Alan Titchmarsh Show / Legal Topics

A new breed of scams: what to watch out for

1354359_57482345Scams are on the up. From lo-tech to online, the statistics say that fraud offences have increased by 183% since 2008, and 34% since 2012. Scammers are using any means possible to convince you to part with your money, but it is not always easy to tell who you should believe and who should be reported to the police.

Pension liberation

One of the most recent types of scam is known as pension liberation fraud.  This is when fraudsters offer to access your pension funds before the age of 55. While in rare cases, such as terminal illness, early access to funds is possible, it is very unlikely that a pension company will ever approach you for this (although not impossible) so make sure you question any terms very carefully ahead of accepting.

For most people the likely result is a tax bill of more than half of the pension’s value, and fraudulent companies will also usually charge for the ‘service’, typically around 20% – 30%.  The perpetrators’ approach is usually an unsolicited phone call or text message, with a pushy ‘advisor’ offering cash incentives, ‘loans’, a ‘savings advance’ or ‘cash back’ from the individual’s pension.

If you have any concerns or doubts about how a product is being sold to you, you should contact your pension provider directly.  Don’t use a number or email address given to you by the suspected fraudster, but look for an old letter you have been sent directly and use that number. Many fraudsters work in teams and will work together to dupe you.

Not so lucky lotto

Lottery fraud happens after fraudsters contact you to congratulate you on winning a large sum of money in an international lottery, sweepstake or other prize draw. Spanish, Canadian and Australian lotteries are among the most common.  You are warned to keep your good luck secret and, if you don’t respond quickly, you won’t be able to claim your prize.  If you reply, you may be asked to supply personal information and copies of official documents, which can then be used to steal your identity.  The fraudsters may also ask for your bank details, saying they will pay your winnings directly into your bank account.

According to Action Fraud, no official lotteries that they know of contact people to tell them of their win.  As with the pension liberation scam above, if you have been provided with an email address to respond to by the suspected cheats, be very suspicious of email addresses that are free to set up and telephone numbers beginning with 07 which are free to get hold of. This doesn’t mean that legitimate emails may not come from these addresses, but if they’re asking you for personal information then check the source.

If you’ve spotted or fallen victim to a scam via email, report it to the internet service provider that was used to send you the email. If the scam email came from a Yahoo! account, send it to abuse@yahoo.com. Gmail has a ‘Report spam’ button and Hotmail has a ‘Report phishing’ button. They can then close the account which sent the email.

If you are the victim of a mimicking scam, where fraudsters pretend to be from a genuine company, it’s worth contacting the company that has been mimicked who will want to know if people are acting in their name, and may offer you support.

Conmen and doorstepping

Legitimate doorstep selling involves someone selling you goods or services in your home or on your doorstep. Many honest businesses use this technique – but so do fraudsters.  Buying on your doorstep can be convenient. However, a salesman who uses clever tactics can pressurise you into buying something you actually don’t want or something that’s poor value for money. Don’t ever feel pressured.  You are in control and can end the conversation.  Unless you are assured of the legitimacy of the seller, don’t invite them into your home. 

Door-to-door frauds can take many forms, but some of the most popular include:

  • pressure selling
  • unfair contracts
  • phoney consumer surveys
  • bogus charity collections
  • overpriced or substandard home maintenance or improvements

What can you do if you’ve been caught out?

Try and pay for services with credit or debit card, as if it is a scam you are more likely to get your money back. If you’ve paid with cash, unfortunately it is not as simple, and in most cases it is not possible to get your money back unless there has been a police prosecution, in which case you can apply for compensation in court and possibly get some of the money back.

As a general rule always pay with a credit card for anything like this as you have greater protection so you can apply to your credit card company to get your money back, as permitted under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. For Section 75 to apply, the item or service you bought must have cost between £100 and £30,000. The credit card company, in effect, shares responsibility with the retailer or trader for the goods or service supplied.

If you used a debit card, and the loss is less than £100, you may be able to claim your money back through the chargeback scheme and should speak to your bank for further information and any special conditions.

Can you avoid a scam?

According to Which, only 39% of people know how to report a scam.  One thing you can do is report the scam to Action Fraud  so that they can keep track of current scams in operation and help warn others.  Also report any suspicions to your local police station as it may provide them with useful information in catching the criminals.

If you have lost money to a scam, or even just been contacted by fraudsters, you should beware that you are likely to be targeted again. Fraudsters often share details about people they have successfully targeted or approached, using different identities to commit further frauds.

So be careful what you sign up to, who you invite into your home and think twice before parting with any money or personal information.

Finally, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

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