One in 10 Britons fell victim to fraud or cybercrime attacks in the last year, according to new figures from the Office for National Statistics.
The threat can come from anywhere in the world and nobody is safe, regardless of age, wealth or where they live, says Mark Bangs, deputy head of crime statistics at the ONS.
Pension and investment scams pose one of the biggest threats, costing victims £20,000 on average, according to figures from Citizens Advice.
Fraudsters based overseas typically make unsolicited contact via cold calls, post and emails, offering get-rich-quick investment schemes designed to rob savers of their retirement nest eggs.
Fraudsters based overseas typically make unsolicited contact via cold calls, post and emails
To report suspected fraud call Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or visit ActionFraud.police.uk.
Dhothar says fraudsters are now even exploiting Brexit: “They are playing on current economic uncertainty to pressurise victims into putting their savings into bogus investments.”
Consumer watchdog Which? warns that emails with headlines such as “Brexit causes historic market drop” encourage recipients to click on a link that will download viruses and spyware. This can be used to bombard you with unwanted advertising or steal your identity. Never click on a suspicious email and keep your computer’s antivirus software updated.
For instance, it has identified nearly 300 frauds worth £6.8 million luring unsuspecting Britons to invest in property or hotel developments in Cape Verde. Others have lost money in supposedly “ethical” Amazon rainforest plantations in Brazil that promised returns of 10 per cent a year.
However, money does not grow on trees and many pensioners have lost their entire retirement savings.
Hong Kong is another fraud hub with crooks calling Britons to offer “free pension reviews” that recommend transferring their savings with the promise of doubling their money in a decade.
Phoenix has blocked 28 such transfers to Hong Kong this year totalling more than £580,000, but many more are likely to go through.
Other frauds are closer to home, such as Spain, where bogus brokers cold-call UK savers and lure them into buying worthless shares.
Households remain under constant bombardment from bogus call centre staff in India pretending to be working for a reputable company such as Microsoft or BT, claiming to have identified a problem with your computer, which can be fixed for a fee.
So-called “Microsoft support” scams hit one in five UK households says Which? costing victims more than £500 each. Nigerian “419 advance-fee frauds”, where victims are promised a large share in a lottery win or inheritance if they help transfer funds to the UK, are costing trusting Britons around £340 million a year.
Bogus handwritten “begging letters” claiming to be from children in Uganda who cannot afford their school fees and want financial help is another old trick. Lottery scams also thrive, with victims receiving personalised letters saying they have won a prize, but must send money to a mailbox in the Netherlands before claiming it.
You may be wise to these scams but others, particularly the elderly and vulnerable, are not.
GET SCAM SMART
Never allow yourself to be pressured into making a decision quickly or paying anything up-front.
Jonathan Watts-Lay, director, WEALTH at work, says: “ Check out the company with the Financial Conduct authority (FCA). If it has not heard of it you will have no place to go if they turn out to be fraudsters.”
If in doubt, put the phone down on a cold caller, and delete any suspicious email or text without opening it or replying. This may go against the grain of British politeness, but it is far better than seeing your money disappear to the other side of the world, with no hope of getting it back.