Online scams: Even tech-savvy people can fall for tricks like these – Andrew Bartlett

There aren’t many crimes which everyone can be vulnerable to all of the time.

Fake parcel delivery texts have increased significantly during lockdown in the hope of tricking people into handing over financial information (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

And normally we don’t fall victim to a crime without immediately being acutely aware of it.

But scams are the exception to the rules, which is why scammers are increasingly having a field day at the expense of so many Scots.

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With the rise of incidents, it’s essential that everyone is aware just how devastating these crimes can be, and just how easy it is to be successfully targeted.

ScamWatch Scotland week, which is underway this week, is a chance to remind everyone that anyone can fall victim to scams, and that the impact on personal finances and personal safety can be severe.

At the heart of this year’s campaign will be highlighting the misconception that the only people caught out by scams are those who are older, vulnerable or not completely up-to-speed with technology.

And while that is a group who are attractive to heartless and determined criminals, the extent of fraud in Scotland goes significantly further.

The pandemic has presented more opportunities for criminals to exploit people and businesses.

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As ever with criminal activity, changes to society create a chance to diversify. If a fraudster can steal money by tapping away on a computer rather than heading out onto the streets to trick someone in person, that is what they will do.

As personal habits have changed amid the Covid crisis, so too has the nature of scams.

For instance, over the last 18 months people have been ordering more shopping online.

Those who were shielding had no option but to book online deliveries from supermarkets, while mailing and courier firms have found themselves far busier as a result of high street shops being closed for months on end. These trends may have suited some people and provided quicker and more effective services.

But they were closely followed by a number of scam designed to exploit that very situation. Fake parcel delivery texts began flooding people’s email accounts and smartphones, and it wasn’t just older people who were falling for them.

After all, if you know you are waiting for the arrival of a clothing order, and you receive a text alerting you to an impending delivery from a well-known firm – whose vans are driving around every street in Scotland – you are going to give that message some consideration.

You click on the link provided, and the website it takes you to looks slick, professional and legitimate.

Then, after you’ve entered some basic details, you’re asked for more sensitive information, such as a bank account or a long card number.

Standing back from this situation, it may appear obvious that a delivery firm should not need such details, and something must be amiss.

But in the heat of the moment, when someone is working from home or has other issues occupying their mind, it can be easy to slip up.

Remember, these fraudsters only need this trick to work once – it’s irrelevant to them if 1,000 other people see the scam for what it is and delete the message. Similar tricks in which the sender claims to be from the HMRC have also been circulating.

On each of these occasions, they can steal thousands of pounds from an unsuspecting member of the public.

And when smaller amounts are taken, or when the victim is someone who doesn’t have cause to routinely check their bank balance, the thieves can be off into the sunset before anyone has even noticed.

At Advice Direct Scotland, we run the Scottish ScamWatch Week campaign to pinpoint areas where people may be vulnerable, what action to take to improve security, and how to contact us at www.consumeradvice.scot, if you have been scammed.

Each day this week we have been highlighting a different style of scam on social media.

These include delivery scams involving fake tracking texts, illegitimate messages charging for missed deliveries, and ‘brushing scams’ – where people receive goods they never ordered. This may seem harmless, even beneficial, on the face of it.

Dubious online marketplace sellers do this in order to generate fake, positive reviews. But from a consumer point of view, it means your details may not be secure.

The campaign is also shining a light on financial and investment scams, such as those involving the mysterious world of crypto-currency, and telephone and phishing scams.

And while so much of this illegal and disgraceful activity has moved online, fraudsters are still operating in person too. Doorstep scams have remained a problem, even during lockdown.

We will be urging householders to be wary of unsolicited visits from people claiming to be sales representatives or energy firm meter readers.

It’s important that people know it’s better to risk being blunt with someone who shows up unannounced on their doorstep than to be duped by a criminal.

But our priority is to keep people safe, and we don’t want to cause undue alarm.

We want to remind Scots that there are simple rules to follow which should ensure their details remain safe, such as never sending money or bank details to anyone you don’t completely trust; never downloading suspect attachments to emails or texts; never ringing numbers which you’ve received in the post or by email which you don’t know; and never letting anyone in your house if there’s any doubt in your mind about their legitimacy.

Above all, it’s important to remember there’s no shame in being scammed, and no shame in reaching out to us for advice and support if it does happen.

Andrew Bartlett is chief executive of Advice Direct Scotland. Consumers in Scotland can seek free advice on freephone 0808 164 6000 or online with web chat and email at www.consumeradvice.scot.

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