Don’t be a victim - how to beat the scammers

Posted on the 27th January 2020 by Alex Garbutt in Team blog, SME blog, Finance

Don’t be a victim - how to beat the scammers

The amount of money stolen by criminals through ever more sophisticated bank transfer scams is on the rise. In the first half of 2019, £208 million was lost to ‘Authorised Push Payment (APP)’ fraud - scams where customers are tricked into authorising payments to an account controlled by a criminal1. This highlights the need always to be vigilant when making a payment, whether domestic or international.

We’ve provided some guidance around looking for tell-tale signs that you might be dealing with a scammer and what to do if you’re unsure of whether the person you’re dealing with is genuine.

1. It sounds too good to be true

Everyone likes a bargain, but high-value items listed at suspiciously low prices could be a sign that everything is not as it seems. It’s worth being cautious when purchasing high-value items as they allow scammers to maximise income while making it seem like you’re getting a great deal. 

Be particularly wary of below market-price holiday rentals, high-tech goods, and vehicles when considering purchasing; all the more so if you’re buying from a person or website you’re not familiar with.

Unsure whether it’s genuine?

If you’re not purchasing from someone you know or a website that you recognise, carry out a bit of research before you take the plunge. Google the website and business name and see if there are reviews from other customers. If there’s very little information or negative reviews, it’s probably best to steer clear. 

We’re all experienced enough web surfers to have a good idea about what an authentic e-commerce website or marketplace looks like. An expression we use at Money Mover when we’re checking for fraud is, “Does the website look ‘thin’?”. In other words, compared with the sites that we know and trust, does it contain the amount of information, detail, and photos that we would expect to see, or does it look like it’s constructed with stock images, poorly written copy, and insufficient product detail?

It’s also worth checking prices elsewhere. If the person you’re dealing with is offering you a significant discount compared to anyone else there might be something fishy going on. Similarly, if the seller is offering something that is in short supply or just isn’t available elsewhere, such as artwork, collectibles or tickets then those warning bells should be ringing.

2. You need to pay straight away

If the seller or service provider is rushing you to make the payment, and telling you that you must transfer funds urgently, they might be doing so to make sure they get your money before you notice it’s a scam. Always take the time to verify that the information you have is correct and that the recipient is genuine.

Unsure whether it is genuine?

Your money is not protected when you pay for goods or services by direct bank transfer, whether using your bank or via a payments specialist like Money Mover. The scammers know this and often ask to be paid by this method. Unless you’re 100% confident in the payment, use a credit card as you may consider the additional protection to be worth the cost of the extra 3% or 4% in charges you’ll incur to use them. There’s nothing to stop you using a credit card for the first payment and then reverting to bank transfers later. You may feel that a commercial seller who becomes hostile or refuses to accept cards for a high-value purchase is not one you wish to deal with.

how to beat the scammers -  clock

3. An investment opportunity with great returns

Whether it’s property, bonds, shares, precious metals or cryptocurrencies, investment scams are well known due to the unfortunate fact that victims have lost their life savings to such scams.

A great return and low risk can seem tempting, but if you’ve been contacted out of the blue, be extra cautious. Other red flags include “limited time offers”, repeat calls and the seller telling you to keep quiet the information they’re giving to you.

Unsure whether it is genuine?

If you’re unsure, the Financial Conduct Authority has a warning list to help you identify if an investment opportunity you’ve heard about could be a scam - FCA Warning List.

They also maintain a list of regulated financial businesses. If someone is offering you an investment opportunity, they’ll probably have to be registered with the FCA, so it’s always worth checking to see if they’re listed - Search the Financial Services Register

4. Your bank has called

This might seem like an unusual one, as your bank may call you for a genuine reason, but fraudsters calling claiming to be your bank is an unfortunately common scam.

Best practice is to assume any caller claiming to be your bank or building society could be a fraudster. 

Listen out for any red flags. If they start asking for pins and passwords, want remote access to your computer or tell you that you need to move your money for security reasons, don’t comply.

Unsure whether it is genuine?

If you’re in doubt, hang up the phone, and call your bank directly on a number that you trust. They should have a record of any contact made with you previously, so you can check if it was your bank that called.

5. Advance-fee scam

You're likely to have seen one of these before. They can come in many forms, but most common are the following:

  • You have a long-lost relative you wants to send you a large sum of money, but they need you to send an upfront fee first.
  • You’ve won a lottery (that you didn’t enter), but they need you to pay a small fee to allow them to send your fortune. 

Unsure whether it is genuine?

If someone who has contacted you out of the blue wants information or money from you in exchange for a large sum of money or reward, the unfortunate truth is that it’s probably not genuine. 

What do I do if I find out that I’ve been scammed?

So that nagging doubt that you had since you made your payment was justified and the realisation dawns that you will never receive the goods or services that you hoped for. If you made the payment with a credit card then the chances are that you will be reimbursed. Report the fraud to your card provider and they will issue a ‘chargeback’ to the merchant and refund your account. Card providers make their payments to merchants in arrears, so a fraudulent payment can either be stopped or offset against other pending payments. 

For bank transfers, however, it is a different story. Once a bank transfer has been made to a fraudster and the funds have been withdrawn from the receiving account (which they inevitably are immediately) the money is gone. It’s as if you’ve paid the scammer in cash and he’s made off into the distance. It’s a police matter now, but fraud is on the rise2 and its clearance rate is low. 

For a while at the end of 2019, UK banks followed a voluntary code of conduct to reimburse victims of APP fraud3. However, signatories to the code are not obliged to reimburse their customers except in certain specific circumstances. Furthermore, firms which have implemented additional warnings and measures to protect customers against fraud are increasingly reluctant to pick up the tab for their misadventures4.

The Financial Ombudsman Service5 operates a web page which will help you to understand your position. It’s also worth contacting your home insurance provider, as you would as the victim of any other theft, to ask about the cyber cover they provide. 

In the end, go with your gut

We all have a surprising level of intuition for what inherently feels wrong. How many times have you heard yourself or a friend say “I knew something wasn’t right!”. Rely on your gut feeling and take care of your hard-earned money. If it feels wrong, there’s a good chance that it is.

 1 Banking industry stops £4.5 million of fraud a day in first half of 2019

 Crime in England and Wales: year ending December 2018

Authorised Push Payment Scams: Contingent Reimbursement Model (CRM) Code

Banks denying refunds to scam victims who ignore new warnings

Fraud and scams

blog comments powered by Disqus