Scams Bulletin – February 2018

This bulletin helps residents to be aware and guard against currently reported scams.

Romance fraud

Hampshire Trading Standards Service have noticed an increase in a scam where vulnerable adults become involved with a romance fraud. This type of fraud is particularly malicious as victims will not only lose money but will also lose the relationship they think they have with the perpetrator.

Case study 1

Mrs B suffers from depression and fell victim to various online scams. She was first contacted via an online messaging service by a man who claimed to live in America. They struck up a friendship and she gave the man her telephone number. The man started to ring Mrs B every day and said that he had fallen in love with her. Once the relationship was established the man began to ask for money so he could buy various items in the USA and send them to her. Mrs B sent numerous payments via electronic money transfer. Mrs B's bank became concerned about the amount of money she was withdrawing and when questioned, Mrs B admitted to the online scams. The police and Trading Standards have both visited Mrs B but could not convince her that she was a victim of a romance fraud. Mrs B said the man is her boyfriend and he is going to visit her soon. Mrs B has been told not to send further funds and to report any concerns to the police or Trading Standards.

Case study 2

Mr R received an electronic message from a man who said he lived in America. He claimed to be an immigrant and asked Mr R to send some money to help him pay some fees. The man quickly built up a relationship with Mr R and bought his friendship and trust. The man kept asking for money to pay for various bills and court fees and he finally asked for the air fare to travel to the UK. Mr R received a text message containing a link to what he believed to be a live map location indicating the man was in London (this later transpired to be a screen shot). The man said he had been arrested and needed further funds to pay a solicitor. Mr R became concerned and called the police. They visited Mr R and carried out a reverse image of his friend to find out where the photo had originated from. It transpired to be from an American casting agency. At this point Mr R began to realise he was the victim of fraud. However, he had lost all his trust and over £100,000. Mr R is receiving support from various agencies to safeguard him from this type of crime in the future.

Online dating has many benefits and is used by lots of people. However, always remember:

  • go through a reputable agency and use their messaging service or chat room
  • avoid giving away too many personal details including your full name, date of birth, address and phone number
  • never send or receive money or give away your bank details no matter how much you trust them or believe their story
  • do not make any electronic transfers of money at a bank or via a pay point such as Western Union

Romance fraudsters pray on victims who may be vulnerable and lonely. Once they know how easy it is to get money from them they will keep on inventing reasons for further payments. They will only stop when they are found out or when they know no more money is forthcoming.

Telephone fraud

A proactive approach from the banks is helping to stop potential victims of scams from losing money. However, some fraudsters are a step ahead and are putting pressure on their victims to lie to the banks as to what the money is for.

Case study 1

Miss M was contacted by a person alleging they worked for a fraud investigation team. They said they wanted to recruit her as a trustworthy person to help catch fraudsters. However, they told her she must not tell anyone what she was doing and she had to keep her position anonymous. The fraudster asked Miss M to deposit some money into a secret account and in return she would start receiving a financial return on every fraud she stopped. Miss M transferred approximately £10,000 through her bank, Post Office and electronic pay points. Each time when questioned what the money was for she said it was for her granddaughter who was studying abroad.  Only when Miss M did not receive the promised financial return did she tell her family. Miss M has since changed her telephone number to stop the fraudster contacting her.

Case study 2

Mr K received an unsolicited telephone call from someone alleging to work for the police. They said they had arrested someone who had Mr K’s bank details. They asked Mr K to withdraw £10,000 from his bank which they would then collect by courier as they needed to check the serial numbers. They told Mr K that he must not tell the bank what the money was for as this would compromise their investigation. When asked by the bank, Mr K told them the money was for a new car. Once he got home the courier collected the cash and his money was lost. 

The best advice is not to engage with any unsolicited callers, even if they say they are from the police, a bank or a fraud investigation department and hang up the phone. A genuine caller will not mind and will find another way to make contact.

Request for payment in gift cards

A proactive approach from the banks is helping to stop potential victims of scams from losing money. However, some fraudsters are a step ahead and are putting pressure on their victims to lie to the banks as to what the money is for.

Case study

Mrs B received an unsolicited telephone call from someone who alleged to work for the Inland Revenue. They told Mrs B that she had an outstanding debt and unless she paid £450 that day she would be fined. They told her the most secure way to make a payment was to purchase iTune gift cards for that amount. Mrs B purchased the cards and released the serial numbers to the fraudster. They told her she needed to make an additional payment  and to purchase more gift cards. On this occasion the shop intervened and advised Mrs B she was most likely the victim of a scam.

If you work in a retail premise that sells gift cards please bear this scam in mind. You may want to make tactful enquiries if the customer appears confused or is looking to buy gift cards at a high value. If in doubt, ask a colleague or your manager.

If you are worried about a potential scam contact the Citizens Advice Helpline: