Beware of scams: Beat fraudsters by staying alert

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FRAUD has never been a greater menace than it is today, with Britons under constant siege from scammers.

Growing numbers of Britons have lost tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds they will never get back and the losses continue to grow.

The overall fraud rate has risen by a shocking 20 per cent in the last year following a surge in bank account and credit card fraud, according to the latest Fraud Index from Experian.

Although your bank may offer redress if you can prove the loss was its fault, all too often you will get nothing back and there is little the police can do about it.

You have to be constantly vigilant so here are some of the latest threats out there.

Mortgage fraud

This new fraud is one of the most frightening of all, as some victims have lost vast sums saved to buy a home.

The complex scam sees fraudsters intercept emails between conveyancing solicitors and homebuyers. Finally, when the buyer is ready to transfer funds to complete the purchase, the fraudsters intervene and send their bank account details instead.

Victims have lost between £77,000 and £735,000 to the scam and banks, solicitors and police typically say there is nothing they can do.

Terrifyingly, most victims have lost all their money and in many cases their homes.

Nick Mothershaw, fraud expert from Experian, says: “The impact on lives can be devastating. Large payments have been diverted and fraudsters have disappeared with the money.”

Protect yourself: Never transfer large sums based on an email, ask for the solicitor’s bank details to be sent by post.

Bank account fraud

Beware anybody approaching you and claiming to be from an organisation you trust, such as your bank, the police, your utility company or even a Government department.

It may be a criminal trying to obtain your personal and financial details, which they will then use to raid your bank account.

These scams will often involve a phone call, text message or email claiming there has been suspicious activity on your account or that your details need to be “updated” or “verified”.

Tony Blake, senior fraud prevention officer for the Dedicated Card and Payment Crime Unit, says criminals do all they can to make their approach appear genuine.

“But do not take someone at their word. People are not always who they claim even if they seem to know a bit of information about you already.”

Fake “phishing” emails pretending to be from your bank, Microsoft, Apple, Skype or any company you have legitimate dealings with are getting more sophisticated. So think twice before acting on unexpected emails, texts, calls or letters.

Protect yourself: If you receive a call, text or email out of the blue asking for your personal information do not respond. Instead, contact the organisation using a number you trust, such as the one from its official website.

Pension scams

Chancellor George Osborne’s pension freedom reforms have liberated fraudsters to launch raids on your lifetime savings.

Pension fraud is so widespread that more than 10million people have received unsolicited calls, texts and emails from scammers in the last year, according to a new report from Citizens Advice.

Worryingly, while three quarters told the charity that they could recognise a scam, only around one in 10 could do so in practice. The vast majority missed warning signs such as cold calling, offers of free financial advice and sky-high investment returns.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, says it is difficult to stay ahead of pension scams as they evolve.

“Many scammers use professional looking websites and leaflets to fool their victims into signing up to free pensions advice or cold call with offers of unusually high investment returns.”

Protect yourself: Before considering any pension offer, check the company is legitimate by visiting the website of City regulator the Financial Conduct Authority at Fca.org.uk.

Mobile hacking

Older people are not the only ones at risk of fraud, young people can fall victim too.

Many are in danger because they store pin numbers for credit or debit cards on their personal devices, such as smartphones, tablets or laptops, according to research from Equifax.

Over a third of 18-24 year olds use their personal devices to store passwords to online accounts, leaving them exposed to fraud if their phone is stolen or hacked.

John Marsden, head of ID and fraud at Equifax, warns: “Your device does not even need to be physically taken for the data on it to be accessed. Fraudsters are establishing bogus wi-fi hotspots, for example, in coffee shops.”

Protect yourself: Never store sensitive personal data on your devices in a recognisable format.

If you suspect you have been targeted, contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or ActionFraud. police.uk or speak to your local branch of Citizens Advice. More information is available at GetSafeOnline.org.

AN accelerating number of “crash for cash” claimants means motorists are not safe on the roads.

The fraudsters stage prangs with innocent motorists, often by slamming on their brakes unexpectedly, before filing bogus whiplash claims.

Insurer Aviva detects a new bogus claim every three hours and is currently investigating 17,000 suspicious cases.

Aviva’s head of fraud Tom Gardiner explains: “Crash for cash does not just push up premiums for genuine customers, it also puts innocent motorists at risk.”

Make sure you protect yourself. It may be dangerous to confront the scammers, but tell your insurer of any suspicions as soon as you can.

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