Sadly in this day and age, the term ‘scam’ is all too current. There always seems to be a story on the news about someone falling foul to fraudsters. We hear about elderly or vulnerable people loosing life savings to door-to-door salesman, who convince them to hand over cash for work that never takes place. Quite frankly you just don’t think it will happen to you, and often when interviewed this is what people effected say, but it does happen. Some parents recently lost money when they tried to buy fake tickets online for a Paw Patrol show that never was. One mother tried to buy a Hatchimal toy for her daughter via a Facebook page when they sold out in store, only for the seller to take the money and go quiet. And this story worryingly tells of scammers who hijack Amazon sellers pages, and when buyers part with their money it goes into the fraudsters account. It’s all too easy to fall for a scam or a lie, no matter how big or small. My good pal Sam works at a company called Grant Thornton in their Fraud Division. She’s here to tell me more about how we can protect ourselves and our families against these crimes.
Hi Sam! Tell me about yourself and your background.
I live in South West London with my husband Mike and our daughter Grace, who is two. I’ve worked at a company called Grant Thornton for nearly fourteen years now. They’re a market leader in asset tracing, recovering debts and forensic investigations. When I returned from Maternity Leave, I moved into their Fraud Division. This sees me helping people who think they have fallen victim or who have become the victim of a scam. I’m also trying to help the public become more ‘scam aware’. It’s a very hard but rewarding job role.
How did you become involved in helping victims of scams?
Working on some cases a few years ago, I found myself speaking to hundreds of victims about their experiences of fraud and a recurring theme rang out. The victims appeared to fall into one of three categories: Elderly and/or vulnerable; had received a windfall such as an inheritance, or pension lump sum or the main breadwinner had invested the family’s savings in a scheme without advising or seeking permission from their partner. I spoke with spouses who were distraught at the thought of having to tell their partner they had lost the family savings, which was often tens of thousands of pounds. These acts can devastate families and I wanted to do something other than just be reactive to victims. Back in July I helped launch an area on our company website as part of Citizens Advice Scams Awareness Month.
How can families protect themselves against scams?
In most families it tends to be one person that looks after the money, pays bills or makes financial investments. However it’s important for partners to not take a financial back seat. Ideally you need to make sure that it’s not just one person who is in charge of making any big monetary decisions. It will be harder for fraudsters to get past two gatekeepers rather than one! Perhaps just relaying a conversation to a partner will help raise some red flags which will lead you to think before parting with any large sums of money.
How do we look out for and how can we avoid being scammed?
There are a few things that should get alarm bells ringing when scammers are involved. A call, text or email out of the blue offering something but requiring a call back, money etc. If you’re asked to give personal details out over the phone. If you’re pushed on the spot to make a quick financial decision or you’re asked to transfer money upfront. Remember that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is! Don’t reply to any questionable post or emails. Always ask to see someone’s ID at the door and if in doubt, call the company they say they work for whilst shutting the door on them. If they are legitimate they shouldn’t mind additional checking. Check any company names on Companies House or read the information on our website. Also remember to always keep passwords and usernames safely hidden away.
What about our parents or grandparents? How can we ensure they’re not susceptible to scams?
A good start is to register telephone numbers with the free Telephone Preference Service. It’s the official opt-out register, where you record your preference not to receive unsolicited sales or marketing calls. Another idea is to install a security camera or intercom buzzer. It’s also good just to talk to loved ones about this sort of topic, and to have conversations like, ‘how much mail have you received lately?’ or ‘have you had any suspicious telephone calls?’ Sometimes these questions aren’t welcome, however a softly-softly approach can sometimes save what might be a harrowing experience for all the family. It may also be wise to think about securing Power of Attorney for any elderly or sick relatives, to enable you to make decisions on their behalf. AGE UK offers some very useful guides in this area. It’s also worth looking at the Think Jessica site, where one daughter took matters into her own hands after her mother was harassed by criminal junk mail.
Lastly, what should someone do if they think they have been scammed?
Cease sending any further funds and speak to your bank to see if any money can be stopped or returned. Report the crime to Action Fraud. You can also contact my team on: Assettracingrecovery@uk.gt.com as it may be that the company or individual is already on our radar and we can offer further insight. There is no charge for speaking to my team. Most fraud can take an emotional as well as financial toll on it’s victims and there is support out there such as Citizens Advice and Victim Support if needed. Also remember that many intelligent and professional people become victims to scams, no one is immune. Please don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed.