Last year the number of identity fraud cases rose to a record high. There were more than 172,900 recorded identity frauds in 2016 alone, according to new data from the fraud prevention service Cifas. That means that identity fraud is now well over half of all the fraud recorded by the organisation.
Perhaps you assume that you won’t fall victim because you can spot a dodgy email from a Nigerian prince who calls you “beloved” and wishes to transfer £12.3m into your account as soon as you pay him a fee. However, it’s the web-savvy digital natives who are increasingly falling for newer, more sophisticated scams. Almost 25,000 recorded victims of fraud were under the age of 30 and the number under the age of 21 rose by a third. Priya Sahib, spokesperson for the credit check company Experian, says the idea that you have to be foolish or careless to be caught out by fraudsters is wrong.
“That’s certainly not the case, but by living our lives online we are making ourselves more vulnerable to fraud, especially younger people who are quicker to adopt new technologies rather than traditional methods of storing and tracking personal information,” she explains.
“Experian’s research has found that digitally-savvy users, older and retired households and elderly and transient renters are more susceptible to online fraud. However that doesn’t mean other groups are not at risk.”
So no group can assume they are immune, no matter what their age or computing ability. Here are some of the smartest scams and how to spot and avoid them.
Organised crime groups who ring people in an attempt to steal sensitive data such as PINs are very good at what they do. The City of London’s National Fraud Intelligence Bureau recently warned that fraudsters are now even using hold music similar to that used by the bank to make the call that little bit more convincing.
Stephen Proffitt, deputy head of Action Fraud, says: “If you receive a cold call purporting to be from your bank, always end the call as soon as possible and call your bank back using the number on the back of your bank card or statement and ask to be put through to the fraud team. Tell them exactly what has just occurred.”
Many of us are hooked on vouchers and discount codes, rely on them to bring down the cost of our shopping. But fraudsters understand that desperation makes us more easily fooled and they exploit that to steal sensitive data. Just this week Aldi was forced to warn customers that a hoax £65 voucher was being circulated online. Customers had to hand over data to claim it but it was not accepted within the shop and clicking on the download infected their computers with malware and spyware.
Just because your friends have shared it on social media it does not mean you can trust it.
Keeping your computer protected by antivirus software is a sensible measure in the face of a rising tide of fraudsters. However, Action Fraud has recently warned that criminals are exploiting people who try to do just that.
After buying new computers, victims who have struggled to launch their antivirus software have found themselves on fake antivirus websites. They enter contact information and are phoned by fraudsters who charge them for their subscription and even gain remote access to their machines. It’s not just new computer owners; some victims have merely been trying to renew their subscriptions, so it’s essential to stay vigilant.
It helps fraudsters if potential victims want to believe their lies and the tax rebate scam that’s currently sweeping the UK is a prime example. Potential victims receive phishing emails and texts that claim to be from HMRC promising tax rebates. They are incredibly convincing and encourage recipients to download an attachment or click a link.
Two things then happen. Either the computer is infected with banking malware that steals data and makes identity fraud possible, or it is infected with ransomware, which locks it up until a fraudster releases it. Of course criminals demand a ransom in order to do so.
Boiler room fraud
There have been so many new types of investment in the past few years that it is understandable some people are more willing to trust new forms of money making scams – especially when returns on savings are so poor. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has warned people – and particularly the over-55s – to be careful and wary of investment opportunities such as wine investments.
It says that fraudsters often offer lucrative returns way above the market rate and use flattery to make potential victims feel good and confident.
Always check the FCA website to see if a firm or individual is authorised or if they are on the warning list and reject any unsolicited calls, letters and emails.
Mark Steward, director of enforcement at the FCA, comments: “Be alert to the warning signs like being contacted out of the blue, promises of low risk and/or guaranteed above market returns, special deals just for you, time pressure and, very often, flattery.
“Be vigilant. Don’t let them push you into making a decision and parting with your money. Question their claims. Check the Financial Services Register and seek impartial advice. If in any doubt – don’t invest.”
There’s no point pretending that you can stay on top of fraud threats by checking out the latest scams; scammers move fast and are constantly coming up with new plans and strategies.
Mike Haley, deputy chief executive of Cifas says: “With nine out of ten identity frauds committed online and with all age groups at risk, we are urging everyone to make it more difficult for fraudsters to abuse their identity. There are three simple steps that anyone can take to protect themselves: use strong passwords, download software updates when prompted on your devices; and avoid using public wifi for banking and online shopping.
“We all remember to protect our possessions through locking our house or flat or car but we don’t take the same care to protect our most important asset – our identities. We all need to take responsibility to secure our mail boxes, shred our important documents like bank statements and utility bills, and take sensible precautions online – otherwise we are making ourselves a target for the identity fraudster.”
Experian also recommends passcode-protecting mobile devices to avoid gifting thieves with information that makes it easier to steal identities, and checking the post for unexpected mail that could be a warning sign of ID fraud. It’s also useful to regularly check your credit report in order to see when people have applied for credit in your name.
But perhaps the most important way to stay safe from fraud is to remain vigilant. And that means acknowledging that just because you can spot a scam it doesn’t mean you’re safe from them all.