Consumer group Which? has issued a warning about four sophisticated scams to watch out for this year.
The group said several convincing scams are currently circulating, which can dupe recipients into handing over their personal details and ultimately lose money from their bank accounts.
The warning comes after the UK government earlier this month published a new fraud strategy, which includes banning cold calls on all financial products, such as those relating to insurance or sham cryptocurrency schemes.
The government also plans to work with Ofcom to use new technology to further clamp down on number “spoofing” in an effort to stop fraudsters from impersonating legitimate UK phone numbers. Under the plans, banks will be allowed to delay payments from being processed for long to allow time for suspect payments to be investigated.
Lisa Barber, Which? tech editor, said it is “appalling” that scammers are continuing to thrive this year, as she warned of a “new wave of convincing scams” bombarding consumers.
She added: “Consumers can help protect themselves from scams by accessing the wide range of free, expert advice on Which?’s website, from signing up to our scam alerts service to getting answers on how to get their money back if they do fall victim to fraud.”
Four key scams to watch out for
Listed are four key scams to be wary of this year, according to Which?.
Pig butchering scams have earned their name because they “fatten up” the victim by first forming a romantic connection before executing the investment part of the scam.
The scammer and victim typically meet on a dating site and the victim is “love-bombed” for some time by someone who appears to take a great interest in their life, Which? says.
The scammer will often encourage their victim to move from the dating platform to a private messaging service, thereby removing them from any protections the dating website might offer.
Once the victim is sufficiently groomed, the scammer claims they have been having success investing – typically in property or cryptocurrency – and offers to invest some of the victim’s money.
If the victim consents, they are sometimes shown a crypto trading platform controlled by the scammers, and are encouraged to sign up and begin depositing funds.
One UK victim lost £107,000 to such a scam, believing she was investing in retirement apartments overseas, according to Which?.
Fake missing person appeals
People are increasingly being asked to share fake online posts about missing people, but Which? said its experts know they are fake because there are near-identical posts in community pages across the world, simply with the location being changed.
Comments are also turned off on the posts to avoid people pointing out the inconsistencies. Once a post has gained a large number of likes - which helps lend it credibility - the contents are then edited into something completely different, such as a straightforward investment scam.
Which? said the “despicable” scam relies on responsible citizens liking and sharing posts in an attempt to help and while some missing person posts are genuine, it can often be difficult to tell.
To avoid perpetuating a scam or unwittingly participating in stalking or harassment, Which? suggests only sharing official posts, posted by organisations such as the police or the Missing People charity (missingpeople.org.uk).
This type of scam involves people receiving a “money request” from a genuine PayPal email address.
On the surface it might appear to be above board but scammers may send out fake payment requests, often for high-value items, or pose as HMRC to demand “overdue” tax payments, Which? said.
In some versions of the scam, the fake invoice states the victim’s PayPal account has been compromised and urges them to call a fake fraud hotline. The consumer group says people should never pay PayPal invoices they do not recognise, or call phone numbers in those invoices.
Fake app alert
Some apps can install malware on phones, steal data and perpetuate scams. App stores do take steps to crack down on the problem but threats can remain, Which? warns.
To avoid fake apps, the consumer group advises clicking on the developer’s name when installing and checking what other apps it has made to see if these appear legitimate. It also said people should remember that app reviews can be faked.
The app will likely ask users for permissions, such as to use the camera, but these need to be relevant and proportionate to the functions of the app. People who believe they may have been scammed should contact their payment provider immediately and report it to Action Fraud.