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You won’t believe how easy it is to be scammed

Have you ever been scammed or know someone that has? We have all had those dubious emails claiming to be from your bank, but scammers are also getting increasingly wily.  In fact, you can be scammed through the post, on the phone, via text message or from someone on your doorstep. So how can you protect yourself?

Each year millions of people in the UK fall prey to scammers and Citizens Advice has told us the estimated cost could be as much as £5bn.

But the truth is - with reporting levels as low as 5% for some types of scams – there is no clear cut answer.  

This July marks Scams Awareness Month 2015, a campaign run by Citizens Advice and Trading Standards Services, to help raise awareness of scammers.

Here, Adrian Galvin, Campaigns Officer at Citizens Advice, tells us about his first-hand experience of being scammed, and how you can help stop yourself being scammed. 

My scam experience

My own interest in Scam Awareness Month is borne of first-hand experience of being scammed.

Ten minutes after I started chatting with a stranger on a train, he was off with my wallet in his pocket, including my driving licence, bank cards and cash.

“He seemed so friendly,” I told the transport police officer later feeling more than a bit daft the second the words were out of my mouth. “They’re the ones you have to watch,” he said with practiced restraint.

Many victims of scammers tell of a moment, a flicker of unease which they wished they’d acted upon.

What the scammer had actually been engaged in was a process known to scam fighters as social engineering: the art of emotionally manipulating someone so they relax the protective field of caution that keeps them in possession of their valuables.


Beware calls out of the blue

I thought of this a few weeks later when I heard a contrite contributor to a radio bulletin say: “I stupidly gave it to him. It seemed so real at the time,” describing how she’d handed access to a bank account containing £2000 to a perfect stranger who’d called her out of the blue.

But before she’d disclosed her PIN to the man on the phone and given her card to the courier at the door, she’d handed over something else: her trust.

And not to just anyone. To a man who told her he was from the City of London Police investigating suspicious activity on her card. A man who advised her to put the phone down and ring him back to confirm who he said he was. Who seemed so authoritative, so competent, so helpful.

With bank online security systems more resilient to hackers, scammers are using social engineering more and more to get people to grant access to their bank accounts. Vishing scams like the one above netted scammers £24 million last year and is on the rise.

Be aware of scammers

This is why we should all be aware.

Scams Awareness Month 15 is all about refusing to be rushed by scammers and refusing to be hushed in to silence by a sense of shame, foolhardiness, or mute acceptance.

It is about helping us all become more assertive when dealing with out of the blue contact; and the ambush lurking in the detail.

It’s a humiliating, messy business being scammed. But you learn from it. And part of the process involves putting your experience out there loud and clear in the shared awareness of others.

Have you, or anyone you know, been scammed? How did it happen?

This guest post is from Adrian Galvin and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of the Money Advice Service. You can find out more about Citizens Advice and what they do on their website.

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  • Julie hamilton / 5 May 2016

    I was called by a scammer saying he was calling from my internet provider Talk Talk who wants to refund me £200 for a new router but wanting my bank details ,he only hang up when I refused to give it to him although he had me on the computer pressing buttons left right and centre .No bank details is on my computer tho.

  • Julie hamilton / 5 May 2016

    I was called by a scammer saying he was calling from my internet provider Talk Talk who wants to refund me £200 for a new router but wanting my bank details ,he only hang up when I refused to give it to him although he had me on the computer pressing buttons left right and centre .No bank details is on my computer tho.

  • Patricia Harris / 20 March 2016

    I had a call from the police at Hammersmith police station telling me I my bank account had been compromised. They told me they had all my details as they caught the fraudster. I just needed to confirm my details.
    I thanked them and asked for the name of person calling. He explained that was a breach of confidentiality and put the phone down.
    I dialled 1471 and got a number which was unobtainable. I contacted Thames valley police and gave them the information. They told me it had been a potential phishing(?) Call.

    End of incident.

    Patricia Harris

  • Katherine Doyle / 9 March 2016

    I really feel that banks need to wake up and look at their IT systems, security and the right personnel to help customers. I think until banks are prepared to take more responsibility for their customers who are being scammed, i.e. customer bank details are easy to get hold of and bank accounts are cleaned out, then they should not encourage online banking or indeed mobile app banking. Instead, they should be working on customer service, branches should not be closing down, there should be visible presence of staff and effective monitoring of their cashpoints during branch opening hours. I always prefer to go into a branch and use bank service machines, it feels safer and right, and a bank's duty to provide a friendly service, as there are a number of people who cannot deal with scammers, fraud and theft from their accounts. I suspect fraud and theft in branches are relatively minimal

  • cheryl younghusband / 7 March 2016

    thanks so much for your advice, it is a shame that we have to view anyone who is friendly with suspicion, then we wonder why communities arn't the same as they were years ago,

  • maria ward / 6 March 2016

    I went on Gumtree to sell some items , I got two emails inquiring after my goods but they would'nt reply to my answer,so I thought something was wrong with the site and i might lose a sale, later I recieved an email from gumtree asking me to prove my identity by putting my bank details in and they thanked me for my trust,I did'nt put any info in but i did notice a few spelling mistakes in their request ,which was a red flag to me, reported it to gumtree and i changed my passwords just in case

  • Kat Jensen / 16 November 2015

    I was selling my car on a trusted web site when I received a 'you car is sold at your indicated price' an agent contacted to say he represented a customer abroad who wanted my car. What followed was a detailed social exchange which requested that I send a fee to agent's bank account to cover shipping costs to France where the buyer lived. The desired fee was sent from the buyer via paypal which indicated the money from the buyer was in my bank account and all I had left to do was send a small £400 fee for the shipping after I received my money. The paypay site was faked and I had not rung my bank to double check that the money was really in my account before I threw the £400 away! A lesson learnt.

  • association for the unwary / 28 July 2015

    we are onto you! scammers association

  • Anon / 28 July 2015

    I was recently scammed (attempted anyway) by a man purporting to be a high ranking USAF officer who started following' me on a Google+ account. His picture in uniform accompanied his 'follow'. I'm a writer,recently published a book and have a blog, so was interested and 'followed' him back. It's all good for sales and publicity.
    He sent a short message saying he was in Afghanistan. I assumed he might be bored and lonely on such a posting, so responded with one liners. I checked out who he was and there was a Wikipedia entry. His responses became increasingly romantic over the course of 24 hours. I told my adult daughter. She looked him up too and came back he is listed as married. He told me ( without prompting) he was divorced, but looking for a new wife. I showed a friend his messages which had begun to freak me out a bit. She pointed out there were a lot of typos for someone that high ranking.
    I did some more online research and found pictures of him and wife at an event in Mexico from a few days before. I played him along for a bit, at one point he said he was going to visit London when his tour of duty ended to visit me. Then I just ended it by telling him what I'd found. He stopped responding after that and I blocked him.Further online research found many women have been scammed with the same story. He (not the high ranking officer of course, the scammer) goes on, when the woman's really hooked in to do some story to get them to send money for some 'temporary'emergency.
    I have received similar 'follows' from a range of men , again high ranking USAF army officers who check out online, with photos, in uniform, medals and all. What I can't understand is that the USAF allows this to continue and is not stopping these scammers from impersonating their officers in this way? Please don't publish my name or email address. The reason people don't report scams of this nature is they feel embarrassed to have been conned.

  • Lesley Ferguson / 27 July 2015

    The reason people don't come forward after being scammed is that they don't believe anyone will be prosecuted to redress the balance the implication being it was and is their own fault

  • Sharon Parkinson / 27 July 2015

    Thankfully I have not been scammed, but the first thing that needs to be done is to make cold calling of any discription to be against the Law all calling should be by appointment only. Second thing is to make it against the Law to pass any personal details to anybody or company.

  • Jacob Obabori / 27 July 2015

    My experience here in Nigeria was with a man who claim to be an Airforce Officer. We met in a Bus co-travelling from Jos to Kano. According to him, he works at the International Passport section and would love to assist me in procuring one. This man struck an appointment with me to collect the needed amount at home, in my house while he was lurking in a corner nearby. I stupidly went in and took my hard-earned money(#300) to him with a promise that he would deliver in 2weeks then. I am still expecting him since the early1990s!

  • Mr R J Judd / 27 July 2015

    I was conned by a scam claiming to be from Microsoft so I have lost £130 . But they nearly emptied my account.Lloyds fraud department rang me when I got of phone,and they put a stop on my account.

  • rita codanda / 21 July 2015

    I have been scammed £25,000 and do not know what to do.
    I fell in a fire, was made homeless, lost my job, and do not know how to get a interest free loan of £10,000 to start renting a flat