Avoid the scam spam

Posted on September 7, 2015 by Eleanor McKenzie
Mature woman using a laptop at home

Do you remember the Monty Python “Spam Song?”…’Lovely spam, wonderful spam spam, spam, spam, spam’ etc… Do you also remember the dreadful can of pinkness that spawned the satirical song? Spam seemed to be everywhere and there was little you could do to escape Spam turning up in your lunch box or hiding under a lettuce leaf accompanied by a few slices of hard-boiled egg and tomato. So, when somebody was looking for a short word to describe ‘unsolicited electronic mail,’ something that is everywhere and universally disliked, ‘spam’ seemed an appropriate choice!

Spam and phishing

Spam mail is one of the most notorious methods of scamming. Have you had begging letters from Nigerian princes who need some way to transfer billions of dollars stuck in a bank account into a Western bank? You probably have because there are an awful lot of Nigerian princes with this problem. There are also ones in other countries. Of course, they’re just scammers sitting in an internet café hoping you take the bait and reply, which is why they’re also called ‘phishing’ mails.

The victims of scams

The Telegraph has recently published an up-to-date overview of the main scams targeting the British public right now. It reveals what we all guessed, which is that older people are usually more vulnerable. The National Trading Standards who provided the list of current scams has identified a register of 200,000 UK residents who are on a so-called “suckers list.” Of this number, some 11,000 people have lost on average £1,184 each, adding up to a total of £13 million. Fortunately, the work of the organisation’s Scams Team has saved £5 million for British consumers over the last three years, but the war against the scammers is a tough one. Let’s have a look at what you should be on alert for.

1. The pension scam

The new pension laws have created a host of scams aimed at getting hold of your pension pot. If anyone mails or calls to offer you extra tax savings, or tell you they can unlock your pension before you’re 55, beware.

2. You’ve won the lottery

Spam mail telling you that you’ve won an online or overseas lottery is prolific. To get your hands on the cash you have to give them your personal details and then they’ll ask for fees to release the money. They’ll keep asking for fees, but the money will never arrive.

3. You’ve won a competition

Like the lottery scam you never entered the competition in the first place, and they’ll demand money before you can claim your prize. More spam.

4. Phishing

Often these mails look like they come from legitimate companies like eBay or PayPal. They are looking for your username and password so that they can access your account. Study closely any mail warning that your account has been hacked or frozen.

5. Disaster relief

Sadly some scammers use world disasters as a cover for fraud. If you’re mailed for a donation, don’t enter bank account details. Contact the organisation directly if you wish to donate.

Woman using a laptop

6. You have a virus

You may apparently receive a mail from Microsoft saying that your system has a virus but if you send some money to X they’ll fix it for you. Just don’t!

7. Boiler insurance

In the run up to winter the ‘boiler insurance’ scammers crawl out of the woodwork to frighten vulnerable people into paying up for nothing. Scammers use doorstep and telephone approaches.

8. The ‘Nigerian’ email

See above. Apparently this dates back to the 18th century and is now called a ‘419 fraud.’ Delete the mail immediately.

9. HMRC tax rebate scam

If you receive a convincing email from HMRC saying you’re due a tax rebate, I’m afraid that’s probably untrue. Gov.uk says that HMRC will NEVER contact you via email about tax issues.

10. The PPI scam

You may get a call from an undisclosed number or an email saying you’ve been mis-sold Payment Protection Insurance, be cautious. You don’t need to pay anyone to handle this for you, if you have a legitimate claim go straight to your bank or other lender.

Fortunately, spam mail is dramatically on the decrease according to a recent report by Symantec. However, experts warn that they’ve shifted their operations from mail to social media.

Finally, don’t be afraid to report spam scams and any others form of scam to National Trading Standards. If you become a victim of one, it’s even more important to report it, even if it is embarrassing to discover you’ve been caught out. Call Victim Support if talking about it will help. By being vigilant together we can defeat the spammers and help to prevent this type of crime.

by Eleanor McKenzie

Eleanor McKenzie is a Northern Irish writer with a passion for art, literature, and red wine. She's worked at advertising agency JWT, edited a journal for a European social policy think tank and tried to teach teenagers the difference between "there" and "their". Being 50+ has not significantly changed Eleanor's life, although she finds it a handy excuse when she wants to avoid anything too energetic.