Scams Awareness is an annual campaign organised by Citizens Advice and taking place this year for two weeks from June 10th to 23rd.
It aims to create a network of confident, alert consumers who know how to spot a scam and what to do when it happens. It also promotes the message that scams are crimes that can happen to anyone and no-one should feel embarrassed if they fall victim to one.
It is known that a very large number of scams go unreported because the victims feel embarrassed at falling for them. But only by reporting scams and bringing them out into the open can effective action be taken against the criminals who perpetrate them.
A scam is a type of fraud in which someone steals your money or your personal information, which might then be sold on to other scammers. You can be scammed in person, over the phone, through the post or, increasingly, online. Older people are often more vulnerable to scams because they tend to be more trusting.
Scams can be difficult to recognise, but there are often some tell-tale signs: For example, it might be a scam if:
- it seems too good to be true, such as a holiday offer which is significantly cheaper than you’d expect
- someone you don’t know contacts you unexpectedly
- you suspect you are not dealing with a real company, for example if there’s no full postal address
- you’ve been asked to transfer money quickly
- you’ve been asked to pay for something in an unusual way, such as by using vouchers or via ‘wire transfer’
- you’ve been asked to disclose personal information such as passwords or PIN numbers.
The biggest growth area for scams is online, but there are things you can do to protect yourself against online scammers. First, if you’re interested in buying something from a business online, do some research to make sure you’re buying from a real company and not just a ‘front’ designed to harvest your personal details and steal your money.
Check to see what other people have said about the company by looking for reviews (or warnings) on other websites. Check that the company publishes a full address, not just a PO box. The business website address should have a padlock symbol to the left where it appears in your browser address bar. This is to indicate the website is secure, but don’t rely on this alone as it doesn’t guarantee you’re buying from a real company.
Be wary when using the internet, especially if dealing with a company you don’t know or haven’t dealt with before. Don’t click on or download anything you don’t trust – it could infect your computer with a virus. You should invest in anti-virus software to protect your computer, and make sure it is up-to-date.
Be extremely careful not to give away personal information, which scammers could use to hack your accounts. Use strong passwords for your email accounts and don’t use the same password for everything online. Instead use different passwords, and consider changing them regularly, especially if you suspect someone has been trying to scam you. You should pay by credit or debit card, which gives you extra protection if things do go wrong. If you do your banking online, check with your bank about how it will communicate with you and what it will and won’t ask you online.
A popular scam is to impersonate banks, building societies or other service providers using authentic-looking emails to elicit personal information. If you are at all suspicious, delete the email and speak to your provider in person.
You can find a lot more information about becoming aware of scams, how to avoid them and what to do if you are scammed, by clicking here to visit the Citizens Advice website. The charity Independent Age has also provided a wealth of information and advice aimed specifically at older people keen to avoid being scammed, including a helpful ‘Scamwise’ guide. Click here to find out more.