Safety first: avoid getting scammed in 2020

Being scammed out of your hard-earned cash is always infuriating. But when you’re living on a tight budget, it can be disastrous.

Every year, millions of people in the UK are scammed in person, by phone, by post or online. It can happen to people from all walks of life. In this guide we look at how to protect yourself, and how you can recognise a scam.

How to protect yourself

With so many scams out there it’s hard to guarantee you’ll avoid them altogether. But practising these good habits will help you stay as safe as you can.

Stay informed

You can learn about common and recent scams on the Financial Conduct Authority website and on Action Fraud’s website, where you can also sign up for email alerts.

Be aware of how your bank is likely to contact you. The British Bankers' Association run a campaign called Know Fraud, No Fraud, which lists eight things your bank will never do when they call you or correspond with you.

Keep your information secure

Try to get into the habit of shredding or burning financial documents instead of throwing them away. This includes envelopes! Scammers could try to exploit your relationship with your bank - or with your creditors, or even with Gregory Pennington. So avoid publicising which financial institutions you’re in regular contact with.

Don’t share your bank account details, card details, security information or especially your PIN with anyone you don’t know. Don’t give your PIN over the phone, even to your bank. There are very sophisticated phone scams that can trick you into thinking you’re talking to your bank when you’re not. Remember the Know Fraud, No Fraud list: your bank will never ask you for your full PIN.

Protect yourself online

  • Keep your anti-virus protection updated. You can find a guide to keeping your devices safe on the National Cyber Security Centre website.
  • Keep your passwords strong, secure and separate. Don’t reuse passwords. If you don’t think you can keep track of multiple passwords, a password manager can help.
  • Sign up for two-step authentication. This means that when you first log in with a new device, you’ll be asked to complete a second step after entering your password. This might be providing your fingerprint, or entering a unique code which has been sent to your phone. This provides an extra layer of security.
  • You should also sign debit cards up to the Verified by Visa or the Mastercard Securecode schemes. This adds an extra layer of password protection.
  • If you’re paying for something online, take a second to make sure you’re using a secure site. This won’t necessarily mean the site itself isn't a scam. But it does mean that any data you enter - i.e. your card details, address and so on - is encrypted. This makes it more difficult for criminals to intercept. It's easy to tell as the web address will start with 'https', rather than just 'http'.
  • Don’t click on a link, or download a file, unless you’re sure you know what it is. Otherwise your computer could be infected with a virus. Not sure about a link you’ve been sent? Hover your cursor over it and then look at the bottom left hand of your screen to see where the link will take you.
  • Check This website will tell you whether any of your log-in details have been made publicly available following a hack, and what you should do.

Do your research

If you’re considering buying goods or a service from a firm you haven’t heard of or dealt with before, there are a few things you can do to look into their background and make sure they’re legitimate:

  • check their terms and conditions
  • ask to see some customer reviews. You can also look for these online
  • check Companies House to see if the firm is a registered company or not
  • ask if the company is a member of a trade association. If they are, check the association out online to see if they’re genuine. Belonging to a real trade association is a good sign that a company is legitimate and abides by a code of practice.

How to spot a scam

New scams appear all the time, and some are harder to spot than you might think. But there are things you can look out for.

By now you can probably recognise a dodgy text message or phone call. They’ll usually say that you’re owed money. They might even suggest you can reply ‘STOP’ to be taken off their list - don’t do it! It usually won’t stop them texting you. It will just confirm to them that your number is working.

Signs of an email scam include:

  • Claims that something is very urgent. For example, being told you’re owed a refund but must claim it within 24 hours
  • The address the email has come from. A long, complicated email address is unlikely to be genuine
  • Spelling and grammar. Anyone can make a typo, but banks and legitimate companies do usually proofread their emails! So if you notice a lot of mistakes with the spelling, grammar and punctuation, it’s a good sign that this is likely to be a phishing email or other kind of scam.

And whether you’re contacted by email, letter, phone call or a conversation on your doorstep, any of the following are red flags:

  • A deal, prize or bargain that seems too good to be true. Remember, this usually means that it isn’t true!
  • Missing information. For example, a company without an address or contact number
  • Unconventional methods of payment. This especially applies if you are asked to transfer money, for example by Western Union, but you should also beware if you’re asked to pay in vouchers instead of cash.
  • Anyone asking for information you know you shouldn’t share, such as your PIN or a password
  • Phone calls from someone who refuses to confirm what they’re saying in writing.

Many scams will try to frighten you, in order to make you act quickly without stopping to realise something isn’t right. If you or someone you know gets an email or text that says it’s from your bank, or a phone call that says it’s from a government department, don’t panic and don’t rush into anything. Think about how this organisation usually contacts you. Contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 to get advice before you do anything else.

Follow these tips, and you should be able to protect yourself and your money. Here’s to a safe and successful 2020!

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