Please don’t shoot me, but those two words “Amazon” and “Prime” are as integral to the smooth operation of our household as the supply of gas and electricity.
Of course, we are committed to shopping locally, in the village, at the farm-shop, and also the town centre, where our Barnsley market is springing back to life.
However, for all the times when someone in our busy household realises that they need a vital item that is time-consuming or difficult to source – be it ballet tights or a specialist drill bit – the very next day, or pretty soon after, Amazon is our saviour.
There are also films available as part of the membership, invaluable when there’s nowhere to go and the rain is pouring down outside. When, for a split second, I thought our lifeline was about to be suspended, my heart stopped. Then I quickly realised that I pay Amazon Prime monthly, not in one lump sum.
For probably the 10th time this year, I clicked my phone off and ignored the call. Another scam, or rather an attempt at a scam. Last time it was (not) the HMRC affording me a tax refund. I ignored that one too.
According to the consumer group, Which?, fraudsters are taking advantage of the pandemic to prey on people, especially those marooned in their homes or wary of venturing back out to normal life. How sick is that?
Which? researchers have discovered individuals claiming to be from local NHS services offering fast-track testing and vaccines, selling vitamin pills that supposedly protect against Covid and collecting donations for fake charities.
Around 16 per cent of those surveyed had received unsolicited visits from someone claiming to be a salesperson or charity worker since the start of the first lockdown. Some said they felt the unwanted visitor tried to pressure them into making a purchase or donating money.
According to data from Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime, £18.7m was lost to doorstep crime in 2020. That’s bad enough, but many in-person scams are thought to go unreported so the true figures could be much higher.
Which? reports that the number of reports to police for this type of fraud in April 2020 was 46 per cent lower than in April 2019, owing to the lockdown, but by the summer of 2020, with fewer restrictions to curtail fraudster activity, reports of these in-person scams had returned to pre-pandemic levels.
There are also numerous reports of dodgy fake tradesmen knocking on doors offering to do gardening or home improvement jobs.
It is worrying enough to receive an unsolicited fake phone call, text or email. Imagine how it must feel to know that some unscrupulous criminal has actually targeted your home and violated your trust on your very own doorstep.
It still makes me sad – and angry – to think that people will have fallen for that Amazon scam. How many older, vulnerable or less cynical people have been triggered into panicking and handing over their card details?
Amazon has urged anyone who receives this kind of call to report it immediately to Action Fraud, the national cyber-crime and fraud reporting service. And for extra security, to change your password.
However, even as this particular scam dies down, fraudsters will already be launching others and fleecing trusting people of their money.
The question is what can be done? Action Fraud has come under fire itself for systemic failures in dealing with reports from members of the public who have been targeted by con artists. In a report, also undertaken by Which?, the organisation was slammed for its ineptitude.
There are some positive signs, but still much to do legally. The Government is facing pressure to crack down on online scams as part of forthcoming ‘Duty of Care’ legislation, but this would only go so far. Essentially, it’s aimed at forcing tech companies to accept significant fines if they allow users to come to harm when using their services.
Sadly, fraudsters rely on silence – and even the shame of their victims – in order to carry out their nefarious business. The only way to stop the rot is to out these criminals and spread the word in order to protect ourselves and those who can’t protect themselves.
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