It’s never a good feeling to realise we’ve been the victim of a scam, but sadly, in the digital age, it has become commonplace and could happen to any one of us, at any time, however aware and alert we may think we are. Scams tap into our natural instincts, such as curiosity – “We have a parcel for you. Pay this fee and we’ll deliver it.” – or fear – “Enter your details now or your account will be frozen.” or even “You owe income tax. There is a warrant for your arrest”. They come in very many forms, as do the effects on their victims, from the sinking disappointment when that expensive, miracle skin cream advertised on social media fails to arrive, to the utter devastation of the online romance scam, when we discover someone we’ve developed feelings for has duped us for money. In financial terms, they can cost us a few pounds or ultimately our life-savings. And as the digital technology refines, the scams too become ever more sophisticated: telephone numbers are cloned and calls diverted, websites are finely replicated, and it becomes even faster and easier to transfer, and therefore to lose, money electronically.
Scammers are opportunists too, quickly adapting their focus and methods to the prevailing environment. The pandemic has provided a range of new opportunities for criminals to exploit their victims, from offering medical equipment or insurance against coronavirus at inflated prices, to promising a chance to jump the vaccination queue for a fee.
With so much that’s plausible online, you don’t have to be particularly vulnerable to find yourself taken in.
So how can Citizens Advice help?
If you’ve been the victim of a scam, Citizens Advice can signpost you to emotional support, if you want it, via other agencies such as Victim Support or Age UK, and can also put you in contact with those who may be able to help you get your money back, or at least help prevent it happening to anyone else, such as Action Fraud.
Perhaps you haven’t yet been a victim but are worried you might be! In that case, our website has information on how to spot a scam and some of the things to look out for; badly worded emails with poor spelling for example, or requests to pay in unusual ways, such as with i-tunes vouchers or via a transfer service like MoneyGram.
If you choose to report a scam through our Scams Action Service, the information we collate will be used to help organisations like Trading Standards develop strategies to prevent it happening again,
So if you’ve fallen for a scam, don’t feel foolish. It really could happen to anybody and you’re certainly not alone. Call Adviceline (details below) to report it and access specific help, and for more general advice.