One in ten have either lost money to a scam or given away personal details to a scam artist, according to new research. Tina Leonard tells Pat Kenny how to protect yourself against them

 

Amárach Research carried out this survey on behalf of the National Consumer Agency at the end of March. A representative sample of 1,000 was interviewed, either online or face-to-face.

This is first research we have in Ireland to show just how many people are targeted by scams and how many respond to them, and it is fascinating to see just how all-pervasive the variety of scams out there are.

Can anyone be targeted?

Yes. Gender or social class doesn’t make a difference, with all being targeted almost equally. The same applies to the four provinces, with a small decrease in the Ulster region.

In other words, it doesn’t matter what your gender or social class is, nor where you live; anyone can be targeted. And according to the research 61% of consumers indicated that they or a family member had been targeted by a scam.

The one difference is age:

  • If you are aged between 35 and 54 you are most likely to be targeted by a scam.
  • But the good news is that in that age group four out of five are confident in their ability to spot a scam.
  • Under 24s and over 65s are less confident in their ability to spot a scam.
  • Worryingly, those aged 16 to 24 are most likely to respond to a scam, with 22% replying.

The main method of contact is email (38%), followed by mail (20%), landline (18%), online (14%), mobile (12%) and via flyer (8%).

Do people respond and get stung?

Yes they do. Of the 61% targeted by a scam, almost one third replied (28%) with the intention of participating. Of those that replied 65% either handed over money or personal information.

This equates to just over 10% of the population either losing money or giving away personal details to scam artists.

The Top Four scams

1. Foreign lottery scam (32%)

You get a letter or email saying (often in very large print) that you have already scooped the first prize in a lottery worth millions of euro, or that you have won the holiday of a lifetime, but the small print tells a different story. But:

  • Despite "already being a winner", you have to make a payment or purchase or phone call to claim your prize
  • The company only gives a PO box number and no geographical address, making it very hard to contact them if they don't respond to your communication by post
  • The letter contains what looks like a cheque for millions, but it's stamped "SAMPLE CHEQUE ONLY" and "not legal tender"
  • They say in the letter that they have taken a long time to contact you and this is a final notice of an "urgent prize payment", yet it's clearly part of an elaborate mass mail-out.

2. Premium rate telephone prize scam (24%)

You receive a letter or unsolicited text or telephone message, or a scratch card you never asked for. It announces that you have won a major prize - for cash perhaps, or a car or luxury holiday, or "a mystery prize worth at least €1,000".

It might give you a claim number too, and it always ends up telling you to ring a telephone number "NOW!" to find out what you've won.

Then you ring the number. After listening to a very long recorded message, it turns out that:

  • There isn't really a prize, or
  • The prize turns out to be a near worthless book of discount vouchers, or
  • It's a holiday voucher with very stringent restrictions attached
  • And the call turns out to be charged at an expensive premium rate

So you end up with a cheap giveaway item worth less than the cost of the call.

3. Work from home scams (21%)

An advertisement offers work that can be done from home, for example:

  • Assembling products: The work involves assembling items like model kits or toy dolls. You do get the raw materials but when you return the completed product you are told that there is no longer a market for the product of that your work is defective.
  • Envelope stuffing: You have to send a fee for the raw materials in answer to ad offering work stuffing envelopes. In response you get an instruction to place a similar ad asking people to send money to you. This is in fact an illegal pyramid scheme.
  • Reshipping: The work offered is re-packaging goods, maybe stolen, to send abroad. You have to pay for postage, are repaid with a fake cheque and you could be liable for prosecution for handling stolen goods!
  • Advance pay: You are paid in advance for work offered, then told you were overpaid and to send some back. You do this and then discover the original cheque has bounced.

4. Unsolicited contact in relation to a problem with a PC (20%)

Cyber criminals call consumers, claiming to be from a legitimate technology company to tell them they have an IT problem, such as a virus on their computer. The scammers requests the target to download a file from a website and gains access to their computer, where they can access personal details. In some cases the caller asks for payment via credit card, giving them access to financial information, or simply taking money for nothing.

Other current scams

Some current scams are very crafty in that they are localised and even personal:

An Post

An Post customers are asked to be on their guard against a new scam email.

You receive an email containing the subject line RE: Information TV Licence #12488340238 that claims to come from service@tvlicence.ie. The email offers a refund of €58.00 on an overpayment for a TV Licence.

An Post TV Licence never send emails which require customers to send personal information via email or pop-up windows.

What to do:

  • Delete this email immediately and DO NOT click on the accompanying link.
  • Anyone who provided personal information in response to these hoax emails should contact their bank or credit card company immediately.

?Revenue.ie

The Revenue Commissioners logo has been used in a number of 'phishing scams' over the last six months.

These typically involve receiving an email purporting to be from Revenue, claiming you have overpaid income tax and are due a rebate. To get your rebate you will be asked to provide personal information and/or bank or credit card details so that the money can be paid to you.

What to do:

  • It’s too good to be true so delete it. These emails do not come from Revenue and they would never send emails that require customers to send personal information via email or pop-up windows, nor would they ever request bank or credit card details in that manner. Bear in mind that when using Revenue online services all information is encrypted and secure.
  • If you want to double check your details with Revenue contact them directly.

The email from a stranded friend scam

This one relies on friendship to try and get money from people. You receive an email from someone on your contact list explaining that they are abroad, have been mugged or lost their belongings and need you to send them some cash via money transfer. Your friend’s email account has been hacked and you will notice that you are advised to reply to a different email address.

What to do:

  • If your friend is away and you are worried contact them directly. But look at the language used and phrases, bad spelling etc; does this sound like your friend?
  • Delete the email and do not send any money.

Phishing emails from banks

These are emails supposedly sent by your bank or by an organization with which you have an online account i.e. a shopping website.

They will ask for your personal banking details, which they say they need for verification. The emails pretending to be from banks may even ask for your PIN number.

What to do:

  • o Delete immediately. No bank or organisation would ever ask you for personal details.
  • o If you are in doubt, contact the bank or company directly, but not be responding to the email.

Also be alert for:

Prize draw/sweepstakes scam; foreign money making offers; any unsolicted request for personal or banking details; pyramid selling scams; miracle health / slimming scams; bogus holiday club scams; bogus offer to have work done on your home.

How to be scam savvy

  • Stop, think and be sceptical. Ensure that you fully understand any offers made to you - if in doubt, ask detailed questions.
  • Ask yourself how you can have won something if you never entered a competition!
  • Ask yourself why would someone give you something for nothing!
  • Don't be rushed or pressurised into making a decision - if an offer is genuine, you should be allowed time to consider it.
  • Don't respond to unsolicited e-mails, texts or phone calls requesting personal information. Banks and other legitimate companies will never ask for your personal details in email. And don’t open links in emails from someone you don’t know.
  • Check your bank and credit card account statements regularly for transactions you don’t recognise.
  • Always look up phone numbers in an independent directory when you wish to check if a request or offer is genuine and beware of businesses that supply a mobile number only and no address.
  • Remember, if an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Cut your losses. If you are unfortunate enough to have been caught, don't be tempted to recoup your losses by responding to an even more attractive "offer" - scam artists also make money by selling on so called "suckers lists" to others.

For further information go to the NCA: www.consumerconnect.ie