There has been a rapid rise in phone and online scams over the past sixteen months as criminals seek to take advantage of people’s insecurities regarding Covid. With many processes moving online and onto our mobile phones, comes new opportunities for people to take advantage. This phenomenon has been dubbed the “scamdemic.”
Scams have come a long way from the apocryphal general from a far-away nation who was desperate to share £30m with you. Although some people do fall victim to fraud of that design, the sage advice of grandmothers everywhere; “if it seems too good to be true then it probably is” has oftentimes been enough to protect the vast majority of us.
There is a huge difference, however, between £30m and £2.99. While it is hard to believe that we’ve been chosen to receive a share of a king’s fortune, it is all too easy to believe the text message that appears to come from the Royal Mail. They have been unable to deliver a parcel, there’s £2.99 to pay and all we need to do is click the link to this website. After all, with the rise and rise of online shopping, who isn’t waiting for a parcel?
According to the credit-reporting agency Credit Karma, more than half the people in the UK have been targeted by text scams since lockdown began. Worryingly, a third of us have fallen for them and, with the average person receiving four scam messages a week, it is easy to wonder if sooner or later we won’t all be a victim.
Along with the Royal Mail, messages supposedly from PayPal are most likely to have caught us out, but criminals posing as the NHS and HMRC – saying you’ll shortly be in jail if you don’t pay a tax bill immediately – are also high on the list.
The official term for all this is Bulk Telephony-enabled Fraud (BTF). There are services allowing customers, legitimate and otherwise, to send up to 30,000 messages a minute. Looking on one company’s website, the cost of sending 100,000 messages is just over 2p per message. For the criminals it is purely a numbers game. With so many messages going out, some of them are bound to hit the target. And while the average age for postal scams is 74, the age group most likely to fall victim to text scams are the under-35s.
It’s unlikely that this problem is going away any time soon. You may ask, well, why doesn’t the Government do something? The problem is that so many of these scams and frauds are based offshore.
The answer, for now, is in our own hands. Caution and a healthy skepticism can help to protect you. If you’re feeling tired, burnt out or otherwise distracted, ask whether now is the time to be dealing with your messages. Question them when you receive them: ‘Am I really expecting a parcel?’ ‘My accountant deals with everything, so why are HMRC contacting me?’ Questions like that may not be as straightforward as grandma’s advice, but asking them could save you a lot of money, and an equal amount of heartache.