PERSONAL FINANCE: A fraud expert's tips on avoiding scams

Impersonation scammers are using increasingly sophisticated methods to swindle people
Impersonation scammers are using increasingly sophisticated methods to swindle people

SPOTTING an impersonation scam has become even harder, as criminals have adopted increasingly slick and professional tactics.

They may spend hours doing research, or try to piggyback onto events in the news, to trick people into handing over their personal details or money.

According to UK Finance's Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign, reported losses to impersonation scams totalled £177.6 million last year.

I asked Paul Maskall, fraud and cyber crime prevention manager at UK Finance, about how these scams work - and the latest tactics being used by criminals.

Here, he explains the lengths that criminals will go to in order to create scams which appear plausible:

How do impersonation scammers appear plausible?

"Criminals use a tactic called social engineering to groom and manipulate you into transferring money, or divulging your personal and financial details.

"With impersonation scams in particular, the criminals will convince people to make a payment, or give personal and financial details.

"The will do so by claiming to be from a trusted organisation such as your bank, the police, a delivery or utility company, communication service provider, a government department such as HMRC (HM Revenue and Customs) or someone you trust such as a friend or family member.

"By impersonating an organisation or person you recognise, they'll use their tactics to convince you the request for money or information in genuine. They will also try to rush or panic you."

Have impersonation scams become more sophisticated and are you seeing any new trends?

"Criminals always look to exploit situations where people's anxieties are high and they will alter their methods to fit in with the current news agenda.

"We saw this with Covid-19, as criminals exploited the pandemic and reformed their tactics to impersonate the NHS or more recently with the rise in the cost-of-living challenges, where criminals impersonated energy companies as a way to get people to either make direct payments or share personal details.

"With more people doing their shopping online, and the number of parcels being delivered across the country increasing, this has also become a target for criminals.

"The once-obvious typos or fraudulent-looking websites are no longer solely reflective of the tactics the criminals use, and it therefore becomes harder for people to check whether the request for information is genuine."

Do criminals take their time researching targets?

"Yes! Criminals will often spends hours researching people and the fraud can often be carried out using multiple forms of contact.

"For example, they might start by looking online to see what current information is available, then contact you impersonating an organisation via text, message, DM (direct message), or email to gather further information.

"Finally, using all the information they have about you, they'll call you on the telephone to finally get hold of your money."

How do criminals pressurise people to hand over details or money?

"These scams often begin with a phone call, text, message or email that appears to be from a trusted organisation or person.

"A criminal will prey on your anxieties by putting pressure on you to act quickly and creating a sense of urgency.

"For example, they might say your bank account is at risk and ask you to move your money to a 'safe account', pressuring you to share your bank details in a rush to ensure your money 'safe'."

What should someone do if they suspect they are talking to a scammer, but they haven't yet handed over any personal details or money?

"Hang up or don't reply. Ask yourself, could it be fake? It's OK to reject, refuse or ignore any requests. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you."

Maskall says that, to help people stay safe, the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign advice is to:

Stop: Take a moment to stop and think before parting with your money or information could keep you safe.

Challenge: Could it be fake? It's OK to reject, refuse or ignore any requests. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you.

Protect: Contact your bank immediately if you think you've fallen for a scam and report it to Action Fraud.

What should someone do if they suspect they have just been scammed?

"If you believe you've fallen for a scam, contact your bank immediately on a number you know to be correct, such as the one listed on your statement, their website or on the back of your debit or credit card."