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Impersonation scam cases soar – are you at risk?

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Written by: Emma Lunn
29/10/2021
A lack of awareness is leading to more people being victims of ‘impersonation scams’, with younger people more likely to be affected.

Research by Nationwide Building Society found that impersonation scams are one of the fastest growing types of scam, alongside authorised push payment (APP) scams.

According to Nationwide’s poll of 2,000 people, more than a quarter (26%) of people say they have fallen for scams involving some kind of impersonation. These scams often involve a person being tricked into making a payment or giving personal and financial details to someone claiming to be from a known or trusted organisation.

Ruses often include pretending to be from the police, a bank or building society, utility or telecoms companies or a government body, such as HMRC or the DVLA.

Despite the continuing rise of economic crime, the fear of being targeted is low on the average Brit’s worry list. Just one in 10 (10%) worry about being approached by a criminal pretending to be from a trusted organisation. This compares with more than a quarter (28%) who are worried about having their house vandalised or burgled.

Nationwide found that almost half (46%) of people don’t think they’d be likely to fall for a scam. However, when pressed, about one in eight (15%) admit to not knowing what an impersonation scam is, with a further 41% saying they only partially understand.

Contrary to popular belief, the chances of being targeted appear to reduce with age, possibly indicating scammers are preying on a lack of experience more than other vulnerabilities. Nationwide’s research shows 48% of people aged 16 to 24 say they have been conned, compared to 39% of 25 to 34s, and just one in 10 (10%) of those aged 55 and above.

While the majority of people have their wits about them, one in five (20%) don’t scan email addresses properly or at all for signs of tampering and two thirds (67%) answer calls from a number they either don’t know or is withheld. More than three quarters (78%) of 16 to 24s admitted to picking up unknown calls, compared to 61% of those aged 55 and over.

The research uncovers a small minority who are far too trusting, with one in 50 (2%) admitting they would transfer money to another ‘safe’ account if they were approached by someone claiming to be from their bank or building society. Meanwhile 3% would withdraw money if contacted by someone purporting to be from the police saying they needed it to help them with their investigation.

Ed Fisher, head of fraud at Nationwide Building Society, said: “People may think it’s surprising that others fall for scams, but the criminals are becoming ever more convincing both in what they say and the technology they use, intercepting emails or spoofing texts to look like they are genuine. It’s one reason why the number of impersonation scams has increased significantly – people who fall for them are not careless.  But the key to thwarting the scammers is education and learning as much you can about the tricks they use as well as telling your friends and relatives what to look out for”.

Tips to avoid becoming a victim of an impersonation scam

* With impersonation scams on the rise, if you ever receive a suspicious call, text or email, don’t automatically believe it is who you think, even if it’s purporting to be from a company you know and trust.

* Never act on a call out of the blue or transfer money at a caller’s request. A genuine organisation would never ask you to move money to another account for security reasons.

* Don’t give anyone remote access to your computer following a cold call or random text and don’t allow anyone into or to view your internet banking activity for any reason.

* Don’t be rushed into making a decision or taking action. Take some time to investigate that a caller is who they say they are and that they are a genuine person or organisation. For example, check for any discrepancies in the sender’s email address or caller’s telephone number and contact them back on their registered number so you know you are speaking to them.

* If you have any sort of doubt, hang up the call or delete the email.

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