As many of us wind down over the festive period into the New Year, fraudsters are busy at work luring in unsuspecting victims.
The UK is currently in the grip of a fraud epidemic, from get-rich-quick schemes to unknown sellers tempting consumers with fake bargains.
The rising cost of living is forcing many people to seek alternative ways to save and make money, and fraudsters are capitalising on it. They will often trick victims into making quick bank transfers rather than using other, more secure payment methods.
UK consumer group Which? is warning against unwittingly handing over money and has identified five bank transfer scams to look out for next year.
Money mule requests
Money mule requests are when people knowingly or unwittingly let a criminal use their bank account to move stolen money. These will often appear on social media posts or via targeted emails.
Banking industry body UK Finance reported a significant increase in online user generated posts encouraging people to sign up to become money mules in its latest fraud report.
Tactics employed by money mules include sending funds “in error” which people are asked to return to a different bank account, asking people to apply for credit or bank cards on behalf of someone else, or convincing people to move money sent to their account — taking a cut — as a “favour”.
Offences for this kind of scam can carry a maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment. If someone approaches you about moving money via your account, or you suspect someone is recruiting mules, you can report it to local police on 101 (or 999 in an emergency) or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111. Find advice at moneymules.co.uk.
Card theft and ‘shoulder surfing’
While a significant proportion of fraud is carried out online, consumers must also still be vigilant to offline crimes, including card theft and retail fraud.
UK Finance figures show that losses to face-to-face card fraud in shops — including contactless fraud — reached £33.6m in the first half of this year, up 72% on the previous year.
Fraudsters will use entrapment devices such as PIN pad cameras at ATMs or “shoulder surf”, where they will spy on victims while they enter their PIN number.
Over the same period, credit and debit card ID theft cases more than doubled and losses increased by 86%, totalling £21.4m. Scammers who steal cards will use the details to forge documents and will either apply for a card in the victim’s name or take over their existing account.
Which? is warning consumers to remain vigilant by keeping a close eye on financial accounts and personal credit reports, notifying your bank of anything unusual immediately. Most banks will offer free balance and payment text or email alerts. Where possible, use ATMs located inside bank branches as these are less likely to have been tampered with.
Fake apps that target bank accounts
In order to keep personal information online secure, many people are advised to use two-factor authentication, which provides an extra level of security when entering sensitive details such as passwords.
Fraudsters are aware of this extra layer of protection, and at the beginning of this year researchers at mobile security firm Pradeo discovered a fake app called “2FA Authenticator” on Google Play (GOOGL), which was downloaded more than 10,000 times before it was removed.
The app disabled system security checks on victims’ devices and secretly installed malware that stole victims’ banking login data.
Official stores such as Apple’s App Store (AAPL) and Google Play Store remain the safest places to download apps, but caution is still required. Read reviews of the app itself and the developer who made it, as these might give a clue as to its legitimacy.
Check “app permissions” to look at the functions of an open before you download it, and never click an unsolicited link from an advert, email or text.
Calls or texts from your bank
A common technique deployed by fraudsters is to imitate — or ‘spoof’ — legitimate companies, especially banks. A recent Which? investigation found that phone numbers at six major banks could be spoofed, potentially leaving customers at risk of being defrauded.
Alternatively, scammers will make automated “robocalls” with pre-recorded messages inviting people to press numbers on the keypad to speak to them about an issue, such as a suspicious payment.
Criminal gangs will often have personal details about victims already, making the scam more believable. Fake texts are also a way of enticing people to click on links that can at first appear legitimate.
Ultimately, fraudsters want personal information or for victims to send money to a “safe account” controlled by them.
To guard against these types of scams, never trust the Caller ID that comes up on a call. Banks will never ask for personal information to be handed over on the phone.
If there are concerns about the authenticity of a message, contact your bank or card issuer on a trusted method such as their mobile app or official phone number, which can be found on official statements or printed on the back of a credit or debit card.
Online purchase scams
Criminals will frequently pay for fake or misleading adverts on search engines and social media in a bid to lure unsuspecting victims in, often by offering low prices for high value items, such as mobile phones or laptops.
Purchase scams, which according to UK Finance figures were the most common form of Authorised Push Payment fraud in the first half of 2022, can be difficult to spot as some fraudsters can recreate the websites of well-known retailers with high levels of accuracy.
However, there are often tell-tale signs of bogus websites. For example, the “About us” section may have poor English or grammatical errors and the “Contact” page may be missing or incomplete.
While it can be tempting to grab a bargain, particularly at a time when the rising cost of living is squeezing household budgets, it is best to stick to trusted retailers. Paying via bank transfer offers less protection than paying by card.
Jenny Ross, Which? money editor, said: “Scammers are relentless when it comes to wanting our personal information and ultimately our money. And while their tactics will no doubt continue to evolve, we think these scams are the main ones to watch out for.
“Banks will never ask you for personal information, nor will they try to hurry you into making a decision. If this happens to you — whether by text, email or over the phone, step back and think about what they’re asking. If it looks too good to be true, it usually is.”