Covid-19 saw the nation pull together in a way that our generation has been lucky enough until now to never see before.
The fight against this invisible enemy has been long, hard and is not over yet. The countless selfless acts of human kindness demonstrate the government’s message that “we are all in this together”.
For the most part this is true, however, the National Crime Agency has reported an increase scams and suspicious activity- ranging from “phishing” where victims are contacted via e-mail to “vishing” where they are called over the phone.
There are thousands of different types of scams involving a wide range of services like investment, pensions and online trading, but the most common is a phone call offering something so tempting that the unwary ‘mark’ or victim falls for it hook, line and sinker.
In these uncertain times, it is sickening to see opportunistic scammers and con men (and women) out to separate us from our money and personal details.
It seems that they are trying every trick in the book to capitalise on this global pandemic that has affected our nation in so many devastating ways.
Knowledge is power
Many larger organisations have reported their brands being used by unscrupulous scammers trying to masquerade as companies such as Amazon Prime, HMRC, and even the FCA.
At Gladstone Brookes, we monitor various areas for intelligence of potential scams and have found that this now includes some scammers posing as Gladstone Brookes employees!
Gladstone Brookes has built an enviable reputation in recent years for helping some of our clients recover life-changing sums of money which was rightfully theirs.
But scammers are now trying to use that reputation to steal money from unsuspecting consumers and are even chancing their arm with members of the public who have never been a GB customer!
Anyone who knows us is aware of the Gladstone Brookes Promise
- We NEVER cold call – our customers come to us
- We NEVER ask for upfront payment
- We NEVER ask customers for vouchers
- We NEVER deliver cheques in person
- We don’t call from mobile numbers
- We don’t contact from personal e-mail addresses.
Tricks and Numbers used in telephone scams
Some example of scams that we are aware of include:
1. Scammers potentially displaying Gladstone Brookes phone numbers to convince customers that they are calling from GB. The scammer usually tries to persuade ‘marks’ to make payments before they have received any money from their lender. This scam targets members of the general public and the scammers appear to be just ringing a list of data in the hope that it contains some GB customers or people that cannot recall who they instructed to help with PPI refunds. Where we are aware of this type of activity we do not use the line to dial out.
- 03333446376 – discontinued on 21st April 2020
- 03333447309 – discontinued on 21st April 2020
- 03333448029 – discontinued on 12th October (not posing as GB – police officer calling on behalf of Inland Revenue in relation to a legal case)
2. Home working scams where the Scammer calls a victim (again not always GB customers) posing as GB, advising them that they are working from home due to Covid and supplying personal contact details including e-mail and non-GB numbers.
Whilst many GB staff are working from home, none will ever ask you to contact them on a personal line or at a personal e-mail address and we would not contact you if you have never been a customer and have not asked us to.
3. Contacting Members of the public advising of a PPI Payment We are aware that scammers are contacting members of the public posing as GB on various numbers including mobile and landlines. These lists can also include people with cases with GB, however our investigations suggest that this Usually the Scammer advises the victim that a case had been successful and they needed banking details to make a payment. If you have had no business or contact with GB, we would not call you about a payment. We would not be able to process a claim with your lender or bank without your written consent. as we would not be acting on your behalf. Please contact GB if have been called but you receive a suspicious call of this nature so that we can continue to raise awareness on this type of scam or if you are unsure whether you have a case with GB so that we can clarify this for you. Related phone numbers are below.
- 07875831670 – Scammer did not say where they were calling from but mentioned the Nation Refund Association
- 01920 675712
- 0115 666 9072
- 01273 003 700
- 0151 528 68 29
- +711701273522 (Russia)
- +60118147449 (Malaysia)
- This type of scam involves the scammer claiming to work for GB and have money for a potential victim. Some scammers advise that the refund can be paid by cheque but encourage potential victims to provide their bank details to purchase insurance which would prevent them from having to pay an excessive amount of tax on the offer. This is just a way to get the bank details from the victim. Scammers may also attempt to gain kudos by pretending to be associated with the Financial Conduct Authority, HMRC or other well-known body. Scammers can be quite convincing often working from scripts with prepared amounts for refunds and any details that they already have on you to solicit more information from you. They may even go as far as reading out our General T&Cs (which are public information as we are required to present these on our website.) They may also provide you with a claims reference number, if you are a GB customer and this differs from you GB ref, this likely to be a scam.
- Scammers may also tell you that the law on PPI refunds has changed and your now due back more money. If you are advised this please contact GB by seeking out our number independently; do not call back any number that they provide you with over the phone, if it is a scam the number is unlikely to be a genuine GB one. They may tell that they are calling on behalf of the government or other well known organization, they may be vague about where they are calling from or mention a different Claims company or say that they are associate with them. If you receive a call out of the blue, where you are suspicious or uncomfortable in giving details out, please do not be pressured to disclose anything, advise the caller that you will call GB back and contact GB before providing any details.
4. Personal Injury Claims The scammer calls members of the public advising that the call is from GB and in relation to a car accident the person called had been in. The number is often a landline but not one of GB’s numbers. In addition GB don’t deal with Personal injury claims of any nature. If you receive a call of this nature, please contact GB so that we can continue to raise awareness on this issue.
What action should you take?
- If you are a customer of GB, download our V-Card. This will provide you with a list of authentic GB numbers and the lines that they are associated to. However, ensure that you update this regularly so that you have the latest version.
- Whilst GB are likely to ask you to complete security before we divulge information, this can be confirmed by redacting information if you are wary of the caller. For example, providing just the numbers from your post code, the Day and Month of your D.O.B, house number rather than full address or last 4 digits of an account number will allow the agent to match this to your file without you disclosing information that is usable to anyone who did not already have a record of your details.
- If you remain unsure, you can always call GB back but ensure that you use the number on our V-card or website rather than relying on any number provided over the phone.
If you feel you may be the potential victim of a scam please either call us on 01925 320814 or email us at EnquiriesWorkEmail@gladstonebrookes.co.uk so we can take action.
The incident should also be reported to Action Fraud on their website www.actionfraud.police.uk/ or call them on 0330 123 2040.
Action Fraud is the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime where you should report fraud if you have been scammed, defrauded or experienced cyber crime in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Investments, Pensions and Coronavirus
Both the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and Action Fraud have also put out scam warnings on investments, pensions and the coronavirus.
On investments, the FCA says consumers should be aware that con men and their phony deals have become increasingly sophisticated, adding: “Fraudsters can be articulate and financially knowledgeable, with credible websites, testimonials and materials that are hard to distinguish from the real thing. But if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
Investment scams often come in the form of an out of the blue offer, often via a cold call but sometimes via email, post or word of mouth. The FCA advice is if it’s an unexpected approach ignore it.
Warning signs include:
- Time pressure – they might offer you a bonus or discount if you invest before a set date or say the opportunity is only available for a short period.
- Social proof – they may share fake reviews and claim other clients have invested or want in on the deal.
- Unrealistic returns – fraudsters often promise tempting returns that sound too good to be true, such as much better interest rates than elsewhere. However, scammers may also offer realistic returns in order to seem more legitimate.
- False authority – using convincing literature and websites, claiming to be regulated, speaking with authority on investment products.
- Flattery – building a friendship with you to lull you into a false sense of security.
Checking that the firm is authorised by the FCA is vital because if they are not and things go bad you will not be able to appeal to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) or the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) in an attempt to recover your money.
‘Cloned’ firms are often used as front for illegal activity where the scammers pretend to be a legitimate firm.
Always check the FCA’s Register for contact details and not use the ones that the firm gives you.
If you’re at all suspicious – report it!
Pension scams have been on the increase since the pension freedoms of 2015 allowed any saver over the age of 55 to withdraw money from their pension and invest it wherever they think they might make the best return on their money.
Get it wrong and fall for a scam and you could lose your life savings.
Hard to spot
Like investment scams, pension frauds can be hard to spot. The FCA says: “Scammers can be convincing and financially knowledgeable, with credible-looking websites, testimonials and materials that are hard to distinguish from the real thing.”
Contact is usually made out of the blue in the same way as investment scams and then the fraudster will make a series of false claims to gain your trust.
They could claim they are authorised by the FCA or that they don’t need to be because they aren’t providing the advice themselves.
They have even claimed they are acting on behalf of the FCA or the government’s PensionWise service.
They design attractive offers which they dangle as tempting bait to catch their victims and there are usually three outcomes:
- Savings invested in unusual and high-risk investments like overseas property, renewable energy bonds, forestry, storage units
- Your cash invested in more conventional products but within an unnecessarily complex structure which hides multiple fees and high charges
- All of your money is stolen outright
Warning signs that you may have been targeted include:
- Free pension reviews
- Higher returns – guarantees they can get you better returns on your pension savings
- Help to release cash from your pension even though you’re under 55 (an offer to release funds before age 55 is highly likely to be a scam)
- High-pressure sales tactics – the scammers may try to pressure you with ‘time-limited offers’ or even send a courier to your door to wait while you sign documents
- Unusual investments – which tend to be unregulated and high risk, and may be difficult to sell if you need access to your money
- Complicated structures where it isn’t clear where your money will end up
- Arrangements where there are several parties involved (some of which may be based overseas) all taking a fee, which means the total amount deducted from your pension is significant
- Long-term pension investments – which mean it could be several years before you realise something is wrong
Offers which come out of the blue may be either high risk or a scam and both are likely to result in you losing your money.
The advice is to reject any unexpected offers or, if you’re tempted to go ahead, check who you’re dealing with by using the FCA Register.
Don’t be rushed or pressured – take all the time you need to make up your mind, even if you’ve been told the deal is time-limited. Seek impartial information or advice from somewhere like the Pensions Advisory Service.
Any major event gives fraudsters and opportunity to try out new scams to try to get money or personal details from their victims using a variety of tactics.
Their callous action target people who are more vulnerable or susceptible, particularly in the current climate where many more people are at home and money may be scarce.
Exploiting the short-term financial concerns of the public, scammers have used a range of different tactics:
- They may ask you to hand over an upfront fee – usually between £25 and £450 – when applying for a loan or credit that you never get. This is known as loan fee fraud or advance fee fraud.
- ‘Good cause’ scams. This is where investment is sought for good causes such as the production of hand sanitiser, manufacture of personal protection equipment (PPE) or new drugs to treat coronavirus – with scammers using the promise of high returns to entice consumers.
- Using the uncertainty around stock markets, scammers may advise you to invest or transfer existing investments into high return (and high risk) investments.
- Clone firms – firms must be authorised by the FCA to sell, promote, or advise on the sale of insurance products. Some scammers will claim to represent authorised firms to appear genuine. In particular, be aware of life insurance firms that may be cloned.
- Scammers may contact you claiming to be from a Claims Management Company (CMC), insurance company or your credit card provider. They may say they can help you recover losses by submitting a claim, for the cost of a holiday or event such as a wedding cancelled due to coronavirus. They will ask you to send them some money or your bank details.
- Cold calls, emails, texts or WhatsApp messages stating that your bank is in trouble due to the coronavirus crisis, and pushing you to transfer your money to a new bank with alternative banking details.
To keep your hard-earned money safe you must be wary of any out of the blue offers you receive and reject those you cannot be sure of.
Beware of adverts on social media and paid for/sponsored adverts on line. You should not click links or open emails from people you don’t know and avoid being rushed into making any decision.
Use the Financial Services Register to check the firm and the caller are genuine and under no circumstances should you give out personal details – bank details, address, existing insurance, pension or investment details.
Fraudsters will go to amazing lengths to try to separate you from your money – even as far as creating a complete website designed to make it look exactly like a legitimate company or organisation. In some cases using a domain name similar to the real site.
They spoof (copy) legitimate websites of companies in order to lure victims.
Their goal is to trick users into providing personal or financial information. They create websites that have a similar name to an official company one, but may end in .org instead of .co.uk, a ‘0’ instead of an ‘O’ or a ‘1’ instead of a ‘I’ within the domain name of the website.
Spotting a fake
It can be difficult to spot a fake, fraudulent or scam website. Cyber criminals specialise in creating websites that appear genuine and take advantage of human behaviour in typing in part of the website name into a search engine, as opposed to the full domain name, and opening up the first option that appears in a list.
To ensure you are accessing the correct website for the organisation you are looking for there are some simple steps that you can follow to test whether a website is legitimate or not, and to avoid being the victim of a Fraud or Cyber Crime if you are on a spoofed website:
Browse the website
Take the time to double-check the site through visiting the homepage or the ‘About us’ pages and read the text there.
Watch out for signals such as poor English, spelling and grammar mistakes, or phrases that don’t appear correct.
Reputable and legitimate companies will always list ways to get in touch with them; if the website doesn’t have a ‘Contact us’ page, it could well be fraudulent.
If the site does have ‘Contact us’ page but only offers a form to fill out, be wary as this could also be an indication of a dubious website.
Any company offering goods or services should list a place of business, as well as a phone number or email address through which to contact them.
If none of this information is available, you should treat the website as highly suspicious.
Double-check the domain name
A lot of fraudulent websites will use a domain name that references a well-known brand or product name, and looks like the official website but isn’t.
Look at the address of the website (https//)************* for any suspicious characters e.g. 0 instead of O.
A simple, but effective technique is to search using a search engine, ‘Is *Website Name* a scam?’. Using other people’s recommendations or previous experiences can help you make a judgement whether you should trust the site.
Always check before paying by bank transfer
If you have accessed a website with a view to making a payment to an organisation, then it is highly recommended that you check the website is legitimate before making payment.
If you pay for something that turns out to be fraudulent with a credit or debit card, you do have some rights to get your money back. However, if you pay by bank transfer and it turns out to be fraudulent, there’s very little you can do to recover your money.
If you are a customer of GB and have a successful case, you will receive an invoice from GB. We would never expect this to be paid before you receive your refund.
Once you have received your refund, we will offer you a variety of payment methods including BACS transfer. You should only ever make a payment if you are confident that it is GB contacting you. If you are not sure, you can contact us independently and visit our website for payment options.
ABOVE ALL – STAY ALERT!
The best way to protect yourself is to be alert and pay close attention to the web address and check that it’s correct rather than relying on a search engine list, as criminals often pay to have their spoofed website appear at the top of search engine results.
Vigilance and caution are your greatest protection against cyber criminals and fraudsters. If you are using a website and something appears suspicious, it is best not to trust it and to contact the organisation you are trying to engage with via telephone.
Related Article – Click here to read about similar scams reported to Gladstone Brookes