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‘Cruel and clever’ impersonation scams surge by 13%

‘Cruel and clever’ impersonation scams surge by 13%
Matt Browning
Written By:
Matt Browning

Impersonation scams rose by 13% last year, with the fastest growing form being fraudsters pretending to be police or bank staff, data finds.

While the number of scams reported rose, the average amount lost to con artists dropped to £3,000, down from £3,400 the previous year.

Criminals posing as police officers were the joint most common type of scam, alongside fake bank staff calls. In this case, scammers would ask victims to assist them in a ‘police investigation’ into their account, then request the transfer of funds into a separate account as part of the inquiry.

Similarly, the move involving supposed calls from banks involves the moving of cash to a ‘safe account’ while the caller claims their account is at risk.

Victims lost an average of £5,318 to those sorts of scams, which is also a drop on the previous year (£7,700) according to Lloyds Bank data.

 CEO fraud is ‘one to watch’ for impersonation scams

However, one form for you to look out for is the growing numbers of ‘CEO fraud’, which the bank describes as ‘one to watch’.

This form of scam hit victims by an average of £10,918 in 2023 – more than double the amount lost to police or bank staff scams. CEO fraud involves a scammer purporting to be a senior member of staff at a company, typically where its target is an employee.

Once contacted, the fraudster will usually ask for an invoice to be paid, or request multiple gifts to be purchased for other staff members as a ‘bonus’ or ‘treat’.

Meanwhile, the UK lost £2.3bn to fraudsters throughout 2023, and in February the Government moved to address the ongoing issue with a fresh anti-fraud campaign.

Through TV adverts, billboards, and a new online hub of helplines and information, it hopes to keep you alert to any suspicious activity, by asking the nation to ‘Stop! Think fraud’.

‘Fraudsters taking advantage of human nature’

It is a sentiment echoed by Liz Ziegler, the fraud prevention director at Lloyds Bank, who says you should “take a step back” when you receive a call saying it’s from your bank.

Ziegler also described the scams as “cruel and clever”, “with fraudsters taking advantage of human nature – whether that be fear, trust or a desire to help someone out.”

The director said: “While your bank is always working hard to keep your money safe, it’s important people take steps to protect themselves and be really wary of unexpected calls or out-of-the-blue requests for help.”

Ziegler added: “Remember, a genuine family member, friend, or colleague wouldn’t mind you taking steps to stay safe, and your bank will never ask you to move money to a safe account.”

The bank provided five tips for you to avoid losing cash to impersonation scams.

Five tips to avoid impersonation scams:

  • Be wary of any messages you receive from numbers or email addresses that aren’t already stored in your contacts, even if it appears to be from someone you know.
  • Always remember that your bank, the police, or any genuine organisation or company will never ask you to move money to protect it, under any circumstances. They will also never ask you to download something onto your computer or other device. If in doubt, hang up and call to check on a number you trust, not one you’ve been given over the phone.
  • Be very careful if you’re contacted and asked to fill in a form online to process a refund.  Contact the organisation, using details verified separately (not details given on any form), so you can check if the request is real.
  • Do not download any software to your computer or tablet if instructed to do so by a cold caller. This often comes in the guise of someone from ‘Microsoft’ saying they are helping fix a problem or safety issue with your computer, but fraudsters can also pretend to be from Amazon, utility companies or banks.
  • Don’t be rushed into anything – if a message is claiming to be from someone you know, contact them in a different way to confirm it is them.