Scams, Rogue Traders and Doorstep Crime
Guarding Your Personal Details
When targeted by a scam, people often wonder how the con artist seemed to know things about them, such as their marital status or their address. The fact is that in the modern world, all sorts of information is available about nearly all of us from a variety of sources, whether we want it to be or not. Scammers are also good at conning us into believing they know more than they do, as well as making it sound as if information they’ve got from us is something they were already aware of.
Knowing things about us can give scammers an air of legitimacy and makes it easier for them to fool us, as well as to get more information from us. However there are certain things you can do to both make your personal details less easily available, as well as so that you know what to look out for when people try to use your details to con you.
Always Remember: Your bank or the police will never ask for your pin number. They will also never send a courier or taxi driver to collect you credit/debit card, or to pick up money that they’ve told you to withdraw. THIS IS A SCAM, no matter what scare tactics are used (such as claims fraud has been detected on your account). If you get a call like this, report it to the police and/or Action Fraud.
Keeping Your Details To Yourself
- Only give out your details when absolutely necessary. Just because a form has boxes for age, gender etc. does not necessarily mean it’s either needed or that you must fill it in (although it’s worth checking to see if you do).
- If a form has an option saying something like ‘Would you like to receive offers or promotions from third parties’, make sure you show that you do not want this.
- When you sign up for the electoral register, you can mark that you do not want to be on the publicly available list. Some organisations use the public register to legitimately check people’s details (you may find, for example, that it is more difficult to get a loan from some companies if you’re not on the public register), however it also makes your details available to marketers and scammers.
- Sign up for things such as the Mail Preference Service and Telephone Preference Service. This should not just cut down on the amount of junk mail and sales calls you get, but also lessens the opportunities for people to try and get personal details out of you.
Don’t Allow Yourself To Be Led
One tactic scammers use is to suggest they know more than they actually do. Scammers often use details they already have to try and find out more information and then lead you to the point you are giving them money. For example, they may phone up and say they know which bank you’re with or which energy company you use. Sometimes it might be even more personal, such as which school you went to, or what gym you’re a member of. They may be guessing but there’s a good chance they’ve got these details from a marketing list or social media profile.
They use what they know to give the impression of legitimacy (e.g. that they are from your gym, or working on behalf of your energy company) and also so that you let your guard down and they can find out more about you. Even if you don’t fall for the initial scam, any information you give could be used by a con artist to tailor their next approach. A caller may well be legitimate, but if you aren’t certain about them, it is best to err on the side of caution.
Remember that just because someone says they know something about you, it doesn’t mean that they’re not either guessing or that they have gained that information legitimately. Particularly with unsolicited calls, the onus is on them to prove they are who they say they are, and that what they’re saying is legitimate.
Also, do not give out information just to get rid of someone. This is an increasingly common ploy by dodgy marketing companies, who tell you they cannot remove you from their lists until you confirm your name, address and other details. While they say telling them this information will prevent them or others phoning you, in reality it’s possible your details will be sold to others and the number of calls will increase.
Call Them Back
If you aren’t certain who’s on the other end of the line, most legitimate businesses – such as banks, energy firms and other major companies you may deal with – will give you the option of calling them back on a publicly available number, or offer some other method of verification. If you do decide to call a company back, use a different phone or wait at least five minutes, as it has been known for scammers to keep the line open, so that when you phone back you are still talking to them rather than who you think you’ve just phoned.
Anyone who says there’s no other way to contact them or who won’t provide a way to verify their legitimacy, should be treated with extreme caution. If they do give you a number to call them back on, check that it really is a number for that organisation. If it’s different to the number on their website or which directory enquiries gives you, call the official line and ask whether the number you’ve been given is a genuine one for that company. If not, or if they are unsure, do not phone the number you’ve been given. Alternatively you can try to access the department you were supposedly called by on an official line you feel confident about.
Social Media & Online
With the rise in popularity of sites such as Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, people are often posting a treasure trove of personal details online, which scammers can use to target you.
People have been burgled after announcing on Facebook that they were going on holiday (or even to a funeral), while others have been approached by ‘old school friends’, who were actually con artists who only knew what school someone went to because of their social media profiles.
There are things you can do to protect yourself:
- Most social media sites offer a range of privacy options. Facebook and Google+ allow you to sort contacts into groups so that, for example, your close friends and families get access to everything, but you can hide your phone number, e-mail address and various other things from casual acquaintances.
- Ensure you block those not in your friend group from having access to any of your details. Many people don’t realise they have Facebook set up so anyone can see almost anything they write or have on their profile.
- Twitter has fewer privacy settings – it’s either every tweet is public or only those you accept as followers can see what you say (there are also direct messages, which are private). Generally Twitter should be treated as a public forum, as most of the time anyone has access to anything you say whether you wish them to or not. Even if you block someone they can still read your tweets, they just can’t contact you.
- Even if you think something is private it’s still sensible to watch what you post online, just in case. Anyone who receives even the most private of messages can easily spread it further via social media if they want to.
- Be extra wary of posting personally identifying information, even inadvertently. Some people have been caught out by posting photos that showed their credit cards. Scammers copied the card numbers and used them to make purchases.
- Always be wary of new acquaintances you meet online, or indeed those who say they are old acquaintances but you can’t remember them. If someone sends you a friend request, you do not have to accept. They may be genuine but they could be a scammer. It’s also important to remember that just because someone is already friends with one of your friends, it doesn’t mean they are trustworthy.
- If you do make new friends online, don’t let your heart rule your head. The classic example is someone who starts an online relationship with somebody from overseas. After several weeks or months of online romance, the person overseas begins asking for money, usually cash that they need to get to the UK. They then ask for more and more money, often offering a series of problems, traumas and upsets that mean it’s going to cost more than they originally said. This goes on until the person in the UK either realises they’re being scammed or runs out of money. Online connections and relationships can feel very real and intense, but remember, you have no guarantees that anything someone tells you online is true – even their photographs could be of somebody else.
The Data Protection Act
The Data Protection Act is designed to safeguard what organisations in the UK can and can’t do with the details they hold about you (e.g. they can’t give your telephone number to another unrelated company without your permission). Those who follow the law will safeguard your details and may only use them for legitimate purposes in line with your agreement with them. It is also likely they will have to be registered with the Information Commissioner’s Office, which has a publicly searchable list of registered companies on its website.
Companies must let you know exactly what details they hold on you (with limited exceptions), and you also have the right to tell them to amend any incorrect information they have.
If you believe a company is breaking the Data Protection Act, such as selling your details to a third party or holding information you don’t think they have a right to have, you can report the matter to the Information Commissioner’s Office.