What would you do if a loved one needs money in an emergency?

It’s 8pm and you have just sat down to relax for the evening when your mobile phone buzzes. You have received a text message and you don’t recognise the number. It reads:

“Hi Mum. Help! I broke my phone last night and this is my new number while my phone is being fixed. Message me when you see this.’’

In a panic you ask how you can help and they respond.

“I can’t do my banking on this new phone and I have to make an urgent payment. If I send you the details can you pay it for me now and I’ll pay you back later? Xx”

Fraudsters can be an opportunistic bunch, however, these types of scams, as many are, can be very sophisticated. Criminals will spend many hours researching their victim. They can begin simply with attempts to get you to divulge some personal and/or financial information, such as in the example above where they know the potential victim is a mother. This information can be used to help them impersonate someone you trust and pressure you into doing something without thinking it through. Their ultimate goal is to steal your money.

By impersonating someone you trust, fraudsters try to pull you in to a conversation. After all, at this point, how would you know it’s not genuine? There are a few red flags in the above example. Firstly, the message is from an unfamiliar number, secondly there is a request for money and thirdly there is a sense of urgency.

It is important never to be panicked or rushed into doing something you normally wouldn’t do. You should never give out personal information or make a payment unless you are 100 percent sure it is genuine.

According to a survey by UK Finance’s Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign, those under the age of 35 are more likely to have been targeted with an impersonation scam and been swayed to provide personal or financial information. Alarmingly, less than half the people surveyed, across all age groups, said that they always take steps to check if an organisation or person is genuine when they are asked for personal information out of the blue.

During the first half of 2021, criminals stole a total of £753.9 million through fraud, an increase of 30 percent compared to the first half of 2020. The advanced security systems used by banks prevented a further £736 million from being taken.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought an evolution in fraud as face-to-face was halted and we were forced online. New digital scams were developed for targeting victims. The latest figures released by UK Finance show that despite the efforts of the finance industry the scale of the problem is still growing.

What many scams have in common is that criminals use online platforms, including fraudulent online advertising using social media, search engines and fake websites to convince you they are genuine. For example, you could see a too good to be true online offer for a holiday abroad. After following the link or using a search engine to locate the company online, you are presented with a professional looking website that fills you with confidence that it is all above board. The reality is, unfortunately, the online advert and website are scams to get you to transfer money to the fraudster’s account.

Follow this simple rule: If it looks too good to be true, chances are it is.

To combat things of this nature, the UK government is looking to introduce a bill to establish a new regulatory regime to address harmful content online.

The Online Safety Bill has five objectives:

  • to increase user safety online.
  • to preserve and enhance freedom of speech online.
  • to improve law enforcement’s ability to tackle illegal content online.
  • to improve users’ ability to keep themselves safe online.
  • to improve society’s understanding of emerging social harms.

In the near future, UK organisations providing user-to-user and search services, where users are able to post their own content, interact with other users, or search engines, will have to follow new rules in order to protect their users. The bill will require platforms to put in place “proportionate systems and processes to prevent fraudulent adverts being published or hosted on their service. This will tackle the harmful scam advertisements that can have a devastating effect on their victims.” This includes those linked with investment and romance scams. These organisations will also be required to remove illegal material, particularly material relating to terrorism and child abuse, and private messenger platforms will need to take steps to protect their users.

The Online Safety Bill is an opportunity to ensure greater protection against financial fraud and make online platforms a safer place. Organisations failing to comply could find themselves with large fines.

Going back to the original question “What would you do if a loved one needs money in an emergency?” You should stop and think, could this be a fraud attempt? And then make sure that it is legitimate before parting with any personal information or money.

Below are five top tips to help avoid falling for a fraud attempt.

  • We (or any bank) will never ask for your full password
  • We (any other bank or the police) will never contact you out of the blue to ask for your PIN, or to move money to another account
  • Just because someone knows some of your personal information doesn’t mean they’re legitimate
  • Contact your bank immediately if you think you’ve fallen for a scam and report it to Action Fraud
  • Always call your bank back on the usual and trusted telephone number, such as the one on the back of your bank card. This is also true for anyone that contacts you out of the blue from an unfamiliar number claiming to be someone you trust.
  • Bonus tipShort on time? Go online! Remember that if you inadvertently give out your debit card details to a fraudster it can be quicker to cancel your card online or via mobile app.