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Student scams soar – here’s how to stay safe

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Students heading to university this September have been warned to be extra vigilant when it comes to their money as figures reveal more than half have been targeted by criminals in the past year.

NatWest’s annual Student Living Index surveyed more than 3,000 students already part way through their degree and found an alarming surge in scams aimed at conning them out of their cash.

In Edinburgh, a shocking 97% of students surveyed said they’d been approached by fraudsters claiming to be from their bank, posing as landlords, offering tax rebates or requesting bank details on the false proviso that their account was compromised.

NatWest found that fraudsters have been increasingly posing as bank staff and have attempted to con a quarter of students using fake text messages, calls or emails.

A further one in six students said they’d experienced an HMRC tax rebate scam over the past academic year with 16% of students saying they had been contacted by crooks via fake emails, texts, or calls.

Laura Behan, head of NatWest student accounts, said: “Criminals engaging in these activities attempt to gather personal details such as name, date of birth, address, and sometimes payment card details.

“The fraudster often goes on to phone the victim, impersonating their bank, using these details to build trust and confidence that it is a genuine bank call.”

‘Criminals continue to take advantage of people’s doubts and fears’

This year’s annual Fraud Report from UK Finance showed while banks prevented £1.4bn of unauthorised fraud in 2021, criminals successfully stole £1.3bn from scam victims.

This was largely the result of a rise in impersonation scams and authorised push payment (APP) fraud.

Indeed in 2021 communications regulator Ofcom found that eight out of 10 people it surveyed had been targeted with scam texts or phone calls, intended to convince them they were from trusted organisations such as banks, the NHS or government departments.

Katy Worobec, managing director of economic crime at UK Finance, said: “Fraud has a devastating impact on victims – and the money stolen funds serious organised crime, as well as impacting the wider economy.

“The majority of APP fraud starts with some type of social engineering. As well as scam texts, phone calls and emails, more and more of us are paying for goods and services remotely.

“Fraudsters have become adept at convincing online users to divulge key personal or financial information.”

She added: “Criminals continue to take advantage of people’s doubts and fears to trick victims into handing over personal details and passwords with which they can then use to access financial accounts or set up fake ones. Equally, this information is also subsequently used to dupe the victim into authorising payments to the criminal’s account.”

Methods include manipulating social media users, fake websites that impersonate known brand names, and impersonating utility services and home delivery services.

“Most people will have received an email or a text for a parcel they didn’t order or a broadband provider they don’t have, with instructions to ‘click here to check your account’,” Worobec said.

According to NatWest, those studying in Edinburgh, Cambridge, and Coventry are most at risk, with four out of five saying they had been targeted by scammers.

One in three students in Durham said they’d experienced fraud.

Nationally, NatWest found that men are much more likely to be conned with these types of scams with one in three male students reporting having experienced this compared to one in five women.

Behan said: “This year’s index reveals a concerning number of students being targeted by criminals. We’d advise students to be on their guard when they receive an unexpected text message, email or phone call asking for personal details.”

How to stay safe from scammers

Communications regulator Ofcom recommends following the steps below to avoid falling victim to scammers.

If you feel a text or phone call you’ve received is suspicious, trust your instincts. There are three easy steps you can take if you receive a text or call that you’re worried about.

If you receive a suspicious text:

  • Stop. The text could be a scam. Read carefully and look for any details that don’t seem right.
  • Don’t click on any links or give out any personal or bank details.
  • Report any suspicious texts to 7726 and make your friends and family aware too.

If you receive a suspicious phone call:

  • Stop. Do not give out any personal or bank details.
  • Hang up and call the company they claim to be from to check if it is a scam.
  • Report scam calls to Action Fraud and make your family aware too.

7726 is a number used by most of the major mobile phone companies to allow their customers to report unwanted texts or mobile calls.

You can forward a suspicious text or report a mobile call to 7726 free of charge. When you’ve done this, your mobile provider can investigate the number.

Check out technical solutions

For mobile phone users, measures can be applied either on your handset or on your mobile phone network to reduce the risk posed by scam messages or malware. Some of these might be pre-installed or managed by your network provider, and some you can put in place yourself.

If you’re unsure whether these solutions are available to you, or to find out more about how they work, contact your mobile or home phone provider. They should be able to give you more information on what technical measures can be put in place to protect you.

If you think you’ve been scammed, report it

If you think you’ve been the victim of a scam, report it to Action Fraud as soon as possible. You can do this by calling 0300 123 2040 or visiting the Action Fraud website at www.actionfraud.police.uk.

Action Fraud is the reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Reports of fraud and any other financial crime in Scotland should be made to Police Scotland via 101.

Spread the word

If you think you’ve seen a scam, don’t keep it to yourself. By telling people you know, you’ll help to make more people aware of scams that are out there, and this could help others to avoid falling victim.

Spreading awareness among your friends and family – or even by sharing on social media using screenshots, for example – means more people will be able to keep an eye out for the scammers’ latest tactics.