Electronic theft: know the scammer's game first

Wednesday 09 January 2013 15.26
Electronic theft: know the scammer's game first

House burglaries are up in some parts of the country, but there is another theft we should all be alert to – call it fraud or a scam, but whatever your money could be stolen.

Consumer expert Tina Leonard tells Today with Pat Kenny what to watch out for to recognize this silent burglary.

Don’t feel stupid if you have been scammed

If you have unwittingly handed over money to a fraudster promising you high returns on an investment or let’s say you’ve given your personal account details in response to an email, don’t feel stupid.

Absolutely anyone can be scammed or suffer fraud and it really isn’t helpful to say “how on earth could you fall for that?” to someone who has just lost out.

It is much more beneficial for the ‘victim’ to feel secure enough to tell others what has happened so that others can learn and avoid the same fate in the future. In fact a big problem is that people who have been stung are often too embarrassed to speak out and this makes it harder for the rest of us to learn.

If you’ve succumbed, know that you’re not alone. While there are no Irish statistics on the subject, in the UK they say that 3.2million adults fall victim to scams every year.

Scam artists are clever in that they can appeal to our trust, exploit our human desires and needs (and greed), and can draw us in with small steps.

Know the typical features of scams and fraud

Phishing

The key element: Looking for your personal / bank details

This is where you receive an email, from someone purporting to be from a business, a bank or a retailer that you may have an account with, who ask you to give them your personal bank or credit card details.

Never do it.

Banks, credit card companies, utility companies and your internet provider already have your personal details if you are a customer – they would never ask you to confirm them.

They would never ask for your PIN number either, even on the phone. This is encrypted and customer service staff do not get to see it either.

Money requests

The key element: Directly asking you for cash or to handle cash

Think twice before responding to a message or email purporting to be a friend requesting money.

It is more likely to be a scam involving someone hacking into your friend’s email or social media account and sending an email account to all the person’s contacts.

The message will appear to be from your friend typically saying they are abroad, have lost their money and bank cards or they have been stolen and they need you to wire money to them.

Likewise with an email from a stranger asking you to help them out by handling their money etc.

Avoid at all costs.

You've won a prize!

The key element: You have to pay in some way.

Some scammers tell you that you have won an incredible prize – but you know you never entered a competition or lottery.

Always be sceptical. If you are asked to pay money, or to ring a premium rate telephone number to claim a prize, then you have not won anything.

Selling scams - watch for dodgy cheques

The key element: Unsafe methods of sending or receiving money.

Be aware that if you are selling something, whether online or in a paper, there are scam artists posing as buyers.

Never accept large sums of cash, cheques, or money transfers as payment. If you are selling something valuable like a car, ask the buyer to get you a draft from their bank or to transfer the money to your bank account. A draft will guarantee you receive the money immediately at your bank, and if a buyer refuses to pay by draft or transfer, be suspicious.

Watch out for this clever trick – the ‘buyer’ offers you a draft or cheque over the asking price and asks you for cash to cover the difference. The ‘buyer’ will claim they have made a mistake re shipping/postage.

It’s a scam. The draft or cheque will bounce and you will be left out of pocket.

Bogus investments – AKA ‘boiler room’ investments

The key element: They contact you with a ‘too good to be true’ offer.

Beware calls from unauthorised 'investment' companies that use high-pressure sales tactics to sell worthless or high-risk shares, foreign currency or other 'investments' to unsuspecting investors.

These companies are called ‘boiler rooms’ and while you may make money the first time, this scam has a step-by-step approach.

So, an initially success is a tactic designed to get you to invest more and then it all starts to go wrong. If you are offered an investment deal, always check who the company is, get detailed information on the product in writing and check that the company is authorised to trade in Ireland by visiting the register of the Central Bank’s website.

Dodgy links in your email

The key element: Unknown attachments and web links

Never click on links within emails that you feel a friend or acquaintance would not ordinarily send or that you are unfamiliar with.

Also be very wary about clicking on links in emails that come from an address that you do not recognise.

If the link relates to an ad that leads to a well known retail address, it is safer to enter the web address yourself, rather than following a link that could, in fact, be leading you to somewhere else, such as a copycat site or worse yet, a link could lead to the fraudster downloading malware to your computer.

Phone scams

The key element: They contact you to sell you something you don’t need or didn’t ask for.

Whether it’s someone telephoning you to tell you there is a problem with your PC that they can fix for a fee, or someone trying to sell you a cheap holiday or give you a ‘free’ prize, never do business with someone who has called you out of the blue and who you don’t know.

You should hang up, but if your curiosity is piqued, never hand over card details there and then.

Instead, take the callers details and say you’ll call back; ask for details of the offer to be sent to you and check out the company’s credentials.

Finally – the four key signs you might be scammed.

1. They have contacted you, not the other way around. Scammers and fraudsters always seek you out, you’ll never go looking for them.

2. They are asking for personal bank or credit card details.

3. You have ‘won’ something, whether a prize or a job, but still have to pay, often using an unsafe payment method.

4. You are put under pressure to buy now (especially true of phone scams).