Think you’re too clever to be scammed? Don’t be so sure

ID theft cropHOW much is your identity worth? To you it’s priceless, but to scammers it could easily add up to a few thousand pounds of easy money. And it might not be as well protected as you think.

If you think you’re immune to being scammed, defrauded or taken advantage of, it’s time to think again. Gone are the days when shredding your letters and filtering your junk email was enough to ensure you’d never fall prey to a con, as methods become more sophisticated and firms struggle to keep up … or simply choose to write off the losses.

It used to be that web-based scams targeted the particularly gullible, by dangling an unclaimed inheritance or too-good-to-be-true investment opportunity. These weren’t hard to spot: tell-tale signs included dreadful spelling, grammar and punctuation (“Dear Craven, i urgently seek your assistnce…”), a fanciful anecdote and references to a deposit or down-payment. A quick Google of the message was usually enough to confirm it had been sent to millions of others.

These days scammers are getting wiser, and we’re making it easier for them

These days scammers are getting wiser, and we’re making it easier for them. If your firm’s website has a detailed “About Us” section then it isn’t too difficult for a third party to figure out who might be responsible for signing off payments – and to send that person an email with an urgent transfer request that looks very much as though it’s from their boss.

Meanwhile, the case of Waterland Warehousing, highlighted in The National this week, shows the lengths to which determined scammers are prepared to go to extract cash from ordinary people acting in good faith. All scams are immoral, but targeting job-seekers is particularly cruel. One could argue that those who send thousands to Nigeria in the hope of a million-pound windfall have more money than sense, but those desperate enough for work that they’ll reach for a credit card are those who can least afford to write off £100.

A slick website, some stock images and a plausible set of contact details are enough to make any business look legitimate

A slick website, some stock images and a plausible set of contact details are enough to make any business look legitimate, but when Mark Wallis was asked for payment for a background check he smelled a rat and contacted the police – only to be told no crime had been committed because he didn’t part with any cash. He then contacted The National to warn others about the scam, but will jobcentres be advising their clients about it, or is it every man for himself in the online job-search wilderness? Janice Burns’s exposé is now out there, in cyberspace, but just how much clicking and researching constitutes due diligence on the part of a job-seeker who may already be temping, juggling interview appointments and jumping through hoops to avoid a benefit sanction? And is it unreasonable to suggest that some people may wish to keep their CVs off the internet altogether?

One might imagine the authorities would be gathering data on scams like this in other to catch and prosecute the perpetrators, or at least to issue specific warnings to the public. But in fact the message seems to be “thanks but no thanks”. Log onto the Action Fraud website and you’ll be able to report being “asked for an up-front fee with the promise of getting more money or security something like inheritance, a job, loan, lottery win or insurance”, but on selecting this option and proceeding with a report you’ll find no sub-category mentioning jobs. How, then, can the UK’s National Fraud Intelligence Bureau be building up a useful database of such frauds?

The first I knew my identity had been stolen was when the iPhone 6 contracts started arriving

The first I knew my identity had been stolen was when the iPhone 6 contracts started arriving. First one, then two more, then a further trio, all in the space of a week. The fraudsters weren’t using my bank details, just my name and address – and they were walking out of phone shops with brand-new smartphones. Then they started opening store cards in my name, wise to the fact that up to £500 could be spent on day one, long before the confirmation letters came through my letterbox. When I asked a member of staff at a big-name department store why the fraudsters weren’t asked for ID, he explained they should have been. So either the sales assistant was in on the con, or someone was using a fake ID bearing my name. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that stores are so keen to sign new customers up to expensive phone contracts or credit cards with sky-high interest rates that they’re willing to take the odd £500-£600 hit – and let the victims clean up their own credit ratings and spend hours on hold to call-handlers in multiple different fraud teams.

This simply isn’t good enough. Ordinary people are not detectives, and cannot be expected to guard against financial scams with minimal support from the authorities. Job-seekers should not be expected to carry out risk assessments every time they answer the phone. It’s too easy to blame the victim for handing over money without checking where it’s going, but who is looking out for the most vulnerable – elderly people, those with learning difficulties or mental health problems? Not the police, it seems, at either a local or national level.

The response to fraud must be improved – not just to prevent crime but to avoid the creation of a “trust no-one” society in which every email, call and interaction feels like a potential threat.

A version of this article first appeared in The National.

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