RACHEL RICKARD STRAUS: Two thirds of Britons say they have been targeted by a scammer this year – it is costing billions and HAS to stop
Two thirds of Britons say they have been targeted by a scammer this year, according to Citizens Advice. A terrifying figure, yes. But it’s the remaining third I worry about.
The scourge of scammers is now so widespread I wonder if anyone can have escaped it.
Are there really people who have not been targeted, or have they been scammed and just don’t realise it?
A scam for everyone!: So relentless is the bombardment from scammers that it is almost inevitable all of us will receive a scam at some point that rings true
We used to think of scams as amateur, shoddy and easy to spot: the realm of emails promising untold wealth, purporting to be from billionaires in Nigeria and littered with spelling mistakes.
But today, there is a scam out there for everyone.
The majority won’t catch most people out. You’re unlikely to click on a fake email asking you to update your Netflix account if you don’t have one, for example.
But so relentless is the bombardment from scammers that it is almost inevitable all of us will receive a scam at some point that rings true: a text message claiming to be from Royal Mail received the very day you have sent a parcel, or a bogus phone call from someone claiming to be from your bank.
Many scam victims I speak to are too ashamed to tell their own families.
‘How can I have been so stupid?’ they often say.
But they are not stupid. Scammers are sophisticated and will use every psychological trick in the book to part us with our money.
I have spoken to people from all walks of life who have fallen victim: students, professors, lawyers, pensioners, former police officers. No one is immune. So what can we do?
I am a natural optimist and like to give people the benefit of the doubt, so I’m loathe to give the following advice.
But after months of speaking to scam victims whose good nature has led them to trust the stories told by pitiless scammers, I realise it is absolutely vital.
Do not trust any incoming correspondence from businesses and service providers. Check and check again before responding, especially where you have been asked to disclose personal information.
That’s what we as individuals can do. But what about action from the Government and industry to crack down on scams so that our cynicism is not the only line of defence?
For a start, we need investment. Professor Mark Button, director of the centre for counter fraud studies at the University of Portsmouth, tells me that much more money is spent on specialist staff to tackle benefit fraud than fraud against individuals.
That is madness when the money lost to benefit fraud is millions compared with the billions lost to financial fraud.
The Government seems happy to spend money clawing back funds snatched from its own pocket, but less fussed when it comes to protecting vulnerable individuals robbed of their life savings.
We also require resources. We need a properly funded and equipped police unit dedicated to fighting scams, as The Mail on Sunday has been calling for in recent weeks.
And finally, we need a joined-up strategy.
Helena Wood is an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute centre for financial crime and security studies.
She told the Commons Treasury Committee this month: ‘We need nothing short of a revolution in how we look at financial crime data.’
There is plenty of information about fraudsters available. Hundreds of scam victims painstakingly recall the heartbreaking details of their scams to Action Fraud every day.
The problem is the fact that all that information remains siloed, unused, and with no one taking responsibility and joining the dots to track down the criminals.
The longer we wait until scams are taken seriously, the more brazen scammers will become. After all, why hide your criminal activity when there is little chance of getting caught?
This week my colleague Toby Walne reports on how criminals are stealing catalytic converters from cars in the middle of the day, sometimes while the owner pops to the shops.
Scammers, too, are robbing us in broad daylight. It has got to stop.