The days of highwaymen are long gone: today's thieves have ever more ingenious ways of parting you from your cash.
Some are quite obvious: one trick is to offer you cash to put money through your bank account. Others are less so: one ingenious new trick capitalises on the green trend by asking investors to put their money into something called carbon credits.
Despite the promise of huge returns, most investors end up losing between £5,000 and £8,000. Here, Money Mail tells you all you need to know to steer clear of the modern, high-tech thieves.
THE JOB THAT MAKES YOU A CROOK
If you’re desperate for some extra cash then a role as a money transfer or payment processing agent is appealing. It sounds like any job in the financial sector.
If you apply, you’ll find the job involves being paid a juicy commission for helping transfer thousands of pounds from one bank account, through yours and on to another.
You’ll be led to believe it’s perfectly legitimate. Of course, it isn’t. You have just become a money mule by carrying the funds from one place to another.
What you’re doing is aiding international criminals to launder cash that has often been stolen by bank fraud.
If you’re caught, you may end up having your account frozen. This could make it impossible to get a mortgage or any credit in future. You could also face jail.
Most of those who fall for it are young, cash-strapped or in need of easy cash, such as students.
If you get contacted, call Action Fraud, the national fraud and internet crime-reporting centre, on 0300 123 2040
A BRAZEN BID TO PINCH YOUR CARD
This begins as an elaborate telephone trick. You get a call from someone posing as your bank or the police. They say you need to replace your debit or credit card because you’ve been targeted by fraudsters.
And to reassure you they’re genuine, they tell you to hang up and call back using your bank’s phone number.
But when you put the phone down, the fraudster won’t hang up, so they’re still on the line when you call back and can then trick you into thinking you are on a new call to your bank.
They then ask you for your PIN and send a courier to your home to collect your card. Before you know it, your account has been emptied.
Known as the courier card scam, the average age of victims is 69 — and it is mainly the elderly who are being targeted.
So, remember, your bank will never ask for your PIN or come to your home to pick up your card.
When calling your bank always check you can hear the dial tone before entering the phone number.
CHEAP INSURANCE THAT LEAVES YOU WITHOUT COVER
You could fall victim to this if you’re hunting the cheapest car or home insurance.
When your old policy comes up for renewal, you look around for a broker to help you get a good deal.
Perhaps you spot an advert in a local newspaper or on a website such as Gumtree, or have been handed a flyer on the street.
You call the broker advertised and they organise a cheap insurance policy, for which you pay up front.
This ‘ghostbroking’ scam is that, just like a ghost, the policy looks real but doesn’t actually exist.
It may be that there was never any policy and you’ve simply paid for a bit of paper. Or you have been given a genuine policy, but the broker has cancelled it immediately after taking it out and pocketed the refund.
Alternatively, they may have fiddled with your personal details — such as your age, address, job or information about past claims — to get a cheaper price. They then charge you more and pocket the difference.
So, if you need to make a claim, you’ll find you’re not insured.
If you’re not familiar with a firm promising cut-price deals, do some research. Be wary of brokers promising eye-catching discounts.
Search for their details at the Motor Insurers’ Bureau (mib.org.uk) and City regulator the Financial Conduct Authority at fca.org.uk.
FAKE LOOPHOLES TO STEAL YOUR PENSION
Hard-pressed savers who have little available cash but thousands sitting in a pension fund are being lured into this scam.
Normally you have to be 55 to get money out of a pension without being hit with huge fees.
But firms will bombard you with texts and emails advising you of a legal loophole that allows you to access cash from your pot early.
They claim one way of getting round the rules is by transferring your pension to an offshore fund.
It’s not true.
To encourage you to sign over your cash quickly, you may even be offered a £1,000 payment.
But from the moment your pension is liberated, you’ll lose thousands. The firm can take 20&thinsper cent of your fund in fees.
And then the taxman will get you.
There is a set charge of 55&thinsper cent by HM Revenue & Customs for taking pension money early — this is supposed to be a penalty for all the tax relief you got when paying in the cash initially.
Before you know it, £75,000 of a £100,000 pot has gone. This leaves just £25,000 from a lifetime saving. The City regulator and HM Revenue & Customs are concerned and hundreds of fraudsters have already been blacklisted.
Don’t reply to any of their messages. If you’re younger than 55, you cannot get to your pension without paying the 55&thinsper cent tax rate.
YOU’RE SPIED ON — AND THEN ROBBED
This is essentially a pick-pocket trick, but criminals have started using it as a way of snatching your card and the PIN.
You use a cash machine. A few minutes later someone bumps into you or asks you for directions.
While you’re distracted, your card will be deftly pinched. Within minutes hundreds of pounds will be swiped because the fraudsters had looked over your shoulder at the cash machine and watched you input your PIN.
In some cases, they have even managed to attach a small camera to the machine so they can film people inputting their PINs.
It does sometimes seem like an unnecessary precaution, but it really does pay to cover the number pad on cash machines or at shop tills when you are keying in your PIN.
HOW THEY HOLD YOUR COMPUTER TO RANSOM
Though most homes have a computer, few know exactly how to use them — and criminals know it.
So they have started bombarding your internet with viruses — evil programs that attach themselves to your computer. Then, one day when you’re looking on the internet, a box will pop up on your screen.
It can look like a update or a help box — but bank online when this has attacked you and you could be passing your details to criminals.
A new virus called Ransomware will freeze your computer. The only way to unlock it is to enter your card details. The fraudsters will then plunder your account.
And many people still hand over their bank details after being duped into visiting fake websites — often after being sent a genuine looking email. This is known as &lsquohishing’.
Hackers can often easily break your passwords if they have your name, age and email address — all information freely available on the internet. You’ll usually be caught out by this if you don’t have up-to-date internet security. Your passwords are your first line of defence, so use a different one for each account.
If you fall victim, your bank should refund you. Report the crime to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040
TICKET MACHINES THAT COPY YOUR CARD
Cheaper technology is allowing criminals to read bank cards by fitting a tiny electronic gadget to the card slot on a cash or ticket machine. In particular, they are targeting those in car parks or train stations.
When you use the machine, the details from your debit card are skimmed and copied. The crooks can then make a duplicate card and take your cash.
Some conmen work in shops. They’ll swipe your card through a separate hidden machine.
If you suspect a cash machine has been tampered with, don’t use it.
Giveaways include scratches, sticky residue or tape on the machine, one part looking newer than the rest and missing lights above the card slot.
If your card is retained, report it to your bank immediately — preferably while you’re still in front of the machine. Store your bank’s 24-hour number in your phone.
When you’re in a shop and someone tries to take your card out of sight, question why — it may just stop the most basic of cheats.
INVESTMENTS IN NOTHING BUT THIN AIR
Conmen are preying on environmentally conscious consumers by claiming they can earn huge returns by investing in a green scheme known as carbon credits. A carbon credit does exist. It is a certificate that gives a business permission to emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Big polluters need to buy these from firms that are greener.
Again, you’ll be targeted by cold-calling salesmen. They’ll convince you that demand for carbon credit certificates will soar, so if you buy them now, the return on your investment will be huge.
The problem is that you’re essentially investing in thin air.
The regulator warns that it has yet to see a single investor make any money from this type of scheme. The average person investing so far has lost between £5,000 and £8,000.
Hang up on cold callers, ignore spam emails and don’t read unsolicited mail.
RARE METALS THAT SIMPLY DON’T EXIST
Often known as boiler room scams, this fraud is all about luring people into investing in companies or shares they’ve never heard of.
You’ll normally get a call from a salesperson for a company with a prestigious sounding name. They convincingly promise a big profit on a certain investment.
It could be plots of land that will one day be developed for vast sums, shares in a little-known mining firm, or wine.
A common one these days is for investments in odd-sounding precious metals found only in China that are vital to the manufacture of the latest mobile phones.
You hand over thousands — but you won’t see any of the promised returns. Often the investments won’t exist. If they do, then they’ll be worthless.
Try to contact the firm that sold the investment and it will have vanished.
Check the firm is genuine on the FCA Register at fca.org.uk/register/
. . . AND DON’T FORGET ABOUT CHEQUE FRAUD
Every year millions of pounds is taken by criminals who manipulate cheques by stealing genuine blank ones and forging your signature, intercepting cheques that have already been made out and altering the amount and the payee’s name, or using the details from genuine cheques to create counterfeit cheques.
To stop them, draw a line through all the unused space on a cheque.
Always write out in full the name of the person to whom you’re paying the cheque, as initials are easier to change.
Use a ballpoint pen, felt tip or, if possible, gel pen. Black ink is also harder to wash out than blue.
When you post a cheque, make sure it isn’t obvious. Cover it inside the envelope with a piece of paper.
If the cheque hasn’t reached its destination in a week, call your bank and ask for the payment to be stopped.