Scottish consumers are being approached by scammers, claiming to be from organisations offering help with various aspects of the cost-of-living crisis. With many Scots already struggling and seeking financial support, there is a greater risk of people falling-foul of scammers when we are distracted by other things.
Scammers are using a mixture of methods to target households, so it has never been more important to be aware of how to avoid them. Advice Direct Scotland runs consumeradvice.scot, Scotland’s national advice service, offering information and support on a range of consumer-related matters.
Throughout Scottish #ScamWatch Fortnight we will be looking at common scams, kicking off in the first week with the high-tech approaches used by scammers to steal our personal information and hard-earned cash. Week two will focus on the more traditional methods used, and ways that scammers can use a blended approach to gather information.
We are encouraging Scottish consumers to ‘Read between the Li(n)es’ to what is actually being said by scammers when they reach out through email, over the phone, or at the front door.
Here are some of the common methods that scammers may use to steal our information and cash at a time when we need it the most.
Energy Rebate Scams
The UK Government has announced details on how households will receive £400 to help with rising energy bills this Autumn. There will be a discount of £66 applied to bills in October and November, and £67 a month from December to March 2023.
All households are eligible for the full £400, regardless of income, and how the money is received will depend on how people pay their bills. Prepayment customers with traditional meters, that are normally topped up with key or card will receive vouchers via text, email, or in the post.
Scottish consumers have been receiving emails claiming to be Ofgem, Britain’s independent energy regulator, advising they are reaching out in relation to the ‘Energy Bill Rebate’. These emails request customer information or banking details, claiming that this information is required for the payment to be made.
This is a scam. It is important to be aware that Ofgem will not reach out requesting this information, and payments will be made as outlined by the scheme. It’s important to ensure that we do not click on any links in emails or text messages we receive. By reporting scams like this, we can tackle them head on, potentially stopping vulnerable members of our communities being caught out.
This type of scammer may approach you by email, social media channels, or text message, telling you about opportunities to invest money in cryptocurrency. This can be Bitcoin, or any other type of ‘crypto-asset’. This type of scammer will usually offer opportunities to invest money into cryptocurrency, showing examples of other people who have made a lot of money, with very little invested, often using fake images.
Sometimes these scammers falsely use photos or videos of celebrities as endorsement, or to seem more legitimate. They may ask you to invest a small amount of money initially, and show a good return on your investment, only to later go on to request larger sums that you may potentially never see again. With these types of scams, the focus of the scammer is to gather information to perpetrate further scams against us; to sell our information on to other scammers; or to steal our money.
We can avoid cryptocurrency scams by avoiding making investments through social media and seeking advice from an Independent Financial Adviser before investing. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) have a register and warning list which has information on known scam firms. You can find out more by visiting www.fca.org.uk.
Energy Discount Cards
There have been reports of consumers being offered ‘discount cards’ that offer reductions on energy costs. Most often, it is prepayment customers who are targeted. This type of scammer offers a card for an up-front payment that supposedly entitles them to discounts on energy.
Very often this scammer operates door-to-door, taking payments in cash, which are practically untraceable. It is important to note that at this time, with soaring wholesale energy prices, it is unlikely that an energy supplier would offer discounts in this manner. When dealing with people on the doorstep, we can protect ourselves by checking that the caller has an established trading address and landline telephone number; avoiding making payments in cash; and checking any claims made using official channels. For example, if they say a discount is from the supplier – check with them.
We can put up signs saying, ‘no cold calling’, which may help to deter future cold callers. It is important to remember that if an offer made to you sounds too good to be true – it probably is. Scammers utilise panic in times of uncertainty to go about their business.
HMRC / Tax Rebate Scams
HMRC and tax scams try to convince consumers that they are either owed a tax rebate from HMRC or owe more tax than they have paid. These scams can be very convincing, often displaying the official branding and logos of HMRC.
Scammers can use telephone calls, emails, or text messages to convince targets to part with their information. HMRC will never request bank details via email or telephone on their first contact. If you believe you have been the target of a scam, you should contact your bank / service provider in the first instance if account details have been shared, or if money has been transferred. You should also contact the police to report the situation, as this is a crime.
consumeradvice.scot can refer this, and various other scams on to the relevant parties at Trading Standards for investigation. You can contact specialist advisers on 0808 164 6000 (Monday to Friday, 9am – 5pm), or alternatively by visiting www.consumeradvice.scot.
Like other scams, we should ensure that we avoid sharing personal and financial information. By checking for obvious giveaways such as spelling errors; pixelated logos; and long complex email addresses, we can reduce the chances of being caught out. Someone genuinely calling from HMRC will not mind you asking to call them back on the official number that can be found on official communication from them, or by visiting the official website through www.gov.uk.
Lottery / Inheritance / Advanced Payment Scams
With this type of scam, the person being targeted receives an unsolicited and unexpected message advising them that they have inherited or won a large sum of money. With so many people struggling with the cost of living, scammers rely on people getting their hopes up, and becoming distracted when receiving good news.
The scammers can gain in these situations by requesting a small sum of money up front that they claim is required to process the prize or inheritance amount. In these circumstances, once the payment has been made, the scammer either disappears, or fabricates a series of further fees that must be paid before the ‘funds’ are released.
This is a scam that can be carried out by various methods – via standard mail, text message, email, instant messenger, or social media. These types of scams have evolved over time with changes in technology, and there are variations on the way this scam is carried out. It is important to remember that this type of scam usually appears as something that is too good to be true and is more-often-than-not a windfall on a lottery, or game that the targeted person has never played or entered.
Legitimate wins are exactly that – money is given to you, and not the reverse. Remaining vigilant and ensuring we are not giving up money without considering the situation with care is important.
Romance / Companionship Scams
While we may not automatically associate romance and companionship scams with the cost-of-living crisis, these types of scams play on the emotions of the person being scammed.
Many of these scammers use flattery and ‘love bombing’ – i.e., showering a person with compliments and declarations of affection very early on in a conversation to gain trust. When this trust is built, the scammer uses this, and sometimes emotional blackmail to gather information or trick the target into giving them money.
People who have been targeted by romance scams can experience embarrassment about being scammed. These scams can often be played out over long periods of time, with the scammer gaining the trust of the consumer being scammed. If you believe you have been the target of a romance scam, you should contact your bank in the first instance if financial details have been shared, or money has been transferred. You should also contact the police to report the situation.
consumeradvice.scot can also refer this type of scam on to the relevant parties at Trading Standards for investigation.
Advice Direct Scotland’s Scottish #ScamWatch Fortnight
Scottish ScamWatch fortnight is in full swing, sharing information on different types of scams, and how we can avoid and report them to stop others being caught out. You can follow the campaign by following #ScamWatch or by visiting the official #ScamWatch page.
Advice Direct Scotland run Scotland’s national consumer advice service, consumeradvice.scot who provide advice and information on a range of consumer-related matters, including scams. You can contact them on 0808 164 6000, (Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm), or alternatively through www.consumeradvice.scot, where you can also find out more about scams in their Knowledge Centre.
You can also report suspected scams and suspicious activity using the Quick Reporting Tool at scamwatch.scot.