Fraud is a fact of modern life, and everybody is a target. Last year, 324,000 people reported falling victim to scams, a rise of 6%, and given that many are too embarrassed to admit to having been tricked, the real number is probably way higher.
The good news is that if you stay alert, you can dramatically reduce the chances of falling prey. Apply these three rules and you should be safe, both online and off.
1. Think twice before sharing
Every minute, 21 people are defrauded because of oversharing on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, according to Action Fraud. Each piece of personal information you share, such as your date of birth, postal address, email address or mobile number, allows identity thieves to piece together your identity then apply for loans or credit cards in your name.
Some have been swindled after posting pictures of their new driving licence to celebrate passing their test. Others have been burgled after holiday snaps showed they were out of the country.
You are at particular risk if you have an open social media account, available to everyone. But even if you have your settings on private, you should be careful.
One day we may all look back at how open and innocent we were in the early days of the internet. Hopefully, you won’t look back in anger.
Don’t overshare. Keep some things to yourself.
2. Listen to your instincts
Fraud victims all have one thing in common. They blame themselves. Why? Because deep down, they sensed all along something was wrong. Afterwards, it seemed totally obvious they were being scammed.
Some were blinded by greed, believing that could get ‘guaranteed’ investment returns of 10% a year. Or they tried to buy a designer brand, budget holiday or concert tickets without paying full price. Or they were too polite to say ‘no’ to that pushy voice on the phone. Or perhaps they thought their Nigerian prince was a real prince. They can’t all be scammers, can they?
Your instincts are your best defence, so listen to them. And remember the golden rule: if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Fraud is everywhere. Take care when travelling abroad as well.
3. Think before you click
Beware anybody who contacts you out of the blue, whether by phone, email or text, especially if they ask for your credit or debit card details. That applies even if the person claims to be from your bank or the police. Never click on embedded links in emails or texts; this may take you to a fraudulent website.
The latest scam involves sending text messages purporting to be from your bank, saying a new mobile phone has been registered. If you click to say it wasn’t you registering the mobile, you will be asked to reveal your personal details including customer number and PIN.
Push payment fraud is particularly frightening. This is where fraudsters intercept emails to people you are doing business with, such as a builder or estate agent, then they send you a demand for payment, with their bank account details. The average loss is £20,750. Some people have lost hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Whether you are a tenant transferring a deposit or house buyer putting down a deposit, check that the money is going to the right people. Maybe do a test transfer of £1 and confirm receipt before forwarding the full sum.