Since 2005 I’ve been a uniformed Staff Public Enquiries Officer on the front desk of several very busy police stations in the North of England. The number of unfortunate people who have stood in front of me with their tales of being defrauded has increased at an alarming rate – and I believe them to be only the tip of the iceberg. Unfortunately in these straightened times of budget cutbacks “managing expectations” is the Helpdesk buzz phrase.
Of course as an Annabel & Grace online reader you’re immune to all of this. You’re savvy. You take precautions. But for every brick wall build by a human, there’s another who finds a way through it. Be under no illusion. Online crime is now massive, out of control and only one of the many ways you can lose.
Billions of pounds are lost to criminals every year who trick people by sending letters, making phone calls and using the internet. Thousand of millions – or in realistic terms, so much no-one really knows. The following are just a few examples of the shocking way scammers operate:
So you register at a hotel and they ask you for a credit card to be registered to your account which is normal practise and you give them this. You get your room number and settle in. The phone goes and it’s reception telling you there seems to be a problem with the credit card details you gave them and could you repeat them, including the three numbers on the back. As this isn’t an external call and they sound so friendly and professional, you do. But the voice is not reception. It’s an outside caller who has rung them and asked to be put through to a random room number. The receptionist has been duped by their charm – and you have been scammed.
Fraudsters love dating online. They set up seemingly genuine profiles after your money and not your love, playing on your good nature and emotions. They say love is blind. A lady came to me who had been sending money for about 18 months to someone who she thought was a US soldier in need of medical help and was out of pocket to the tune of around £80,000. She was completely besotted but told me her family didn’t know as she was too afraid to tell them. I examined the paperwork. The bank account was in Nigeria and patently fraudulent – yet she still believed this man was real. I had to break it to her that not only had she lost her money, but the man she had fallen in love with did not exist.
Charles got a letter with a fancy letterhead claiming to be from a lawyer in Portugal. It offered him a large share of an inheritance from the lawyer’s late client with no immediate family. Hoping he had come across a once in a lifetime opportunity, he contacted the sender since he shared the same rare surname as the lawyers client and hoped he could share in this windfall. Fees were requested to cover local costs and taxes but the more he paid, the more the requests continued. In the end Charles received nothing – and lost his life savings.
Over a five year period Jessica was a victim repeatedly tricked into sending money. She’d “won the lottery”, was a “guaranteed winner”, had an “unclaimed prize” and was “sworn to secrecy”. She loved to hear from Tom Champagne at the Readers Digest and others in the hope she’d be able to pass on wealth to her family. Jessica died in 2007 aged 83 still waiting for her promised prizes. After she passed away her daughter found her bank account had been drained and discovered over 30,000 scam letters in her home she had been hiding. North Yorkshire Police have backed an educational documentary drama regarding Jessica and her family that I would urge you to watch:
Let’s get seasonal. Scammers love Christmas. Everyone spending much more money than usual, stressed and in a hurry. For fraudsters it’s like shooting rats in a barrel. 15,024 shoppers were taken to the cleaners in 2017 for a total of more than £11 million on platforms like Gumtree (who are now working with the police to negate this).
Mobile phones are one of the most popular presents. Victims report being hooked in by bargains on some of the latest models only for the phone to never arrive. Apple phones accounted for 74% of these.
Even more shocking data now suggests 23% of people sent phishing emails open them. But that’s not you – is it?
If you do suspect you’ve been scammed, here’s what to do. Gather all evidence printed and online of what has happened, then report it to Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud and crime reporting centre. This is run by the City Of London Police on a national level. They gather, collate and decide on a case-by-case basis what evidence exists for officers to make arrest enquiries and a prosecution. It all depends on what lines of enquiry there are.
You may be asked for a crime number by banks or other organisations as proof you have reported your fraud, but unless Action Fraud have been told this won’t happen and will not guarantee any police action. But it’s crucial to bear in mind officers are building a picture and you may hold the vital piece of the jigsaw they need. So if it happens, report it to Action Fraud.
If enough evidence is provided it will be delegated to the Force where they believe the crime was committed. The problem with the internet is that could be anywhere on earth – and that is the nub of the problem.
So the message is be vigilant and aware, particularly online.
Action Fraud can be contacted here:
or call: 0300 123 2040.
Taking a couple of minutes to familiarise yourself with a few simple online safety tips can make the difference between getting all your shopping done in time and becoming a victim of fraud.
“Take Five to Stop Fraud” is a now a national campaign backed by the UK government, police and the banking industry. It’s about taking that moment to pause and think before you respond and confidently challenge any attempt to get you to click on links, move money or give personal information.
I’ll leave the last words of advice to DCI Pete O’Doherty of the City Of London Police: “Keep your software updated. Do not pay for goods by bank transfer. If it looks like a bargain, it’s probably poor quality, fake or doesn’t exist.”