You are, according to the latest data, more likely to become a victim of crime via one of these channels than to fall prey to the more traditional kind of crook. Hacking into an account is easier work for the criminal fraternity than breaking and entering, and less likely to be detected.
The year is just half over, yet since it began, according to Citizens Advice more than two-thirds of people have been targeted by online con merchants. Even if only one attempt in a hundred is successful, it’s still a golden ticket for the unscrupulous.
And it’s not just the elderly or vulnerable who are at risk; those in their mid-30s and below are nearly five times more likely to fall victim to a scam than their older counterparts.
Attempts to gain access to your personal data, login details and, most of all, your money, are being made by text message, over the phone, on social media and in the post. And the contents are becoming increasingly sophisticated.
In one case, an elderly man sent £240,000 to a bank account he thought was his own. In another, a young woman lost £2,000 to a fake cryptocurrency company after receiving a message from her friend’s hacked social media account.
There are so many of these hoaxes flying around that it’s no longer possible to identify a magic word or phrase within that marks them out as malicious. But they do have in common the facility to confound your expectations. And that should be enough to put you on your guard.
In the case of bogus notifications about parcel deliveries, which account for more than half the total number of scams, the ruse is to get you to visit a fake website to reschedule the consignment. Once hooked, you’ll be asked to pay a redelivery fee. But you can avoid falling victim by asking yourself a few simple questions: were you expecting a parcel, and did the courier leave a physical note through your front door? If not, the message is a scam. Even if you answered yes, it may still be a scam.
The same goes for all of the other common hoaxes currently in circulation: pension scams in which people are tricked into handing over their savings to bogus or questionable investment firms; messages from a government department claiming that your National Insurance number is about to discontinued, or that you owe them money; and callers who claim to have identified a problem with your computer which they can fix for a fee. They all raise issues you weren’t expecting and they’re all fake. The same is true of calls from non-existent companies who claim to have discovered that your loft insulation is not up to standard.
The pandemic has brought its own side-effects in the form of calls and texts from people purporting to work for the NHS, advising that you have been in contact with an infected person and will need to undergo a test, sometimes at a cost of £500. Make it a golden rule never to pay money over the phone, by email or by text message – no matter how convincing the caller may sound.
And as a failsafe, always discuss any proposed payment with a friend or family member before committing to it. A second pair of eyes might just save you an arm and a leg.