Scams can, and sometimes do, ruin lives.
Many people fall for scams, and it is not because they are stupid. We read about scams in the newspaper or see some programme on TV and we think we would never have fallen for that. And if the scammer had come up to you just after you’d read about it, of course you wouldn’t. Nor would those who fell for it. But the circumstances into which they were drawn into the scam were far less obvious than they are in hindsight, and most people are susceptible to being scammed in certain circumstances and when in certain frames of mind, possibly set up by the scammer.
However we can learn to be better at avoiding scams. We can forearm ourselves against scams by being aware of the tactics used, and being able to trigger certain thoughts and thought processes should we find certain circumstances arising.
You should trigger your scam avoidance thoughts in any of the following circumstances:
- You are being offered something for seeming nothing, or for a very small outlay.
- You are being asked to make an outlay in advance of you receiving whatever it is that is being offered.
- You are being invited to be let in on a secret.
- You have been ‘chosen’ to be let in on an extraordinary deal.
- You are being told to act quickly.
- You are being told you’ve ‘won’ a competition or lottery when you didn’t even buy a ticket. (And even if you did buy a ticket, you’ll never be asked to pay anything up front.)
- Any request for you to give bank details.
- Any request for you to move your money from one account to another.
- You get an e-mail out of the blue (or one forwarded supposedly or naively by a friend), and it asks you to download something, or to press some further links.
- Someone you don’t know offers to buy an old electronic device.
Of course not every such circumstance is a scam. We often pay for something up front, for example. However usually when we do so, we have a direct comeback route should something go wrong. Should a well-recognised company not provide us with the product or service we have paid for, there are avenues to pursue. Not least of which is the fact that we can damage their reputation, on the assumption that it is reasonably good – if it wasn’t then maybe you should think twice about buying from them. However when you order products or services from someone you don’t know, and you don’t have a very clear route to recompense should something go wrong, then you must accept that you are at risk and ensure you limit your risk exposure.
Scammers frequently tap into human behavioural tendencies and cognitive biases.
Be wary of any request, supposedly from your bank, police, or other organisation, asking you to give any or your bank details or for you to transfer money. You could be contacted by phone, by post, by e-mail, or even by someone calling at your door asking for you to provide financial information or to transfer money, possibly saying you are at risk or have been the victim of a scam. If you are contacted in these ways and asked to give any financial information to take action then it is very likely to be a scam. If you are unsure, get directly in contact with your bank through calling in at one of their branches, or ringing them using a number you know to be genuine.
Note that if you bank believes you have been or may have been the victim of a scam or fraud, they may well ask you to confirm that a given transaction was genuine, however they will ask you to get in contact through your normal contact route, not through one they provide. In particular a genuine contact from your bank or financial service provider:
- Will never email or text you a link that they expect you to then use
- Will never email or text you asking for your security details, card details, or pins or passwords
Note that a particular tactic is to ring you, and then ask you to ring off and contact your bank or other institution. In fact when you think you have rung off, they have stayed on the line in a way that when you then ring what you think is your bank in fact you are talking still to the scammers who then scam you into taking action or giving away information.
There are many variations on this scheme. For example an e-mail from what looks like the Tax Office, HMRC, claiming you are owed a rebate, or from some service provider, and which asks for your bank details so that they can process the repayment. Any e-mail seemingly from a reputable organisation but asking for bank or other details is a scam. Don’t respond and don’t press any links. If you believe there may be something genuine in it, then get in touch with the relevant organisation directly, possibly logging direct on to their website and using their contact-us information.
Note that a variation on this theme is asking for your updated details because your registered credit or bank card is due to expire. This could be a phishing e-mail and be obviously so if you know your card is not about to expire, but it could by chance also come through at a time your card is due to expire giving it a seeming greater authenticity.
The following scroller gives a range of other common real world scams:
Regularly remind yourself:
- Any offers that appear too good to be true almost certainly are.
- Any offers that involve you paying up front with promises of returns later are likely to be a scam.
- Use anti-virus software on your computer, and keep it up to date.
- Ensure you don’t use easy to guess passwords, and don’t keep pin numbers written down with your bank cards.
- Any request for you to take urgent action right now.
- If you receive e-mails you’re not sure about don’t press any links. If you press a link it could load virus software or otherwise provide someone with access to your computer and sensitive information on it. Note that even if the e-mail was forwarded by someone you do know, they may not be aware of issues with it.
- Never pass sensitive financial information to someone you don’t know or trust. And err on the side of lacking trust. People don’t give you money for nothing, no matter how plausible they sound.
- Don’t throw sensitive financial information into the bin. There are people who will go through the rubbish from households looking for such information. You can dispose of such information by shredding it first. Or you can burn it, though don’t risk causing an uncontrolled fire. Or you could rip into different parts and dispose of parts in different ways.
- Don’t throw or otherwise get rid of old computers, or other electronic devices, with potentially sensitive information still on the hard drive. And note that it will take more than a simple ‘Delete’ to get rid of all information on your hard drive since the information will still be accessible to those who know how to do so. Either destroy the hard drive or use some special purpose software which ensures all information is destroyed.
- Don’t put sensitive financial information into letters you subsequently post. Post can be stolen or intercepted.
- Don’t e-mail sensitive financial information. E-mails can be and often are intercepted.
- Check your bank statements regularly. If there is activity you don’t recognise contact your bank.
- Don’t give out financial information over the phone. Your bank won’t ask you for such information, in particular: they will never ask for your PIN; they will never ask you to withdraw money to hand over to them or transfer money to another account, even if they say it is in your name; they will never come to your home to collect your cash, payment card or cheque book.
- If you suspect something might be a scam, search it up in your internet browser. If it is a scam it is highly likely others will have picked up on it and have been talking about it on the internet. Note however that this is far from fool proof in that it may be a new scam not yet widely reported.
- If you get a phone call from someone telling you to take immediate action then be very wary. Don’t give away sensitive information over the phone, and be aware of the scam that allows someone to stay on line after you have put your phone down.
- Note that any information you publish on social media is potentially available to anyone. Even with private settings it is possible people other than friends and family could access information.
In addition, learn about cognitive biases. Most scams take advantage of cognitive biases to which we are all susceptible. The more aware you are of cognitive biases and the better you are at recognising them in yourself, the better armed you will be against a potential scam.
Reminder on taking tests: It’s not about trying to prove you already know it, it’s about learning.
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