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Help Prevent Your Parents & Grandparents Falling Victim to Scams

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The older generations of our families are specifically targeted by cyber criminals for phone scams as they generally tend to have significant financial assets (pensions, savings or investments) and aren’t as technologically savvy as some of the younger generations. Criminals exploit this combination of wealth and technological literacy for their own financial gain. In this post, I’ll cover some of the most common scams and ways we can protect ourselves and our loved ones against them.

The best way to protect yourself is to learn what types of scam are out there, how they work so that you can identify them when they're happening to you.

The Most Common Scams

The Nigerian

One of the oldest scams out there and typically what we all think of when someone says ‘scam’. The scam starts with an emotional message of some kind (typically an email or letter but could also be text message or social media message) direct from the scammer. They will purport to be an official of some kind (government member, businessman or a very wealthy person for example) and will ask for your ‘help’ or to ‘facilitate’ a transaction. They’ll require a small ‘transaction fee’ to be paid to release whatever funds they have promised. They will continue adding to the story and request more legal fees, transaction costs, etc. until you cotton on. They may continue to send you paperwork in the post to try and make it look like the transaction is moving along when in fact it isn’t moving anywhere!

The Too-Good-to-be-True Offer

A scam that specifically targets those already in financial difficulty. Often these come in the form of credit card offers, your bank has already pre-approved a credit card or loan and all you need to do is complete some basic information to have it posted out to you. Variations include;

o “you’ve won the lottery”
o “make money fast by this simple trick working from home”
o “amazing offer for an exotic travel destination expiring soon and you must not miss out!”
o “Insider Tip: this new investment / stock / IPO is going to make millions!”

Scammers ask for a ‘mandatory’ processing fee to cover the costs of the ‘service’.

The Hitman

A sinister scam where the fraudster attempts to extort you by saying that they are a hitman and someone had hired them to kill you. However, luckily for you, they are offering you if you pay £££s by a certain date then you will be spared. If you contact the police or anybody else you will be killed. A variant of this is threatening to kidnap a member of your family. Most recently scammers are using publicly available information from social networking accounts to create a sense of real danger – trying to demonstrate that they are already close to you and know everything about you…really all that they’ve done is google your name and gathered information from your open social media accounts. See this post on Over-Sharing for tips on how to limit the amount of personal information that appears on the web.

The Lover

This scam unapologetically preys on our personal insecurities and by its very nature, yields huge sums of money for the perpetrators. Typically performed over dating websites or social media sites, the scammer sends a simple message and starts to build a relationship with you. These can be ‘long cons’ and they may not ask for money until months into the ‘relationship’ – they want to gain your trust so as to scam you for greater amounts later. An unexpected event will occur which requires you to send them money to get out of whatever predicament they purport to be in. You may think you would never fall victim to this, but there are times in our lives that scammers especially target as they know we’re vulnerable, e.g. immediately after relationship break-ups or the death of a spouse. A middle-aged woman from Hillingdon, London, was defrauded a whopping £1.6m from a man she believed she was in a relationship with. In reality, a gang of conmen were working together, strategically extracting money from her by manipulating her emotions.

The Social Media Impersonation

Facebook is currently the most popular social networking platform in the world and if we do not secure our profiles then our accounts are vulnerable to being hacked and our identities impersonated. Gangs hack into accounts and then request money to release control of their account back to the owner. Or, they won’t ask for cash at all but use the profile as a now compromised ‘trusted’ profile to extort your family and friends. Your family and friends would always help you out if you needed funds quickly, so this is a great way for them to make money fast! To combat this, lock down your social media accounts’ privacy settings (see post here) and enable two factor authentication on your primary accounts.

Fake News

This scam exploits recent global events to make you believe it is a real offer purely by being current. For example, making ‘charitable’ donations following a Tsunami or Earthquake, general elections, sporting events such as the Olympics or football/rugby world cups. The scam works by encouraging you to make some sort of donation or buy a low-cost product. Once they have your payment details they then empty your account.

The Job Offer

Posing as a recruiter, the scammer pretends to be from a reputable company, either calling you directly or messaging you on a professional networking site like LinkedIn. They’ll claim they’ve seen your bio or CV online, that they’re impressed and they have a very attractive job offer for you. The ultimate goal is to get you to commit to the new role (which doesn’t exist) and then charge you an extortionate recruitment fee. If you refuse, they often threaten to contact your current employer telling them you’re thinking of leaving. Don’t be afraid to ask them to prove their credentials. Ask for references and contact those references (although do remember the references ‘could’ be other impersonating scammers so be diligent!).

Postal Interception

This is rarer than most but still crops up from time to time. The attacker finds a way to regularly steal your post. For example, if you have an external post box at the end of your garden or your post is delivered to a communal area. They then use the information sent to you to steal your identity. They can learn almost all there is to know about you from accessing your post, i.e. who you bank with, your mobile phone provider, your internet service provider, who your energy provider is. With this information they can call up these organisations, use your postal address to pass security questions and then request to change your security passwords etc. The new details will be mailed out to you, but they’ll have swiped it before you even knew you had new mail. If you suspect someone is intercepting your mail, try posting an anonymous letter to yourself and see if it ever gets delivered.

The Fraud Recovery Service

This is without doubt one of the worst types of scam because it targets those who have just been a victim. If you report a fraud, make it public information by posting about it online or simply the fraudster has successfully targeted you before, you can be someone on the target list for a second time. The fraudsters contact you about your historical fraud claim, pretending to be someone in an official capacity (e.g. insurance broker, police, government agency representative) and they claim that due to new information or technological developments since the original case, they can help recover the money that was originally lost. They de-fraud you by requesting a fee for the service.

The Miracle Pill

Again, a shameful scam that targets those who are known to have a specific health ailment. The victim receives an email or phone call claiming a new drug has just been released for patient trials and that you’ve been selected. They will claim the new treatment cures almost everyone but is expensive. They’ll charge you the “discounted” price of the drug but you’ll never receive anything. In some cases, they even send you tablets – the contents of which is anyone’s guess!

Your Inheritance

You’ll be told someone has died and you’re listed in the will to receive an inheritance. Usually the person who has died is a long lost relative and is very wealthy. Again, various legal, banking, transaction fees will be requested to release the funds to you.

Those are the most common scams and all can occur over email, post or phone.

What to do if you suspect you’re on the phone with a scammer

Follow these steps;

  • If in doubt, call them back! If you get an unsolicited phone call from someone claiming to be from your bank or any institute that handles money on your half (pension providers, investment trusts, financial advisers, insurance brokers, etc.), explain your concerns and call them back from the number found on your debit/credit card or the official website. Any genuine representative from a legit company will understand your concerns. Use a different phone to call them back (if you can) and wait 5-10 minutes, as criminals have ways of holding your line so that when you make a new call, you think you’ve dialled a new number but really the first call still hasn’t ended yet! They can even replicate a fake dial-tone and then pretend to answer the phone as a new call.
  • Ask them to prove that they are from where they say they are. They ask us to go through security so why not ask them! The legit representatives will normally recommend you calling them back on a public number – don’t let them give you a number to call them back.
  • Are They Trying to Instil an Element of Urgency? Have they put a time frame on when you need to take a certain action by? They do this to try and prevent you thinking too critically about what they’re asking you to do. The vast majority of scams have an element of urgency associated with them.
  • Are They Asking You To Perform an Action? Normally, cyber criminals need us to provide them with something or we need to do something on our online account in order for them to circumvent the security controls. Legit organisations don’t need to ask us – they just do it! For example, when a customers account is under threat of fraud, organisations move quickly to secure it without the customers permission (because the customer is always going want them to do so!). They may then call you to let you know but it’ll be in the vain of “FYI this has happened and this is what we’ve done”, not asking for anything. So, are they asking you to move money to a specific fraud prevention account? Or to provide your username / date of birth / password to go through security? Are they asking for you to generate a security key from your little security device? All these kinds of questions should raise a big alarm!
  • Don’t Be Fooled. Scammers have got clever of late and just because you can hear an automated voice menu or chattering people (like a call centre would have) in the background it doesn’t mean they are actually legitimate! Criminals have been known to play call centres ambient sounds so it sounds like they are in a call centre. Also, voice menus are easy to setup and criminals use them all the time to lull us into a false sense of security.

How to Protect Yourself

Phone scams against the elderly are increasing and some people are plagued with daily scam calls. Fortunately, technology comes to the rescue! There are some very good solutions that can help eliminate these kinds of calls in their entirety. Although this isn’t something that is needed for the masses, if you or someone you know suffers from incessant scam calls then I’d recommend the following;

1. Plug the Leak!

Firstly, for whatever reason, your personal details are being leaked into the public domain so you need to address this first and foremost. Even if you do what most people do when they get constant scam calls and change your telephone number, if you haven’t addressed the root cause of the problem (your telephone numbers being publicly accessible) it won’t have any impact. The new number will be found by the same scammers and the phone calls will persist. Follow the tips in this Over-Sharing post here to prevent over sharing your personal details online. You can also take steps mentioned in this post to help reduce your existing online footprint.

2. Opt-out Registers.

Register with any national opt-out registers, e.g. in the UK you can register with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) which UK companies are obliged to check before making marketing calls.

3. Change Your Telephone Number.

Once you’ve successfully removed your personal details from mainstream public domains like social media sites and the public phone book (step 1 above) and you’ve taken steps to prevent legal companies from calling you (step 2), you can now change your telephone number with your phone provider. Many people do this first without steps 1 and 2 above without realising that if you don’t plug your leaks of personal data into the public domain, your new number will quick soon follow suite and also be in the wrong hands!

4. Install a Call Blocker.

If you are still receiving scam calls, you can go one step further and get a Call Blocker. This is a device that filters incoming calls before they even make your phone ring! There are two types; Phone Provider and Home Phone Blocker.

  • Phone Provider – your phone provider (BT, Sky, AT&T, etc.) often provide their own network-based solutions. However, to cut a long story short these services are often expensive and have a limited effect. For example, they just stop calls from people who have withheld their number, but this doesn’t catch calls from international or unavailable numbers. With these kinds of services at around £60-70 per year, best skip this and get yourself a Home Phone Blocker, below.
  • Home Phone Blocker – the blocking capabilities are typically much more powerful than the network options above. They’ll catch withheld numbers, international numbers, unavailable numbers and numbers known for making spam calls. You also don’t keep paying for this each month as you just buy the handset and that’s it. I’d recommend the BT 8600 Advanced Call Blocker Expandable Cordless Phone. It’s one of the best solutions out there and only costs £35! This will replace your current home phone.

If changing your home phone handset isn’t an option, you can get a device called TrueCall Call Blocker which plugs in between your phone and the telephone wall socket, allowing it to intercept calls before they come through to your phone. For unrecognised numbers, it’ll ask them to state their name before allowing the call through so you can hear who it is and reject it if it doesn’t sound familiar. At around £120, it is more expensive than the BT option above so clearly the handset option is preferable.

Top Tip: if you receive only the occasional annoying call that doesn’t really warrant taking all the steps above, you can just create a new contact on your phone called “Blocked” and anytime you get a scam call add that number to the new contact so you know not to pick up if they call back.

You would be surprised how many elderly people are plagued by scam calls on a daily basis. The more they receive the higher likelihood it is that one will convince them to do something which might result in them giving away their life savings!

Send the link of this post to your parents or grandparents right now to ensure they are aware of what the different types of scam are, how they can identify them and what to do when they suspect they’re on the phone with a scammer!

I hope you found this useful. Leave me a comment to let me know what you think.

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