The new year is unlikely to see a lull in attempts to defraud us - guest blogger Peter Faulkner give tips on what to look out for in 2013
You will be targeted by fraudsters and conmen whether you live in London, Paris, Spain or Barbados. You may get conned when you holiday in Turkey, Thailand or Majorca. Scammers will target you regardless of age, sex or colour. The simple fact is that criminals do not discriminate.
They have no morals, no scruples, no hearts. All they want is your money, your valuables or your personal data at any price.
So it is vital you understand how these heartless criminals operate so that you can take steps to safeguard yourself and your family and keep your bank balance and identity intact.
In 2009 the Metropolitan Police shut down 1,200 bogus websites selling fake products. In 2012, during the run-up to Christmas, they closed 2,000 sites on evidence provide by domain name registrar Nominet. That blitz will continue in 2013, but it doesn't mean you are safe.
As fast as one fake site is shut down another one starts up knowing there are thousands of potential 'clients' out there gullible enough to fall for the criminals' charm offensive. Vulnerable people can be at greater risk in times of austerity as people search for bargains.
To help you deal with scammers and fraudsters I have spotlighted some of the con tricks I feel are likely to be prevalent in 2013 and how you can easily spot them.
What to look out for in 2013
More elderly people are learning to use the computer - an 80 per cent increase in the last two years - and that means more and more people could be targeted by conmen and fraudsters.
So it demands that web users remain vigilant to ensure that the crooks finish up empty-handed and your bank balance stays out of the red.
Four established email scams that we feel will continue to target people in 2013 are bogus sweepstakes, dating scams, phishing, and identity theft. Let's take a look at them.
Sweepstake or lottery scam
Usually you will receive an email claiming you have won a prize and need to send a small fee before any cash is paid out. The simple way to know if this is a scam is if you didn't enter a sweepstake or buy a ticket then it is impossible to be a winner. Also remember:
Fact: Genuine lotteries don't ask prize-winners to pay an up-front claim fee.
Fact: If you receive a partial-payment cheque for winning, it's a scam.
Fact: Foreign lotteries are not open to UK residents.
Fact: Never give out personal information such as a driver's licence or passport number.
Fact: If the fine print doesn't have start and end dates; judging date; methods of entry, proof of purchase required; description of prizes and approximate retail values; legal disclaimers; and sponsor's name and address then its a scam.
Many men and women, in their twilight years, thought they had found their Mr or Mrs Right online. What they had logged onto was a not a site for romance, but a place for broken hearts.
Crooks use photos of male and female models to make you believe this is the man or woman of your dreams. Instead it is often the start of a nightmare. They find victims by trawling social media sites and chat rooms and as long as you're looking for love bogus dating sites will continue to prosper.
What you should look out for
After months being groomed and flooded with bouquets of flowers, you will suddenly be asked for money because a relative is ill, needs medical treatment or your online lover wants money so they can fly to England to meet you. Generally they claim they are working overseas , but most of the criminals based in a dirty office in Eastern Europe or Nigeria. We know of two women who have lost their homes because they thought Cupid had struck but they had fallen for the sweet-talking criminals.
Phishing scams involve a fake email from what appears to be a well-known website such as a bank or building society requesting "security updates" and asking you to confirm your user-name and passwords. But once the fraudsters have this information they can access your account. Banks and other websites won't email you asking for your password so delete any emails that do.
Once you have submitted your details your bank account will be emptied and your name will be passed onto other scammers - known as a suckers list. The sites often look real because they use the logos of genuine banks and institutions.
What you should look out for
Generally these sites are riddled with spelling errors or grammatical errors. If it purports to be your bank saying account verification is needed or a refund is due, it's a scam. Never reply to these emails and never click on any links because you will have been hooked. To ensure you stay safe always use anti-spyware and anti-virus software and regularly update them.
This is a thriving business on and offline. All fraudsters need to do is get hold of your personal information and clone it - then they become another version of you. They could then get access to your bank account and credit card details and before you know it, they have fleeced you.
Gangster's are the masterminds behind this type of fraud and use sophisticated methods to cheat you out of money. UK card fraud continues to fall but criminals still got away with a staggering £220.9m in 2011.
What you should look out for
Card-trapping devices - a device is inserted into a cash machine's card slot, which retains the card inside. The criminal tricks the victim into re-entering their PIN while the criminal watches. After the card holder gives up and leaves, the criminal removes the device, with the card, and withdraws cash.
Skimming - a device is attached to the cash machine to record the electronic details from the magnetic stripe of genuine cards as they are inserted. A miniature camera is hidden overlooking the PIN pad to capture the PIN being entered. A fake magnetic stripe card is then produced and used with the genuine PIN to withdraw
cash at cash machines overseas, which have yet to be upgraded to chip and PIN.
Shoulder surfing - criminals watch the card holder entering their PIN, then steal the card using distraction techniques or pickpocketing, before using the stolen card and genuine PIN.
About the author
Peter Faulkner joined the Stratford Express in East London in 1961 eventually becoming Sports Editor, News Editor then Editor; 12 years as a Saturday sports sub-editor on the Sunday Telegraph; became a freelance writer in 2001 and in 2009 set up Who Can You Trust organisation to protect the elderly from fraudsters.
You can read more advice about scams of all kinds on Peter's blog - Who Can You Trust?
Image credit: Thinkstock
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