Working together we can protect each other from crime, says Moira Tasker
MAY is Scams Awareness Month, a time when many organisations and agencies, including Citizens Advice Edinburgh, work to turn the spotlight on the most common scams and frauds hitting consumers and to raise awareness of the ways we can protect ourselves and fight back.
Scams are carefully constructed to make you think you are getting something you want or need, to take advantage of the unwary, and – crucially – they often make you feel too embarrassed to complain.
Scams cost the UK economy an estimated £3.5 billion each year. While many people are struggling with reduced incomes, the high cost of living and changes to the benefits system, the scammers’ profits are soaring. This money diverted into the criminal economy is a significant drain on your pocket.
It’s not only the most vulnerable in our communities who are at increased risk from being tricked. Almost all of us have received a phone call, leaflet, text message or seen an advert that seems too good to be true. Many of us are able to take a step back and think twice before responding – perhaps running it past a friend or family member. But imagine it was an offer of a job you desperately need or an offer of somewhere to live when you’re facing eviction. Many of us experiencing a crisis, or ill health or simply busy juggling the demands of modern living could indeed fall victim.
Research shows that half of us have been the victim of an attempted scam at one time or another and 8 per cent of us will fall for a scam at least once in our lifetime. From claims that your computer has a virus that can be “fixed” for a fee, to calls purporting to be from your digital TV provider offering a refund (but they need your bank details first) – the scam is a chimera, morphing into various forms, hungry for its next victim. The same channels that make our lives easier – the internet, smartphones, doorstep deliveries – also provide short cuts for criminals.
In extreme cases, people can lose hundreds of thousands of pounds to fraudsters, their homes and their livelihoods. The Think Jessica Campaign has highlighted just how devastating such scams can be.
In the past few months, 32 clients have come to Citizens Advice Edinburgh as victims of fraudulent crime and it’s likely that many more feel too embarrassed or resigned to their fate to report what has happened. In some cases, people are unsure whether they are the victim of a crime or just bad luck. This low rate of reporting is the main reason why scammers are getting away with their crimes.
Scams Awareness Month is a great opportunity then for all of us to expose these frauds and help our friends, families and communities to avoid them.
Throughout May, Citizens Advice Edinburgh is holding events in its five bureaux to raise awareness of scams and frauds in the capital. Each week has a different focus, with online, mail, telephone and doorstep scams all coming under the spotlight. We will also be using our Twitter account to highlight local scams, share information with other agencies and spread the word.
Whether you’re an individual looking to protect yourself and your family or an employer, charity or public body looking to protect your clients or staff; your efforts during Scams Awareness Month are vital. Scams can be tackled and stopped if people learn to spot the signs and take simple steps to report fraudulent activity.
Here are three things you can do to help beat the fraudsters:
n Tell Trading Standards
If you think something may be a scam, phone 08454 04 05 06 and tell the Citizens Advice Consumer Service, who can pass details of the case on to Trading Standards. Trading Standards will investigate breaches in consumer protection laws or scam operations. This includes salespeople who use pressure sales tactics, rogue builders and roofers who target the elderly and vulnerable, counterfeiters and those selling clocked cars.
By following this procedure, you’ll ensure that Scottish Scambusters is also informed. Scottish Scambusters is a Trading Standards Enforcement Team.
n Report it to Action Fraud
If you have been targeted by a scam, or know someone who has, then call Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and internet crime on 0300 123 2040. You can also report scams to Action Fraud online at www.actionfraud.police.uk
n Tell others
Warn family, friends, neighbours and colleagues. If you get a suspicious call, doorstep visit, e-mail or are contacted by someone you think may be a fraudster, make sure you tell other people.
Neighbourhood Watch Scotland can assist in setting up a watch in your area, which encourages communities to look out for one another and share information. It also provides an alert system – details available at www.neighbourhoodwatchscotland.co.uk
For more advice on scams and what you can do to protect yourself and others, you can also visit one of our five bureaux or 17 outreach locations – opening times and contact details are at www.citizensadviceedinburgh.org.uk
• Moira Tasker is chief executive of Citizens Advice Edinburgh