The most convincing scams of 2023 you need to avoid
Fraud is rife and even the savviest people can be tricked by the latest scams which tug on your heartstrings or use pressure tactics to get you to part with your cash.
You shouldn’t ever feel embarrassed if you have fallen victim to a scam – fraudsters have engineered these moves specifically with one goal in mind, and that’s to steal your money.
Report the scam to Action Fraud to help others avoid the same fate. But for now, consumer champion Which? has listed the following four most convincing scams of 2023:
1) Pig butchering
‘Pig butchering’ scams ‘fatten up’ the victim by forming a romantic connection before executing the investment part of the scam. The scammer and victim typically meet on a dating site and the victim is ‘love-bombed’ over a period of weeks by someone who appears to take a great interest in their life. The scammer will often encourage their victim to move from the dating platform to a private messaging service, removing them from any protections the dating site might offer.
Once the victim is reeled in, the scammer claims they have been having success investing – typically in property or cryptocurrency – and they offer to invest some of the victim’s money. If the victim consents, they are sometimes shown a crypto trading platform controlled by the scammers, and encouraged to sign up and begin depositing funds.
One UK victim, a former Somerset police officer, lost £107k to such a scam, believing she was investing in retirement apartments in Cyprus.
To avoid the scam, look out for signs of ‘love-bombing’, attempts to move onto a private messaging platform, reluctance to meet in person and requests for money or a concerted effort to get the person to ‘invest’.
2) Fake missing person appeals
There has been a spate of viral fake posts in community pages worldwide about missing children or elderly people. People are asked to share these Facebook posts more widely. Which?’s experts know they are fake because you can find near-identical posts in community pages all over the world, simply with the location changed. Search ‘Robert Spall dementia’ on Facebook and you will find the same post in pages for California, USA and Bogota, Colombia.
Comments are invariably turned off on the posts to avoid people pointing out the inconsistencies. After the post has gained a large number of likes, the contents are edited into something completely different, such as a straightforward investment scam. The large number of likes and shares that stay on the post will then lend credibility to the fraud. This despicable scam relies on responsible people liking and sharing posts in an attempt to help – which they do, in large numbers.
While missing person posts can of course be genuine, it can be difficult to tell. To ensure you only share real posts, share those posted by officials, such as police or the Missing People charity. Also if comments have been turned off, that’s a sign it may not be genuine.
3) PayPal scam
This scam starts with people getting a ‘money request’ from a genuine PayPal email address – firstname.lastname@example.org. While this seems above board, scammers are exploiting PayPal’s service to send out fake payment requests, often for high-value items, or posing as HMRC to demand ‘overdue’ tax payments. In some versions of the scam, the fake invoice states the victim’s PayPal account has been compromised and urges them to call a phoney fraud hotline.
Which? has found it is frighteningly easy to replicate scam emails from a genuine PayPal address. Which?’s request claimed to be from HMRC and threatened the recipient with arrest if they did not pay. Acting as the recipient, Which? researchers were then able to pay the invoice without creating a PayPal account and without encountering any on-screen warnings about fraud.
You should never pay PayPal invoices you do not recognise, or call phone numbers in those invoices. If the message claims to be from HMRC, contact the tax office via gov.uk. If the message claims PayPal has been hacked, contact its Customer Services at paypal.com/uk/smarthelp/contact-us.
4) Fake app alert
The majority (96%) of UK mobile users download apps from the Apple App Store or Google Play and while you’d naturally assume it’s safe, it isn’t always the case. The stores do screen apps before they upload them, but some malicious ones can slip through the net. These can install malware on phones and steal data.
Last year, online security firm Praedo discovered a so-called security app on Google Play. Calling itself 2FA Authenticator, it actually stole users’ banking information – and had been installed more than 10,000 times before it was discovered. In 2022, Facebook’s parent company, Meta, found 400 Android and iOS apps stealing users’ Facebook login details. App stores do take steps to crack down on the problem, but this is an ever-present threat.
When installing an app, click on the developer’s name and check what other apps it has made to see if these seem legitimate. Check reviews but be wary that positive ones could be fake. Read the negative ones, too. The app will likely ask users for permissions: to use the camera, for example. These need to be relevant and proportionate to the functions of the app – an app that only needs a rough location should not ask for a precise one.
‘Scams bombard you from every direction’
Lisa Barber, Which? tech editor, said: “It’s appalling that 2023 has seen scammers continuing to thrive, as a new wave of convincing scams bombards consumers from every direction. The sad theme of all these scams is that tech platforms – whether social media, app stores or payment services – don’t always keep you safe.
“Responsibility should not fall solely on the shoulders of consumers. Tech platforms and the Government need to up their game and better prevent scammers reaching potential victims.”
Check out Which?’s scam alerts service to help you get your money back if you have fallen victim to fraud.