Identity Fraud

Identity fraud is where someone impersonates you without your knowledge or consent, or uses your personal information to obtain money, goods or services.

It has been described as the fastest-growing fraud in the UK. The latest estimate is that identity fraud costs the UK economy in excess of £1.2 billion a year.

If it happens to you, you may find bills arriving for accounts you do not have and goods you have not bought, debt collectors demanding payment for debts that are not yours, and have your own applications for credit refused. Sorting out the mess could take you a very long time.

Protect yourself
The UK Home Office Identity Theft website has tips on how to protect yourself, what to do if it happens to you and contact details of organisations that can help. The website is located at http://www.identitytheft.org.uk

Advance fee scams
You receive an email offering you a fortune. All you have to do is discreetly help the sender transfer millions of pounds out of their country. The need to do this is often blamed on some great misfortune that has occurred in that country (recent examples include the Asian tsunami, or civil war and unrest in Africa). You will be asked to send details of your bank account and an administration fee to initiate the transaction with the promise that you are on your way to becoming a millionaire.

Another example could be that you receive a letter sent by what looks like to be a reputable institution asking you for help in moving money which is about to be confiscated. Another common variation is a notification that you have won some money in a lottery in a foreign country. No such luck – this money DOES NOT exist.

Protect yourself
No matter how tempting the offer of making lots of money is, do not get hooked in if you are approached in this way. It will always be a scam and once you show an interest, you will find it very difficult to be let off the hook by the swindlers.

Remember:

  • Just say "no". These kinds of letters, emails and faxes will ALWAYS be a scam. You will lose your money, that is the only thing that is guaranteed.
  • Any letter, phone call or email that asks for money upfront should be ignored. You should NEVER have to pay for a prize.
  • Do not be under any false illusion that you have been “specially chosen”.
  • NEVER give your bank account or credit card details or other personal information to anyone you do not know, or have not checked out.
Remember - if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Affinity fraud
Affinity fraud refers to investment scams that target members of a group, such as community, religious, ethnic or professional groups. Examples include church congregations, members of community groups and many, many more.

Often the swindler will claim to be a member of the group. Who better to trust with money than someone who has the same interests or background?

Sometimes the swindler will not be a member of the group but will sell the scam to a few prominent members in order to gain the trust of the others. Once a victim realises that things are not right, they often do not notify the correct authorities but keep the problem within the group, hoping that it will be solved amicably.

Protect yourself
Remember:

  • Beware if members of any group you belong to sing the praises of an investment deal. Swindlers often pay out high returns to early investors, which they do from using the money from new investors.
  • Never make an investment based solely on the recommendation of a member of an organisation or religious or ethnic group to which you belong. Nothing beats doing your own research about the deal. Get all the facts about the company or individual, trawl through the internet, financial newspapers or company brochures and get your facts straight. Think about getting independent financial advice if you are in any doubt.
  • Always make sure that the firm or person you use to invest or take out a financial product is regulated before handing over your money.
  • Don't forget, there are very few – if any - risk-free investments.
Chain letters
You receive an unsolicited letter or email with a list of names in it. After being asked to send a small amount of money to the person at the top of the list you are then invited to put your own name on the list, photocopy the letter (or forward on the email) and send it on to a number of people. According to the letter or email, you will be guaranteed a return of significantly more money than your initial investment.

Chain letters operate in a similar way to other types of scams such as pyramid schemes in that a member pays a fee to join the chain. The only way for that member ever to recover any money is to recruit more members who all pay the same amount. They, in turn, have to recruit even more people - and so it goes on.

Protect yourself
However tempted you may be by the promise of huge returns on your money, do not get involved.

  • This will not make you rich, the only person likely to profit from this scam will be the originator.
  • Do not be bullied by threats of bad luck befalling you if you ‘break’ the chain. These scammers are just playing on your superstitions.
  • Throw away or delete any chain letters or emails you receive.
Fund transfer scams
Fund transfer scams usually operate in the following way: you receive a telephone call or email, or might see an advert in the newspaper or on the internet.

The actual way that the perpetrator of the scam may contact you, and the cover story they use, might vary, but you will probably be asked to receive a payment into your bank account, take it out as cash, and then send it abroad using other means (such as a money-transfer service). For helping out, you will be offered a commission.

There is no such thing as easy money and you would very likely be helping criminals to launder money. Once the funds are taken out of your account as cash, they become almost impossible for the law enforcement agencies to trace.

By helping these fraudsters ‘clean’ the dirty money you could be committing a serious criminal offence.

Protect yourself
Keep your anti-spam software up to date.
Many of these scams are initiated via spam – the bombarding of users by email using large automatic mailing lists. By keeping your anti-spam software up to date, you will be downloading the latest filters which can stop this type of spam.

Think carefully before parting with your cash. Does the deal you are being offered have an unofficial feel to it? A business trying to dodge taxes by employing random strangers is unlikely to be on the right side of the law.

Online Fraud
Fraudsters have wasted no time in exploiting the internet for their own gains. The internet makes it even easier for them to hide, quickly shut down an operation or a website, re-invent themselves, clone the website of a bona fide institution or organisation or move on. It is quick, cheap and can be anonymous.

Internet auction sites are not always what they say they are and some customers receive nothing, having paid up-front.

There have been instances of spoof bank websites whose web address looks like a real bank but is very slightly different. Many people have been conned out of thousands of pounds in this way. You may also receive emails purporting or pretending to be from your bank which ask you to re-verify details such as your online banking passwords or PIN numbers. This is known as phishing. Remember, a bank will never approach you through such means for this information, so do not respond without checking first with the firm concerned.

False messages may also be posted on internet sites to encourage you to buy or sell shares. With a little know-how, a swindler can target thousands of would-be investors with specific requests via spamming (uninvited email). It does not matter to them that they only get a handful of replies. It has not cost them anything to hook in their victims in so it has to be a good deal.

Protect yourself
With millions of internet users, the opportunities for fraudsters to carry out online fraud are huge. Do not let them rip you off or make you a victim.

Remember:

  • Always check financial websites carefully. Make sure that the web address is correct and is not spelt slightly differently.
  • Never sign up to anything immediately, there is always time to do your own research. Get all the facts about the company or individual, trawl through the internet or company information sources and get your facts straight. Get independent financial advice if you are in any doubt.
  • NEVER give your bank account details, credit card numbers or other personal information to anyone you do not know or have not checked out.
  • Do not believe rumours that you read on the internet. There could be a host of reasons why unsolicited messages that you receive are trying to persuade you to make a payment or buy some shares. People in cyberspace are not always who they purport to be.
  • Do not make a financial decision based on how professional a website looks. It is easy and cheap to create, register and promote a website. Always read the small print carefully, even online.
  • Get into the habit of deleting any emails you receive promoting get-rich-quick schemes or requests to send cash through the post or receive some funds on someone elses behalf. They are simply not worth reading.

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