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Everyone at risk of scams amid cost-of-living crisis

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

More than three quarters of UK adults said they have been targeted by a scammer this year. As the cost-of-living crisis intensifies and exposes people to new vulnerabilities, here are the red flags to watch for.

More than 40 million people have been targeted by scammers in the past year, a 14% increase compared to this time last year, according to charity Citizens Advice.

Its research found the most common scams included:

  • Deliveries, postal or courier services (55%)
  • Someone pretending to be from the government or HMRC (41%)
  • Fake investment or ‘get rich quick’ schemes (29%)
  • Rebates and refunds (28%)
  • Banking (27%)
  • Online shopping (24%)
  • Health or medical (13%)
  • Energy scams (12%).

With £37bn pledged by the government his year to help struggling households amid the cost-of-living crisis, sadly, opportunistic scammers will use this to target the public.

Citizens Advice said it has seen a number of tactics used by fraudsters, including emails claiming to be from the energy regulator, Ofgem, asking people to enter their bank details to get the £400 energy rebate.

In another scam, it claims the government is giving away £200,000 to random people who are of pension age, disabled or on a low income.

‘I had no money. My heart dropped’

In one case seen by the charity, a 65-year-old woman received around £800 a month from her private pension and Personal Independence Payment to cover bills and care. She was targeted by scammers who spent almost £1,000 on her card, despite the fact she had never shopped online.

“When I checked my balance my heart literally dropped. I had no money, I couldn’t buy any food.

“I went to Citizens Advice, I was so distraught and really upset. I really do not know what I would have done without the food and fuel vouchers as I don’t have anyone to ask for help.”

Her bank did refund her the money but the whole experience was “extremely stressful”, resulting in her health suffering with all the worry about how she would afford to eat and pay her bills.

If anyone’s struggling with bills, here are the genuine offers of help via grants and benefits.

Clare Moriarty, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “We know scammers prey on our worries and fears and the cost-of-living crisis is no exception.

“Anyone can be targeted by a scam, and as the purse strings are tightened and financial pressures pile on, it’s more important than ever we recognise the red flags.

“By reporting scams and sharing our own experiences, we can work together to protect ourselves and each other.”

John Herriman, chief executive of Chartered Trading Standards Institute, said: “Everyone is at risk of being scammed but the cost-of-living crisis results in more and more consumers facing increasing levels of vulnerability.  This means they face even greater risks of being caught by unscrupulous and illegal practices by those who are intent on exploiting the already difficult situation people find themselves in.

“At a time when the sad reality is that some are having to make choices between heating and eating, people can be particularly vulnerable to, for example, fraudsters offering cheaper energy.  It is crucial that the public is wary of all these threats and that they contact the authorities if they suspect any attempt to defraud them or others.”

Five tips to help avoid scams

Citizens Advice consumer expert Jane Parsons gives these five top tips to stay scam aware:

  • If it seems too good to be true – for example, scammers pretending to be energy companies to lure people into “too good to be true” deals
  • You suspect you’re not dealing with a real company, organisation or a genuine person – take a moment to step back and double-check
  • You’ve been pressured to transfer money quickly
  • You’ve been asked to pay in an unusual way – like by an iTunes vouchers or a transfer service
  • You’ve been asked to give away personal information such as passwords, PINs or other verification codes.

For those who have been scammed, you should talk to your bank or card company immediately if you’ve handed over any financial and sensitive information or made a payment.

You should also report the scam to Citizens Advice. Offline scams, like telephone, post and doorstep, to the Citizens Advice website or by calling 0808 223 1133. Report online scams to the dedicated Scams Action service either online or on 0808 250 5050. Text scams can be reported to your mobile phone provider by forwarding it to 7726. You should also report the scam to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.