Do you know your vishing from your phishing and smishing?

The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau have reported a 7 per cent increase in the number of fraud offences recorded in England and Wales, compared to the previous year.

That’s more than 660,000 reports made to the intelligence bureau.  But experts estimate that only 5 to 15 percent of all scams are reported, so the true number of fraud offences is likely to be considerably higher.

June sees national Scams Awareness Month, and Devon, Somerset and Torbay Trading Standards is raising awareness of scams, how to spot them, and importantly how to report them so others don’t fall for them.

“Scams are becoming more and more sophisticated,” says Head of Trading Standards, Paul Thomas, “Criminals are coming up with new and quite innovative ways to fool people into giving up their hard cash, personal information or other data.

“Many of us could, and many of us do fall victim to scams.  There’s no shame in that because scams can look so credible.  And yet we don’t like to talk about it, even though talking about it raises awareness of scams, and is actually one of best ways of preventing these crimes.

Age UK research found that around two-fifths of older people across the UK – around five million people – who believed that they’d fallen victim to scams, didn’t report it to an official channel.  Many of them said that they’d not reported it because they felt too embarrassed.

75 is the average age of reported scam victims.   Figures from National Trading Standards show that older people are deliberately targeted, and fall victim most to phone and mail scams.  The over 70s group sees the largest proportion of people who are recurring victims of scams.

But it’s not just older people.  According to Citizens Advice, National Trading Standards, the Chartered Trading Standards Institute and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, there’s evidence that the number of under 25s becoming victim to scams is rising; fuelled possibly by an over-confidence in using new digital technology, making them complacent and increasingly vulnerable.

Meanwhile it’s actually the 40 to 60 age group that are the most affected by scams.  That’s in part because that age group is most likely to report scams, but it’s also because of the demographic profile of that group.  They tend to be more settled, and have access to financial assets, and their life styles and personal circumstances can sometimes attract fraudsters; dating scams, property scams, or even pension scams.

So what are they? What do they look like; How do I spot one; And what should I do about it?

In short, a scam is a scheme to try to steal money, personal information or data from a person or an organisation.  Other names including fraud, hoax, swindle, cheat, or a con.

Paul Thomas, Head of Devon, Somerset and Torbay Trading Standards, said: “Scams and the people who organise them are becoming more sophisticated, so keeping up on the latest plots and schemes is a challenge.  But everyone needs to be on the look-out, and to look out for each other by talking to friends or relatives when they suspect a problem, and reporting it to the authorities.

“We have some great information about scams at  http://www.devonsomersettradingstandards.gov.uk/consumers/rogue-traders-....”

Some of the most prevalent scams at the moment include:

•    Contactless card scams
•    Online shopping and auction sites
•    Callers or websites claiming to be a Government service, when they’re not
•    Pension scams
•    Investment scams
•    Subscriptions traps or free trial scams
•    Computer scams
•    Ticket scams
•    Council tax re-banding scams
•    Advertising scams
•    ‘Vishing’, ‘Phishing’, and ‘Smishing’ – phone scams, text message scams and email scams

“Other types of scam do happen.  These are just a few of the general types.  By knowing what’s about, being aware of it, can help you be alert to them and might help you avoid falling victim.”

There are three things that people can do if they suspect they are the target of a scam.

  1. Get advice from Citizens Advice consumer service 03454 04 05 06. Look for online consumer advice and information at www.citizensadvice.org.uk. To report a problem to Trading Standards, contact the Citizen’s Advice consumer service.
  2. Report scams and suspected scams to Action Fraud 0300 123 2040, www.actionfraud.police.uk.  Action Fraud is the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and internet crime.  If debit cards, online banking or cheques are involved in the scam, your first step should be to contact your bank or credit card company.
  3. Tell family, friends and neighbours so that they can avoid scams.

People can also cut down on unwanted contacts:

Phone calls

Register their number with the  Telephone Preference Service at  www.tpsonline.org.uk or  0345 070 0707. They can also register their mobile by texting 'TPS' and their email address to 85095.

Report unsolicited marketing calls to the Information Commissioner’s Office – https://ico.org.uk/concerns/marketing, or 0303 123 1113.

Use a product to block telephone calls:

Your phone company may have a blocking service or help available to protect people from nuisance calls.  Call your company’s customer  service helpline to find out.

TrueCall – www.truecall.co.uk
CallBlocker – www.cprcallblocker.co.uk

Mail

People who want to report potential scam mail can write to Royal Mail at: Freepost Scam Mail. Phone: 03456 113 413, or email scam.mail@royalmail.com. They can  also report it to the Citizens Advice  consumer service.

The Mailing Preference Service (MPS) is  free and may help reduce unsolicited mail –  www.mpsonline.org.uk   or 0207 291 3310.

To opt out of deliveries from unaddressed mail distributors consumers can register with “Your Choice” preference scheme Direct Marketing Association (UK) Ltd. at yourchoice@dma.org.uk or  020 7291 3300.

Councillor Rufus Gilbert, Devon County Council’s Cabinet Member with responsibility for the Trading Standards services, said: “Unfortunately scams are a reality that we all need to be aware of.  While some people may feel a bit embarrassed about being victim to such scams, they needn’t.

"Scams have become more sophisticated and more difficult to identify as a scam, so it’s sometimes difficult to tell.  

"The best thing to do is to get advice from Citizen’s Advice, and if you suspect a scam, report it to Action Fraud.  And importantly, do talk about it.  Tell your family or neighbours, because that’s a good way of preventing others from falling victim to it too.”