You can be sure that whenever there’s a crisis, it will be accompanied by fraudsters preying on our emotions, needs and fears. From a humanitarian crisis in Asia, the Russian invasion of Ukraine or a fatal fire in the UK, you can be sure that the fake appeals for charity donations and invitations to enter your personal details in return for graphic images, will follow.
The dire cost of living situation currently facing the UK does, indeed, represent a crisis. However, rather than one which we view remotely via our TV screens and newsfeeds, it’s one that is affecting millions of us right here in this country. Which makes it even easier than usual for fraudsters to successfully exploit those emotions, needs and fears. Not dissimilar, in a way, has been the raft of COVID-19 related scams doing the rounds over the last two and a half years, with fake offers of anything from PPE to recovery loans, vaccinations to tax rebates and COVID passports to free shopping deliveries. To say nothing of the rash of fake texts and emails from ‘parcel delivery firms’ attributable to the quantum leap in online shopping spawned by the pandemic.
Now, with inflation running at a forty year high of 10.1% driving up the cost of consumer goods, income falling by 3% in value between April and June and the threat of a bleak winter of spiralling energy bills, motive, rationalisation and opportunity (known as the ‘Fraud Triangle’) exist in ample measure.
Many readers will remember (and compare the current crisis with) the 17% base rate in the late 1970s, when rising wages and oil prices fuelled a surge in inflation, or if not, maybe the slightly lower interest rate and accompanying mortgage payments in the early 1990s. However, the opportunities for fraudsters to further exploit people’s hardship were relatively limited, given that it was only in 1991 that Tim Berners-Lee revealed his invention of the World Wide Web to the public, 1992 that the first text message was sent and 1997 that the first social networking site was launched.
That’s all changed.
The above mentioned – together with the promise of various relief payments for UK households over the coming months – have conspired to create the perfect storm for fraudsters to do their worst.
Types of scams
Here are some of the scams that you’re likely to hear about – or may even be affected by – as people’s purse strings are tightened and increasing financial pressures. The list is by no means exhaustive as fraudsters are highly adept at keeping abreast of unfortunate situations with very convincing and persuasive messages.
- Texts purporting to be from ‘Gov.org’ or the ‘DWP’ inviting applications or claims for cost-of-living payments. In fact, payments are made automatically so there’s no need to make such a claim.
- Bogus emails, texts or calls claiming to be from the local council requesting bank or card details so that the £150 council tax rebate can be paid. Again, this is not necessary to receive the payment.
- Fake messages about energy payments relief purporting to be from Ofgem, the energy regulator. Payments are actually being overseen not by Ofgem, but the Treasury.
- emails, texts or calls claiming to be sent by energy suppliers offering switching deals, cheaper tariffs, discounts on prepayment meters or rebates.
- WhatsApp scams where you receive a message from someone on a number you don’t recognise claiming to be a family member or friend, informing you they have changed their phone number. A short while later, they request money to solve ‘a problem which needs payment’ (made more believable by the cost-of-living crisis), also known as the ‘Friend in Need’ or ‘Mum and Dad’ scam.
- Advertisements, emails, texts or social media posts offering either non-existent loans or those with incredibly high interest rates, to help you through a period of financial hardship.
- An invitation to join ‘get rich quick’ schemes or jobs, with seemingly (so probably) impossible returns. These range from supposed high return pension and other investment schemes to being paid for the use of your bank account – the latter almost certainly resulting in money muling, a criminal offence in its own right.
- A general increase in ‘traditional’ scams offering great deals on tickets, holidays, vehicles, consumer goods, fashion and other things you purchase online. What you buy is either non-existent or not as advertised.
Protect yourself during the cost of living crisis
- Do your research: never send money to anyone you don’t know personally, or buy anything you’re not entirely sure of.
- Look out for spelling and grammatical errors in emails and texts, not being addressed by your name and poor layouts.
- Never reveal personal or financial data including usernames, passwords, PINs, or ID numbers.
- Don’t open email attachments or click on links in communications from unknown sources.
- Make sure your antivirus software is up to date and run a scan before opening anything you’re suspicious of. Always update software, apps and operating systems when prompted, or set them to update automatically.
- Think before you click: if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
- To check whether a website is likely to be legitimate or fraudulent, enter its address at getsafeonline.org/checkawebsite