Guard against scams

Simon Read

Simon Read

At any given time of the year you will find some organisation has picked a day, week or month to create an awareness event to get some free publicity for their products or political position.

This week alone there are national events designated ‘sewing machine day’ and ‘cupcake day’ (they are both on Saturday, if you are interested).

My general advice is to ignore the lot of them and concentrate on more important issues.

But there is one key exception, and it is happening right now. June has been designated ‘scams awareness month’.

Of all the financial subjects I write about, the subject of scams is one I have to return to all the time.

No matter how many heart-breaking stories journalists publish of people who have fallen prey to unscrupulous crooks or how many times we warn readers to be aware of the danger and vigilant to the risks, people still become victims.

Part of the problem is there is always a new opportunity for fraudsters to exploit. This month it is the coronavirus test and trace service.

The NHS service calls people who may have come into contact with someone with Covid-19 symptoms.

The caller asks people to self-isolate and gives them advice on what symptoms to look out for.

The service gets people’s details from someone who has contracted Covid-19 and so the call may well come out of the blue.

However, unexpected phone calls are almost always from scammers.

With this in mind, the deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries was asked how people could be sure that the caller was genuinely from the service.

Her reply was astounding. She said: “I think it will be very evident when somebody rings you, these are professionally-trained individuals.”

She may be a medical boffin, but she clearly has no idea how fraudsters operate.

They are generally smooth-talking tricksters and it is the fact they sound genuine and professional that fools people.

The real giveaway that a cold-caller is a crook is normally when they ask for personal information.

During the coronavirus crisis, the scam artists have been busier than ever.

The National Cyber Security Centre said consumers have sent it 600,000 scam emails since the start of the pandemic, all trying to use confusion and worry around the outbreak to their advantage.

It is pleasing that so many people have been savvy enough to spot the rotters, but criminals would not continue coming up with nefarious notions unless they had some successes.

“At a time when neighbourhoods and communities are coming together to support each other, it is despicable that heartless criminals are exploiting members of the public – including some of our most vulnerable citizens – to line their own pockets,” said Toby Harris, chairman of National Trading Standards.

“I urge everyone to be on their guard for possible Covid-19 scams and to look out for vulnerable family members, friends and neighbours who may become a target for fraudsters,” he added.