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Make sure you are scam aware this Scams Awareness Month

In her latest blog, Alison talking about becoming a SCAMbassador, Scams Awareness Month and how to protect yourself from becoming a victim.

In 2017 I was delighted to be invited to become a SCAMbassador – which means I will work with decisions makers across the country to take action to raise the profile of the problem and what action can be taken to reduce it and support victims.

But like many areas of crime, the best way that we can make a difference, lies very close to home so I want to draw readers’ attention to Scams Awareness Month, which is an annual campaign, that runs throughout June, and aims to create a network of confident, alert consumers who ‘don’t miss a trick’ when it comes to scams.

Whether you’re an individual consumer looking to protect yourself and your family from scams, or an organisation or group representing consumers, your efforts during Scams Awareness Month 2018 are important.

According to the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), one of the main organisations behind the campaign, a total of 1,200 financial and legal scams were reported to them in the year ending April 2018 - a 6% increase on the year before.

Devon and Cornwall Police has been at the forefront of tackling one particular scam – courier fraud - and has brought to justice many individuals who were responsible. The offender(s) would call unsuspecting victims purporting to be an official body, such as the police or bank then convince the victim that there has been some form of fraudulent activity with their bank account. The caller requests bank account details, PIN numbers and other details as a matter of urgency to prevent further substantial losses.

A few years ago the Force received many reports relating to a professionally run national scam which led to many vulnerable people, who are often elderly, being ruthlessly defrauded out of thousands of pounds. There were many victims nationwide, including many in Devon and Cornwall. The average age of victim was 70 years old and losses ranged between £4000 - £100 000+.

Often they to convince the victim to package their bank cards, seal them in an envelope and wait for a courier to arrive and collect. On occasion the caller also convinces the victim to visit their bank and withdraw substantial sums of cash from their accounts and await further instructions, usually involving a courier or a taxi as described.

One such victim was poor Betty, a 91-year-old lady who was home alone when she received a phone call from a man who said that the fraud office had information there was someone working in her local bank who was defrauding customers. She was concerned but he told her that if she acted quickly her money could be protected.

The call was a scam. While Betty kept the line open £50,000 was taken from her account, never to be returned. Detectives speculate the call was probably made from an internet café in the London area. The pensioner had become the latest victim of an organised crime gang who were ringing hundreds, perhaps thousands, of numbers a day.

It was down to great work from Inspector John Shuttleworth and his team of five or six officers that the criminals were tracked down. Despite the scale and complexity of crime they found more than 100 victims of the gang, including some businesses, and more than £2million stolen.

The efforts of his team led to the conviction of six defendants at Harrow Crown Court in London, in itself evidence that this wasn’t solely a Devon and Cornwall affected crime, it was on a national scale. And despite that success more criminals are using identical tactics to target victims every day.

Many of you reading this won’t feel vulnerable to this sort of scam, but the perpetrators are very, very clever – and there are times when we all let our guards down - it can happen to anyone. And even if you don’t feel threatened yourself I absolutely guarantee you will know someone who is vulnerable.

So here are a few tips to prevent yourself becoming a victim.

- Never disclose security details, such as your PIN or full banking password: Banks and other trusted organisations will never ask you for these in an email, on the phone, by text or in writing.

- Don’t assume an email or phone call is authentic:  Just because someone knows your basic details it doesn’t mean they are genuine.

- Don’t be rushed or pressured into making a decision: No bank or organisation would force you to make a financial transaction on the spot and they would never ask you to transfer money into another account for fraud reasons.

- Listen to your instincts, if something feels wrong then it is usually right to question it. They may appear trustworthy, but they may not be who they claim to be.

- Stay in control: Have the confidence to refuse unusual requests for personal or financial information. It’s okay to stop the discussion if you do not feel in control of it.

There is lots of information about protecting yourself and, how you can protect others, at the CAB website >

You can also join me in supporting the excellent campaign being run by National Trading Standards to take a stand against scams and join ‘Friends against scams’ > www.friendsagainstscams.org.uk

You can help the campaign by looking at supporting the great work by becoming a Friend or SCAMchampion.

Alison Hernandez