check Ask for an identity card, shut the door and double check it carefully – you can always tell the caller to come back another time when someone will be with you. Bogus callers, though, may well have fake ID.

Dial 999 Call the police if you’re suspicious or a caller won’t leave. Call the non-emergency number 101 to report a suspicious incident.

Protect yourself from identity theft

Regularly checking your credit report is recommended by the Home Office as an effective method of protecting yourself from identity fraud. For a 30-day free trial, visit saga.co.uk/experian

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.