Across June, Citizens’ Advice is running their annual Scams Awareness Campaign, which strives to teach us how to recognise a scam, and what we can do to protect ourselves.
Scams can take many forms; you could receive an email saying you've won a contest you didn't enter, or a stranger may knock on your door and offer to make unnecessary repairs to your home. However they’re presented, all scams have the same objective: to steal money, valuables, or personal information from you.
Anyone can fall victim to a scam, so having an understanding of how to recognise them is vital. This guide, built upon information from Citizens Advice and The Money Advice Service, aims to provide some guidance on how we can protect ourselves from scammers, and keep our personal information personal.
Building a defence against scams
Before we find ourselves faced with a possible scam, we can take some precautionary action to defend ourselves. This is especially important when it comes to using computers and the internet, as as the growth of the internet has allowed criminals to create more elaborate ways to target people.
Ignore any unexpected contact
If you receive phone calls, letters, texts or emails from contacts you don’t know, you’re best off ignoring them. The same goes for anyone who knocks on your door and cannot provide valid identification.
Never give out personal information
Details about your bank account, your date of birth or National Insurance number can be used to steal your identity and access accounts.
Block unknown callers
If you have a smartphone, you should be able to block unknown numbers from calling you. You can also sign-up for a call blocking service, such as the Telephone Preference Service, which will prevent cold-callers from contacting you.
Update your devices
Keep the anti-virus software on your phone, laptop or tablet up-to-date. Always install updates, as these can protect you against new kinds of scams and viruses automatically.
Use strong and separate passwords
Don’t use the same password for multiple online accounts, and be sure that your passwords include a mix of numbers, upper and lower case letters and symbols. If you can, change your passwords frequently.
Research before buying
Ensure any company you are buying from – whether it is for a holiday, or a new hoover – is legitimate. If you’re unsure about any company, you can look them up on Companies House, to their history and reviews from previous customers. If you do make a purchase, do so with a credit or debit card, as doing so will offer you better financial protection if anything goes wrong.
Ignore email links
If you receive a suspicious email with a link in the message, do not click on it. Doing so could download a virus onto your device.
Use secure WiFi connections
Public WiFi can be easily intercepted, so connecting to it can be a risk to your personal information. When using WiFi, be sure to use a secure connection, which requires a password.
If you feel unsure about securing your online accounts or downloading anti-virus software, we have a number of dedicated Digital Champions, who can give you 1-to-1 support with using a computer. Click here to get in touch.
Recognising a scam in action
While having these precautions in place can help to protect us, there is still a risk that we could be targeted by scams. For this reason, it’s important that we can recognise the tell-tale signs of a scam, such as:
A stranger contacts you unexpectedly
If you’ve received contact from someone you don’t recognise it’s possible that they are trying to scam you. You should be especially wary if they are contacting you about money (saying you owe it, or have won or inherited it) or ask for any of your personal information.
They are impersonal
If you receive unexpected letters or emails, check to see who they are addressed to; if they address you impersonally, such using the terms Sir, Madam, Homeowner or Customer, then it is likely that they are illegitimate companies. If they do address you by name, check that your name is spelled correctly.
Their contact details are amiss
If you receive a letter from a business, they should include a return address; the absence of this may suggest that the letter is fraudulent. Similarly, if someone emails you claiming to be from your bank, energy provider or benefits office, check the sender’s email address matches the one on their website and previous correspondence from them.
It seems too good to be true
If you see a phone, bike or holiday on sale for a fraction of its usual retail price, it probably isn’t a legitimate offer.
It simply isn't true
If you are contacted about a matter you know nothing about – such as a car accident you were supposedly in – then it is likely that the person calling is trying to get personal information.
They ask you to transfer money to a "safe" account
If your bank believes there's been a breach in your account's security, they will inform you, but they will never tell you to transfer your funds. If you receive a message saying that your account has been breached and you must transfer your money into a "safe" account, do not action the request.
If you do think your account's security is at risk, contact your bank instead.
If you have been contacted by a person claiming to be from Southway, but you notice any of the signs listed above, contact us to check if they are legitimate.
What should I do if I’ve been scammed?
If you think you may have been scammed, try not to panic; there are actions you can take to recover and protect yourself in the future.
Cut off contact
If you were keeping contact with the person or organisation scamming you, cut off all communication with them immediately. Ignore any future attempts they make to contact you.
If you were making continuous payments, but have realised you were paying into a scam, cancel all your future payments.
Change your online passwords
If you think any of your online accounts have been accessed, change all of your passwords as soon as you can. Ensure your new passwords are completely different to the old ones and that they contain numbers, upper and lower case letters and symbols. If you think any of your online accounts have been hacked, click here for advice on how to recover them.
Contact your bank
If you think your account details have been stolen, or you see a payment from your account that you don’t recognise, call your bank as soon as you can to secure your account. Your bank will also be able to advise whether or not you can recover money you lost through the scam.
Reporting a scam
In addition to the advice above, you should always report a scam.
If you think someone is trying to scam you, or you have been the victim of a scam, call Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040. You can also make a report to the Financial Conduct Authority via their website.
By reporting scams, we can help the authorities to investigate and track down the criminals who implement them. While it can feel embarrassing to talk about falling for a scam, reporting scammers is vital to protecting ourselves, and others, in the future.
For more information on recognising and reporting a scam, click here.