Rogue Traders and Scams

Rogue Traders and Fraudsters are an unwanted feature of everyone’s life. Most of us have received uninvited approaches by email, letter, telephone or in person. These may involve fake lotteries, deceptive prize draws or sweepstakes, clairvoyants, computer scams, romance scams and many others. Bogus callers, rogue traders and unscrupulous sales people knock on doors, looking to target vulnerable people.

Through embarrassment and shame, many victims of fraud suffer in secret. It’s an important message that EVERYONE is vulnerable, however financially savvy and confident they may consider themselves. The more vulnerable in our communities are targetted continuously. Older people are at particular risk as fraudsters often target them on the assumption that they have more money than younger people; loneliness and isolation may add to their vulnerability.

The Police and other groups and organisations work hard to reach the vulnerable with advice and education, but their efforts can be helped enormously if communities heed advice to protect themselves, and help by looking out for their neighbours.

Thames Valley Police has an ongoing programme under the title ‘Operation Gauntlet’ (#OpGauntlet). Working with Trading Standards, Chiltern and South Bucks Community Safety Partnership and other partners, they visit communities and hold events to educate and inform on scams and how to avoid becoming a victim.

Below we give information on various forms of fraud and scam – click on the headings to reveal more. It cannot be an exhaustive list, and we intend to develop content over time. If there is information you feel we should be including, please feel free to contact us with your idea.

Doorstep Fraudsters including ‘Nottingham Knockers’

no cold calling stickerCold calling is the act of making uninvited visits to your home with the intention of selling goods or services. It is not illegal and does not require a licence. Under the Peddlars Act a doorstep seller should obtain a permit from the local police station. It is common for a gang to target an area and for groups to then be picked up later on in the day. There have been concerns that this can lead to vulnerable persons and addresses being identified and later targeted.

Cold calling doorstep traders who target the elderly and vulnerable cause most concern. They offer services like roofing, block paving, guttering, painting and gardening. There are, of course, plenty of reputable traders offering a range of services but they can still be a nuisance if they cold call against your wishes.

Cold Calling and the Law

  • The law states that a trader who ignores a resident’s request to leave and not return commits a criminal offence under the provisions of The Consumer Protection From Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.
  • Any trader that puts you under pressure by falsely implying that you have to make a decision there and then, or that the “special price” is only available for a limited period in order to make you sign up, is committing an offence.

Stop Cold Calling sticker packs and Zones

You can express your request not to receive visits from cold calling doorstep traders by taking part in Buckinghamshire and Surrey’s Trading Standards “No cold calling sticker scheme”. The packs include door and window stickers which can be stuck up outside people’s addresses and will act as a deterrent to unwanted callers. There is also an indoor sticker to remind people of where they can report these traders to.

More on Trading Standards Doorstep Cold Caller Sticker Scheme

Chiltern & South Bucks District Councils Community Safety Team will assist roads in creating “No door step trader zones” if the majority of your street is in agreement.

Recommended Contractors

If you are looking for tradesmen, Trading Standards approved contractors can be searched on Buywithconfidence.gov.uk.

Postal Scams

Postal scams tend to target in particular the elderly and vulnerable. Using the post as a way into the home, scammers use increasingly sophisticated means to make it difficult to spot the difference between scam mail, junk mail and offers from legitimate companies. By responding to one of these communications, frequently the respondent’s details will added to a list, and circulated to criminals all around the world.

Common ploys include supposed lottery and prize draw wins, psychics and clairvoyants, hard luck stories, unclaimed inheritances and investment schemes. (Many of these are also used by online fraudsters.)

Think Jessica is a charity committed to protecting elderly and vulnerable people from fraud. The Think Jessica campaign was begun by the daughter of an elderly lady called Jessica whose final years were blighted by being targetted for fraud. Her daughter Marilyn found 30,000 scam letters in her house, and an inspection of her finances revealed how much she had sent to these schemes and criminals, and supposed ‘friends’.

The following film is based on the true stories of Jessica and other victims, and is narrated by MoneySavingExpert’s Martin Lewis:

Useful resources:
Age UK’s web page on Postal Scams
Think Jessica’s page on Postal Fraud

‘Phishing’ and ‘Vishing’

Phishing frauds target victims by email, telephone or text message, posing as a legitimate institution to lure individuals into providing sensitive data such as personally identifiable information, banking and credit card details, and passwords.

The information is then used to access important accounts and can result in identity theft and financial loss.

The basis of any successful phishing attack is a well-designed spoofed email or spoofed website. Commonly, a phishing attack sends out thousands of spoof emails – the phisher needs only a small number of successes. These emails are intended to look nearly identical to the types of correspondence that are sent out by actual banks or institutions. Sometimes there are warning signs – spelling mistakes can be an indicator – but many phishers are very skilled at replicating the logos, layout and general tone of such emails.

Look at suspicious e-mails closely. Be especially vigilant if the email requests information from you. No legitimate bank is going to include a form within an email that they send to you. This is a well-known phishing ploy and it should raise a big red flag. Be wary of emails that include a lot of urgent language. Look closely at the sender’s email address as well – addresses are usually carefully designed to look authentic, but closer inspection may reveal inconsistencies.

Avoid clicking links or opening documents attached to e-mails that you think may be suspicious. Especially do not give your personal details away.

Reporting Phishing Attempts

You can report phishing attempts on Action Fraud’s ‘Report Phishing’ web page. This is for use by people who have not actually suffered loss from the phishing attempt, or exposed personal details.

If you have suffered loss, it should be reported as a crime.

See also ‘Sextortion Scams’, below.

Visit also our page on Cyber Crime and Fraud.

Telephone Fraud involving Voucher Purchases

Fraudsters representing themselves as being from a reputable organisation such as HMRC, a bank, telephone or internet provider or from the police, may call with the intention of extracting information to carry out identity fraud (see under ‘Phishing and Vishing’, or to claim that money is owed to them.

Sometimes, rather than asking for a bank transfer, the fraudster may state that the amount owed needs to be paid in vouchers.

Once vouchers have been purchased from a shop by the victim, the victim then reads out the activation codes over the phone. Such calls are fraudulent, and have led to victims losing hundreds and sometimes thousands of pounds.

Chief Inspector Tim Hurley, Deputy Commander for Chiltern and South Bucks, and leading Operation Gauntlet, warns: “If you receive a call out of the blue from someone claiming to represent an organisation, be sure to pause and think. Ask yourself whether this caller is genuine and if you are in any doubt, hang up. No genuine company will ask for payment, of a fine or otherwise, to be made in vouchers.

If you work or own a business which sells vouchers, pause and think if a customer wants to make a large purchase. Do not be afraid to ask a question of a customer who is looking to purchase hundreds of pounds worth of vouchers. You could be the person that stops them from being defrauded.”

Courier Fraud, Bogus Police and Bank Officials

Commonly, this takes the form of a phone call from a person claiming to be a police officer or banking official. They will say either:

  • There has been fraudulent activity at the victim’s bank and the staff at the bank are involved. The victim is then asked to withdraw money to either keep it safe or assist the police with their investigation.
  • A business such as a jeweller or currency exchange is fraudulent, and they require the victim’s assistance to help secure evidence by purchasing jewellery or exchange a large amount of currency to hand over to the police.
  • The victim’s card has been compromised and used to purchase goods by a suspect. The victim is requested to withdraw their money to keep it safe or hand over their bank card to the police.

The victim may be invited to dial a non-emergency extension of ‘161’ to receive confirmation of the individual’s bogus identity.

A courier then arrives at the victim’s home address to collect the goods the same day, often the victim is given a code word for the courier as a way of authentication.

The following video is a reconstruction of how this can happen:

Please remember, your bank or the police will NEVER:

  • Phone and ask you for your PIN or full banking password;
  • Ask you to withdraw money to hand over to them for safe-keeping;
  • Ask you to transfer money out of your account;
  • Send someone to your home to collect cash, PINs, cards to cheque books.

Cryptocurrency Trading

We don’t have an opinion on Bitcoin or other cryptoassets. Nor are we regulated to advise on them as investments. More informed commentators may argue that they have created significant wealth for some people. But it’s undeniable that, as the crypto market has boomed, so has fraud. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) reports that “UK consumers are being increasingly targeted by cryptoasset​​​​​-related investment scams.”

Our news post, Beware Cryptocurrency Investment Scams, published 24th September 2019, looks at the ways that fraudsters lure victims, and offers some thoughts on protecting oneself.

‘Sextortion’ Scams

Sextortion scams are a type of phishing attack whereby people are coerced to pay a BitCoin ransom because they have been threatened with sharing video of themselves visiting adult websites. These scams are made to appear all the more credible because they provide seemingly plausible technical details about how this was achieved, and the phish can sometimes also include the individual’s password.

The phisher does not know whether you have a webcam or have been visiting adult websites – in short, they are guessing. They are gambling that enough people will respond so that their scam is profitable. The phisher hopes to panic people into ‘taking the bait’ and paying the ransom – a typical modus operandi.

National Cyber Security recommendations:

  • Do not engage with the phisher, delete the email and report it to Action Fraud: https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/report-phishing.
  • Do not be tempted to pay the BitCoin ransom, doing so will likely encourage more scams.
  • If the phish includes your password, in all likelihood this has been obtained from historic breaches of personal data. You can check if your account has been compromised and get future notifications by visiting: https://haveibeenpwned.com/
  • If the phish includes a password you still use then change it immediately. Advice on how to create suitable passwords and enable other factors of authentication is available from Cyber Aware: https://www.cyberaware.gov.uk/passwords
  • If you have been a victim of a sextortion scam and have paid the BitCoin ransom, then report it to your local police force by calling 101.
  • Emotional support this is available from charities such as Victim Support by calling 0808 168 9111 or visiting: https://www.victimsupport.org.uk/

Romance Fraud

Romance Fraud occurs most often, but not exclusively, through online dating websites or apps. Using a fake profile, the fraudster seeks to form a relationship with his/her target. They use the site to gain trust and then ask for money, or for enough personal information to steal the target’s identity.

In 2018, 4,555 reports of romance fraud were made to Action Fraud, the police reporting centre, with total losses up by 27% compared with the previous year. This is likely to underestimate the problem, as many victims suffer in secret, often through embarrassment.

Protect yourself

  • Avoid giving away too many personal details when dating online. Revealing your full name, date of birth and home address may lead to your identity being stolen.
  • Never send or receive money or give away your bank details to someone you’ve only met online, no matter how much you trust them or believe their story.
  • Pick a reputable dating website and use the site’s messaging service. Fraudsters want to quickly switch to social media or texting so there’s no evidence of them asking you for money. It is very simple for fraudsters to cover their tracks by masking IP addresses and using unregistered phone numbers

Spot the signs

  • You’ve struck up a relationship with someone online; they’re asking a lot of personal questions about you, but they’re not interested in telling you much about themselves.
  • They invent a reason to ask for your help, using the emotional attachment you’ve built with them. Your relationship with them may often depend on you sending money.
  • Their pictures are too perfect – they may have been stolen from an actor or model.

These tips were taken from Action Fraud’s Romance Fraud page; this has further information, including how to report has a lot of information.

Pension Scams

In April 2015, changes came into effect giving people greater freedom and choice in the options available to them when accessing their pension savings. Unfortunately, it also created an an opportunity for the unscrupulous to target individuals’ pension pots.

A pension scam will often start by someone contacting you unexpectedly. Watch out if he/she:

  • cold-calls you unexpectedly about your pension money by phone, text message, visiting you in person, or in other ways
  • says you can access your pension money before 55 and that they can help you with this;
  • encourages you to take out a large lump sum, or your whole pension pot in one go, and to let them invest it for you;
  • asks you to transfer your money quickly, even sending documents to you by courier – never make a rush decision about your pension money;
  • uses words like ‘pension liberation’, ‘loophole’, ‘free pension review’.

If someone contacts you unexpectedly and says they can help you access your pot before the age of 55 it’s likely to be a scam. You should end the call immediately and alert the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

Transferring your money into a scam risks not only losing your pension money, but may expose you to tax liabilities and fees.

You can find out if a pensions company is genuine by checking that it appears on the Financial Services Register or by calling the Financial Conduct Authority on 0800 111 6768. If you need to call the company that contacted you back, be sure to use the number listed on the Financial Services Register rather than a number they may have given you.

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