IF SOMEONE came into your house, picked up a £10 note and walked out with it, you’d dial 999. And you’d dial even faster if it was £100. Or £1,000.
So why do so few of us take the same action when the theft occurs in the form of a scam? Research by Citizens Advice Scotland shows that while almost half of us have experienced scams, only 5 per cent have reported them. So not only do we avoid justice for ourselves, but we let them go ahead and scam others. It’s no wonder scams are on the rise.
May is Scams Awareness Month, and Citizens Advice Bureaux will be joining with trading standards and other agencies across the country to make people more aware of scams, how you can spot them, and what you can do to report them.
Because let’s say it like it is: scams are crimes. They affect people across society, with distressing and sometimes disastrous consequences. The reasons why so many go unreported are varied. If the intended victim spots the scam and avoids it, they may not feel they need to report it. Meanwhile, those who do become victims often feel a sense of shame or embarrassment. And others may not know how or where to report it.
That’s why we need this campaign, to give people the information and the confidence to stand up and fight these cruel crimes. We want to give them the knowledge they need to be able to spot scams in the first place; report them, and get the advice they need to help protect themselves in future.
Scams come in a variety of different forms: post, phone, email, online, sometimes via a knock on the door. There are hundreds of different types of scam: fake lotteries and prize draws, bogus health cures, dodgy investment schemes, pyramid selling, phishing, clairvoyants and psychics to name just a few. Types of scam tend to change, though, as more people become aware of them and as scammers attempt to keep one step ahead.
Every year more than three million people in the UK fall victim to scams, losing hundreds and even thousands of pounds. It is estimated that £3.5 billion is lost by people to scams every year in the UK. And it’s a myth that the only people who get scammed are elderly or low income groups. People from all walks of life get conned because scammers are clever, and always on the lookout for opportunities.
New scams are emerging all the time, as scammers seek new variations on familiar themes. They often employ well-honed techniques to create a sense of urgency, opportunity, threat – whatever it takes to cajole and coerce people into parting with money or their potentially valuable information.
For an indispensible resource when combating scams and to keep up with new scams, visit Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and internet crime. www.actionfraud.police.uk . They are also on Facebook www.facebook.com/actionfraud and Twitter( ActionFraudUK).
The main focus of Scams Awareness Month will be to ask people to be more vigilant. If everyone could be persuaded to act as part of a National Lookout service, think how much harder life would be for scammers. Remember simple advice: If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Above all, don’t give your bank account or personal details to anyone unless you know exactly who they are. If anyone rushes you or tells you that you have to sign something there and then, that should make you suspicious.
But what do you do if you have actually been scammed, or if you spot something that you think might be a scam? There are three simple steps:
Phone the Citizens Advice consumer service on 08454 04 05 06: You can also get online help and information at www.adviceguide.org.uk
If you have been targeted by a scam, or know someone who has, then call Action Fraud. 0300 123 2040 www.actionfraud.police.uk (If debit cards, online banking or cheques are involved in the scam, your first step should to contact their bank or credit card company.)
Warning family, friends, colleagues and neighbours can help people avoid scams. If you get a suspicious circular or are contacted make sure you tip off as many people as you can.
Remember. Scams are crimes. Let’s work together and make sure they don’t get away with it any longer.
• Lucy Manson is part of the Community Action Team at Citizens Advice Scotland.