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Screen sharing scam sees investor lose £48k: What to watch for

Written by: Emma Lunn
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has warned investors to watch out for screen sharing scams after one victim lost £48,000.

The latest part of the regulator’s ScamSmart campaign focuses on scams where fraudsters use screen sharing software to take over victims’ computers.

In one case, a 59-year-old woman was persuaded to download remote desktop software to secure an investment. She lost more than £48,000 when scammers accessed her banking details, her pension, and applied for loans on her behalf.

Angela Underhill clicked on a Bitcoin advert and received a call from someone claiming to be a financial adviser. Offering to complete the first investment for her, they asked her to download the ‘AnyDesk’ platform, which then gave the scammers open access to all the financial details on her computer.

Her case is one of 2,142 the FCA has seen since July 2020 relating to screen sharing, with more than £25m lost between 1 January 2021 and 31 March 2022, and victims ranging from 18 to over 70.

The FCA said there had been an increase of 86% in screen sharing scam cases in one year, with 2,014 cases in 12 months alone.

Spotting the warning signs

Its latest ScamSmart campaign aims to raise awareness of these tactics and help investors spot the warning signs.

Using platforms including Teams, TeamViewer and Zoom, screen sharing scams not only involve people sharing their financial data, but scammers have also been able to embed themselves in victims’ digital devices to access online banking and investment details.

To understand what might be influencing potential victims, the FCA surveyed 2,000 investors from the age of 18 to 55 upwards. The results showed that 51% of would-be investors would check if a company appears on the FCA’s Warning List when deciding if an investment opportunity is legitimate. But 47% would not see a request to use software or an app to access their device as a red flag.

The FCA’s Warning List is a list of firms that are not authorised or registered by the FCA, and are known to be running scams. However, of the 91% of survey respondents who said they would never share their PIN with a stranger, 85% would not think a request by a website to use or download software was a warning sign that someone was seeking to gain illegal access to personal information on their device.

Likewise, while 88% said they would check if their investments were offered or sold by FCA firms, 10% of these people would still trust their gut instinct with an investment opportunity from someone they didn’t know without making proper checks.

With the pandemic increasing use of video conferencing and remote platforms to both work and socialise, scammers are taking advantage of a growing familiarity with requests for screen sharing.

Although older respondents admitted needing more help with technology, younger investors are not immune: a quarter (26%) of those aged 18 to 34 would agree to screen sharing their online banking or investment portal with someone they had not met.

Scammers have complete control

Mark Steward, executive director of enforcement and market oversight at the FCA, said: “Investment scams can happen over many months, but sharing your screen without making the proper checks can change everything in an instant. Once scammers gain to your screen, they have complete control.

“That means access to your sensitive banking and investment information, the freedom to browse at their leisure, and the ability to take whatever details they want. It can affect any investor, no matter how experienced. It’s incredibly difficult to get money back once lost in this way, but there are ways to protect yourself: don’t share your screen with anyone, as legitimate firms will not ask you to do this.”

The research also revealed other factors which might tempt investors to make a snap decision: 23% said they would be encouraged if the person they were speaking to appeared knowledgeable about investing; 17% said the possibility of securing better returns than elsewhere, and 14% would be encouraged if that person appeared to be wealthy or successful.

The FCA is calling on all investors to be ScamSmart and check the advice on its Scamsmart website, including its Warning List before making any investment decisions.

If you deal with an unauthorised firm, you will not be covered by the Financial Ombudsman Service or Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) if things go wrong.

How to protect yourself from screen sharing scams

  • Do your homework

Have you checked the FCA’s ScamSmart website and Warning List? This will help you to avoid being scammed and show you whether or not the firm you are dealing with is registered, or known to be suspicious.

  • Don’t download remote access software

Your bank will never need to access your screen to view your information, so someone asking you to download sharing software is a clear warning sign.

  • Be careful when surfing the internet

Have you navigated away from your banking, or investment platform? Anything that takes you away from your banking or investment app, and through a search engine, increases the risk of coming across a fraudulent number or link.

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