Five scams to watch out for
It is a menace of modern life - emails, texts and calls designed to trick you into handing over your money to fraudsters.
And while most of us spot a scam most of the time, it only takes one to get through to cause you a potentially expensive problem, that can impact all areas of your life.
The fraudsters know this all too well, which is why they are constantly evolving their methods, and even the cover stories they use. For example, the pandemic has seen scam messages about covid tests and vaccination appointments.
But with some knowledge, you can defend yourself.
The first step is to recognise fraud when you see it, so here are the five scams to watch out for in 2021.
1 - Covid Cons
Phishing is where fraudsters use emails, text and WhatsApp messages or social media links to try and trick you into handing over sensitive information such as bank details and passwords.
You receive a plausible looking message from a trusted organisation such as your bank or a delivery company with a link to a web page, where you may be asked to enter your log-in information or card details. The fraudsters can then use that information to access your accounts or use your card for online transactions.
Recently there has been a flood of messages claiming to be from Royal Mail, asking for card details to make a small payment for delivery of a parcel.
With home-shopping rates at an all-time high during the pandemic, this is typical of the way fraudsters fine-tune their scams in light of current events to make them seem plausible.
Other Covid cons include messages asking for payment to book a vaccination slot, or to receive test results.
As well as taking payments and harvesting card details, links can also download malware to your computer or phone - malware is a programme that lets the scammers remotely access data on your device.
A recent example of a malware scam is a message apparently from delivery firm DHL asking you to click on a link to track a package.
Which? has detailed information on how to spot a scam here: https://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/scams
2 - Bogus bankers
You receive a call from your bank, saying your details have been compromised by fraudsters. Your natural reaction is to panic and go along with what they say to protect your money.
In fact, the call is from fraudsters, and they rely on that reaction to manipulate you into handing over your details, or even transferring your savings to them in a so-called "safe account".
Similar scams occur with callers claiming to be from HMRC, the Department for Work and Pensions, or even the police, and the criminals are experts at sounding believable and convincing.
If you receive a call like this, put the phone down and wait 60 seconds before calling the bank or organisation directly. Be sure to use the phone number on the back of your debit card or from the organisation’s official website.
3 - Dating cheats
Fake online romance is one of the most malicious types of fraud, preying on people's emotions, and can be devastating for victims.
Lockdown has made dating difficult for people living alone, so there has been an increase in fraudsters targeting victims via fake profiles on dating sites and persuading them to send money.
A typical scenario is an online dating match who builds your trust online, and then asks for money to help with a personal emergency or tragedy such as bereavement.
Warning signs include refusing to meet in person or speak on the phone, getting too serious too soon, and trying to move communication from the dating site to private emails or messages.
4 - House heists
The housing market is booming, thanks in part to buyers rushing to complete before the close of the stamp duty holiday at the end of June 2021.
A relatively rare, but devastating scam sees fraudsters clone emails from a solicitor to a home-buyer, asking them to transfer the money for the property purchase into a different account.
If you are buying a property, always call the solicitor to confirm bank details before you make a payment.
5 - Pension pirates and dodgy deals
If a deal seems too good to be true it probably is. But fraudsters know the promise of making money can cause potential victims to drop their defences.
They target people with cold calls, social media ads, emails and letters, promising huge returns on an investment, such as cryptocurrency, bonds and shares, foreign property or carbon credit trading.
The investments may not exist, or the fraudster may simply take your money without investing. In some cases, your money is used to pay returns to previous investors, known as a pyramid scheme.
Scammers may use similar tactics to con you out of your pension savings, often by offering a free pension review. Always beware of unexpected contact and high pressure sales techniques such as time-limited offers.
The Financial Conduct Authority guide to spotting dodgy investment and pension scams is here: www.fca.org.uk/scamsmart, and you can call the FCA Consumer Helpline on 0800 111 6768.
For the latest updates visit www.tsb.co.uk/fraud-prevention-centre/