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The myths you need to ignore to avoid being fleeced by the scammers

Joan Adams is telling me how she was scammed out of her life savings when suddenly the phone line goes silent. 

After a few seconds, the 71-year-old from Kent explains in a whisper: ‘Sorry, I think my daughter has just walked in from the garden. I haven’t told her about the scam. I’m too ashamed and she would think I was such a fool to fall for it.’

The financial havoc that fraudsters wreak on their victims’ lives is well documented. More than £1.2billion was stolen from victims last year alone. Many of them face life-changing losses.

Financial fraud: More than £1.2bn was stolen from victims last year alone

But it is only by speaking to victims, as The Mail on Sunday has done over recent months, that it is possible to understand the deep emotional damage and family rifts they also cause.

The knowledge that her £45,000 life savings are gone is eating Joan alive from inside. But Joan (not her real name) cannot bear to tell her caring daughter, whom she says has enough to worry about in her own life.

Joan is not alone. Jack and Judith Boles (not their real names) were stripped of £85,000 in an investment scam in November last year. Like millions of others, the retired couple from Merseyside had a tough 2020, unable to see their children and grandchildren.

Even though they are now able to see family again, their dark secret continues to drive a wedge between them.

‘I just can’t tell them we’ve lost the money we had saved for our long-term care,’ says Judith. ‘The bank acts like it’s our fault and says there is nothing it can do because we handed over our money. I feel so stupid.’

Let down by their banks and left waiting by the Financial Ombudsman Service, many victims feel they have nowhere left to turn. Given our coverage on scams in recent months, some readers have come forward – on the promise of anonymity – to share their stories and to help make sure that others do not fall prey to the same tricks.

scam

What surprised them – and may surprise you – is that the scammers were nothing like what they had expected. 

Had their scammers conformed to the stereotypes that many of us hold, perhaps they would have spotted them before it was too late.

So PLEASE digest these warnings from readers who have learned the hard way that the myths about scammers are not always true.

They hope that by opening up about their experiences, you may not have to go through the awful pain they are now suffering.

Scammers will rush you

Scammers are known for putting their victims under pressure to make them transfer their money quickly without thinking.

So when a scammer told Catherine Jacobs, 75, that she should take a week to think over whether she wanted to go ahead with a bond investment he said he was offering, she was put off her guard.

Catherine says: ‘He was so professional. He told me to take my time and that, if it was OK with me, he would phone back in a week once I’d had time to think it over.’

The scammer told her to send copies of her identification – but then said they had been rejected by the compliance department and asked her to resend them.

‘I had heard about investment scams, so I was initially wary,’ she says. ‘But then, when the scammer said we had failed compliance checks, I was more reassured. I thought: ‘Why would a scammer go to that trouble?’

The scammers were building Catherine’s trust and playing a long game, which she found out only when it was too late.

A scammer told  one of our readers that she should take a week to think about the investment

A scammer told  one of our readers that she should take a week to think about the investment

Scammers sound unprofessional

Joan Adams was shocked to find out that the young gentleman she had been speaking to on the phone for several weeks was a criminal. After all, he seemed polite and even considerate.

‘He asked about my dog and my family, who I was missing,’ she says. ‘He even told me all about his own dog and that he was going to take him for a walk once we had finished our conversation.

‘He said they went for a walk every afternoon to his mum’s to wave to her through the window as they couldn’t meet due to Covid.’

Joan says she had no reason to be wary of the well-spoken man who went on to sell her fake investment bonds. For the first five months she even received interest payments on the bonds – which she now believes were probably paid out of her own money to prevent her from growing suspicious.

Following her ordeal, Joan is now too scared to use online banking – and jumps whenever her phone rings.

The returns they promise are too good to be true

Catherine Jacobs believes she never would have fallen for the investment scam perpetrated on her if the returns on offer had been unrealistic.

She is well aware of the famous financial warning: ‘If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.’

Unfortunately, scammers now know that most of us have heard this phrase, and so they have adapted their approach.

Criminals try to make investment scams seem genuine by paying a near-normal interest rate

Criminals try to make investment scams seem genuine by paying a near-normal interest rate

Catherine says: ‘At 1.9 per cent per annum, the interest did not seem massive, but it was better than you could get at the bank. Had it been 5 per cent, for example, I would have been more wary.’

Katy Worobec, managing director of economic crime at banking trade organisation UK Finance, confirms that what Catherine experienced is widespread.

She says: ‘Criminals try to make investment scams seem genuine by either claiming celebrity endorsements or paying a near-normal interest rate.

‘Victims might even get a return on their initial ‘investment’ to convince them to give the scammer more money.’

Offers of high returns should still set alarm bells ringing. But offers of lower returns can be bogus too.

Scammers’ paperwork will be shoddy

If you receive financial correspondence with poor grammar or littered with spelling mistakes, it is almost certain to be a scam. But don’t let your guard down if the correspondence is written in perfect English.

The Mail on Sunday has seen documentation from scammers, such as investment certificates, that even to an expert’s eye do not possess any hallmarks of a fake. Gerald Walsh, from Yorkshire, was duped by scammers who sent him word-perfect paperwork which looked official.

Scammers sent one of our readers word-perfect paperwork which looked official

Scammers sent one of our readers word-perfect paperwork which looked official

He says: ‘We thought we were buying investment bonds with Goldman Sachs. We even received a certificate guarantee and the paperwork we were expecting.

‘It was only a few months later that we realised we had been victims of a scam where the fraudsters had cloned a website.’

They will phone from a call centre abroad

Many scammers will have foreign accents and some contact victims from abroad. But not all of them. One reader who wrote in to this newspaper says her scammer had a Scottish accent and said he was from Glasgow. Another says that her trickster sounded as if he was from South-East England.

A third person who wrote in to The Mail on Sunday says that he was scammed out of £240,000 by an English woman and a Chinese-sounding man.

Calls come from an ‘unknown number’

Derek Loveday, 72, received a phone call from someone purporting to be from the fraud department of his bank, First Direct.

When the caller started to ask for a large amount of information about his account, Derek grew suspicious.

He says: ‘I challenged the caller and asked him how I could be sure he was genuine.

‘He said: ‘Look at the bank phone number on the back of your debit card and look at the number I am calling you from.’

‘So I checked and they were the same number.’

Luckily, Derek’s suspicions were not fully allayed and he told the caller that he would phone First Direct’s fraud team directly.

Unlike other readers in this report, Derek is happy for us to use his real name.

He did not get scammed in the end, but it was such a near-escape that he wants to alert others.

‘Using modern technology, scammers can spoof phone numbers to make it look as if they are phoning from a bank,’ he says. ‘I hope The Mail on Sunday can help in stopping these thieves.’

He also advises readers to ignore a caller who tells them the first six digits of their debit card to win their trust.

Derek says: ‘The first six digits are the same for all debit cards with a particular bank. Anyone can find out that information.’  

Why won’t the bank refund me? 

Whether or not a scam victim is reimbursed by their bank is down to little more than the luck of the draw. Sometimes banks wash their hands, claiming victims are to blame. In other cases, they are more sympathetic.

Those whom the banks refuse to refund can contact the Financial Ombudsman Service for help, but it is currently swamped with complaints.

Readers have reported waiting months for a ruling on a complaint they have filed. In the meantime, they face uncertainty about whether they will ever see their life savings again, or whether they need to salvage the pieces of their life and move on.

Catherine Jacobs has contacted the Ombudsman but is still waiting to hear back. She says: ‘It’s like a nightmare. It’s with me when I go to sleep at night and when I wake up the next morning.’ 

In many cases, banks do not reimburse victims because they claim it is their fault.

But, often, apportioning blame to victims is ridiculous. These are not simple, amateur scams.

Victims are woven intricate lies over days and weeks – not hours. Their scammers have a packed toolbox of psychological tricks, official-looking documents and answers for everything.

PLEASE, be on your guard.

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