Opinion: people need to stop being shamed for falling for fraud

People feeling ashamed about being defrauded or scammed means they're less likely to report the crime and means criminals keep getting away with it. It's time for a culture change, says Felicity Hannah.

Love Money
Last updated: 4 April 2018 - 6.24pm

Tens of millions of pounds are being lost to financial fraudsters every day, data from Financial Fraud Action UK has revealed.

It’s a serious and endemic problem – and it’s made worse by the shame.

New research from Barclays shows that a third of British people have fallen victim to fraud yet the average person would only report it if they lost £112 or more and that’s partly down to embarrassment.

Those who have actually fallen victim to fraud now say they would only report it if they lost more than £235 and more than half say they kept their experience secret from family and friends.

Victims of fraud reported feeling stupid (31%), victimised (23%), helpless (13%) and gullible (12%).

Whenever a scam is covered online, people say “a fool and his money” or “anyone stupid enough to fall for this gets what they deserve”.

Look on Twitter or Facebook and the message is the same: “I would never have fallen for this so they are getting what they deserve.”

But the sad truth is that most of us would fall for some scams and we all need to remain vigilant. Sharing information without being shamed is essential to that.

Our sneers should be reserved for the criminals that perpetrate this fraud and, on occasion, the institutions that do not do enough to stop them.

You don’t have to be stupid to fall for fraud

Let me repeat that: you don’t have to be stupid to fall for fraud. And if you think it only happens to stupid people then you’re both shaming the victims and becoming riskily complacent.

Emma Mohan-Satta, fraud prevention consultant at Kaspersky Lab, says: “Anyone can fall victim to financial fraud and it is certainly not related to intelligence!

“Fraudsters are particularly strong in social engineering and can tailor their attacks in very convincing ways. If a phishing email or call is well-timed and makes contextual sense to the victim, it can be very easy to assume the correspondence is legitimate.”

What’s more, it’s not just about keeping an eye out for emails ‘from’ Nigerian princes. Fraudsters work so hard on their technological developments that you wonder why they don’t just get real jobs.

Mohan-Satta explains: “Financial fraud is increasingly moving online as people interact with their banks digitally.

“Unfortunately this can make it very difficult for a customer as not everyone has the technical knowledge or awareness to identify a cyber-based attack.

“For example, we see fraudsters inserting additional fields into banking web pages to gather additional personal information to launch a fraud attack – these fields can look so legitimate that a customer can easily be tricked into providing the information.

“We also see fake mobile apps used in fraud attacks and with so many apps available across so many app stores, it’s not always easy for a customer to know if they are downloading the legitimate version.”

Alan Andrews, spokesperson for KIS Bridging Loans, warns that large-scale email and telephone call centres can carry out thousands of frauds a day.

He’s despondent about the UK’s ability to put a lid on it.

“The easy-to-spot frauds, such as sending money to a foreign lawyer who has millions waiting in a forgotten relative’s estate, are still doing the rounds. However new, clever frauds are being created every day,” he warns.

“As the vast majority of frauds originate from large organised groups who are making an absolute fortune, and are based in countries that our authorities have little power to combat, this problem is only going to get worse!

“Of the 30,000 cases of fraud actually reported each month, only 1 in 5 are sent to the police, of which only one in 100 of these are investigated. To combat this type of crime there has to be a deterrent, and there isn’t one.”

[Read more: Four sneaky phone scams you should be aware of to stay safe]

Shaming shuts people up

If there’s a new innovative fraud attack going around then I want to hear about it.

When criminals come up with a new scam I want to know how it works and what the risks are. I want the police to investigate it, I want financial providers to educate their customers about it. I want us to share information and limit the dangers.

That won’t happen if every time an article or social media comment tries to raise awareness a bunch of people start calling the victim an idiot.

It’s just basic common sense.

What could be done?

Of course, there are often legitimate targets for our anger when fraud takes place.

We can look at the companies that have failed to keep our data safe – there have been a number of news stories lately where massive companies holding vast amounts of sensitive data have been hacked.

A near-relative of mine had her data stolen from her telephone provider several years ago. She is still receiving phishing calls and emails to this day.

Jamie Smith-Thompson, managing director at pension advice specialist Portafina, firmly believes that official organisations such as the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) could do more to keep customers safe.

He said he gets “quite frustrated” with the regulators, as “the simplest thing to help would be to create a ‘Regulated by the FCA’ badge of honour, that you could use on your website and in literature to show people you are a genuine company.

“If you clicked on it, it could link straight to your regulated details on the FCA’s own website. And if you made using the badge without being regulated an offence it would then be easy for the FCA to chase up and prosecute any scammer trying to use it.

“We have suggested it to them. As things stand the regulator’s view on scammers seems to be that if they aren’t a regulated company it isn’t within the regulator’s remit to actively try to stop them.”

Lee Munson, security researcher for security advice website Comparitech.com, thinks customers have enough protection and it’s information that’s needed.

He says: “Financial providers exist to make profits, not to nanny anyone, and so their obligation to fraud victims should not be infinite. I believe the fact that they tend to reimburse victims of card not present fraud and cloned cards is sufficient.

“Should any financial institution like to offer more support, I would like to see it in the area of training and awareness so that the pool of potential victims is diminished before any crime is ever committed.

“People who commit fraud are always on the lookout for new and easy ways of parting people from their hard-earned cash and the fraud fighters are always on the back foot as new methods and ruses emerge. As long as the human race remains enslaved to money, there will be fraud.”

Combatting fraud and keeping people safe is a whole other article – there’s not enough space to deal with it effectively here.

However, one thing is very clear to me: shaming fraud victims is unfair on them and leaves us all in greater danger.

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