It's Scams Awareness Month, a joint campaign between Citizens Advice and Trading Standards, aiming to highlight different scams and how to avoid them. The first area being highlighted is telephone scams.
Sadly this is a growing problem, with older people in particular being targeted. In fact, the Financial Ombudsman Service said 80% of the people it dealt with who had been scammed were over the age of 55.
So let’s take a closer look at just how telephone scams work, and how to protect yourself.
“I have a great investment opportunity for you…”
Many of us will at some time receive a phone call out of the blue from someone promising us a great way to make money. Often it will be enticing you into investing in something exotic like wine or carbon credits or land in Brazil,
The deal on offer will sound fantastic. You’ll be told that the investment is low risk, there’s no way it can lose.
And the returns will be unbelievable, far more impressive than anything you can get from your bank or even by sticking your money into a few Ftse 100 shares.
Of course, it will all be rubbish. The callers are scammers, trying to get you to sign over your cash into an investment where the only winner will be the scammers.
You’ll either be investing in something that doesn’t exist, or which has a value of a fraction of what you’re paying for it.
Citisens Advice reported that one person it spoke to was convinced to invest £100,000 into fine wines, only to discover they were worth less than half that amount.
One of the most common cold call topics at the moment are pensions. Thanks to the new pension freedoms, over-55s have far more control over what to do with their pension pots.
And that presents an opportunity for scammers.
Back in May, the Information Commissioner’s Office reported receiving more than 1,000 complaints about pension-related cold calls and texts this year already.
If someone calls you out of the blue offering to help you access your pension, particularly if you're not yet 55, it's going to be a scam.
Other scammers will target people over 55 with investment scams like the ones mentioned above in a bid to convince them to invest their pension money in a scam.
Engineer phone scams
However, not all telephone scams will be about investing or pensions. Some will simply prey on your fears to con you out of money.
For example, some scammers will call and tell you that you have got a virus on your computer, and that only they can help you remove it. They’ll pretend to be from Microsoft or some other big name, and talk you into downloading some form of software that allows the caller to access your computer, so that they can ‘remove the virus’.
Once you give them access, they will put an actual virus on your computer and demand a huge fee to remove it. However, they have also got access to your financial details so the scam doesn't end when they've removed the virus.
They will almost certainly try to empty your bank account or spend on your credit card too.
Bank account scams
Scammers may also call and say there's been a security breach on your bank account that they need to fix. Of course, to do that they'll need your account details, including your PIN.
Give the details out and your account will drained.
Or there’s the courier scam. You’ll receive a call, supposedly from the police or your bank, stating that it has seen a fraudulent payment on your card and it needs to be replaced.
A courier will be sent to collect your card and arrange for a new one. By now they have your card, your name and your home address.
Neither a bank nor the police will ever send a courier to your home, ask for your Pin, or act in this way at all.
The Scams Awareness Month tagline this year is “Don’t be rushed, don’t be hushed” and that’s particularly appropriate when it comes to telephone scams.
The person on the other line will be trying to hassle you into agreeing to whatever they want, whether that’s investing in a diamond mine in South Africa or handing over remote access to your computer.
Don’t let them. Always take your time.
Besides, you should always be suspicious of any call out of the blue. If an investment sounds too good to be true, then chances are it is.
And if the caller says they are from your bank, don’t be afraid to hang up then call the bank directly to establish if the caller’s claims are genuine.