Scams have always been around in one form or another, but since the start of the pandemic they’ve become more prevalent and the number of people reporting scam attempts more than doubled in 2020!1
A representative from the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) of the City of London Police shared with us five key types of scams you need to be wary of, including how to stop yourself from falling victim to these scams and how to report it if you are the victim of a scam. 🕵
Investment scams 📉
Over the past few years, investing has become increasingly accessible, with the rise of online and mobile trading platforms. And with over 34% of students reporting to be dealing with crypto, which is unregulated and decentralised, becoming a victim of a scam became even more likely.
There has been a huge increase in ‘finfluencers’, or financial influencers, on platforms such as TikTok, YouTube and Instagram. Some of these are genuine, but a lot of them are scammers – and it can be very hard to tell the difference.
These scammers will often claim that you can ‘get-rich-quick’, and post pictures or videos with stacks of money or valuable items like flashy cars 🚗 or watches ⌚, promising that you can have the same by following their advice.
Once they’ve got your attention, one way these fraudsters will try to get your money is by encouraging you to send money to a bank account, saying that this money will double or even triple in value in the space of a few days, or even hours! Then, once you’ve sent the money, the fraudster will disappear and you’ll never hear from them again. 👻
As crypto trading has become more popular, there has also been an increase in fake crypto scams. Victims of these scams send money to a scammer for them to invest it in crypto. Once they do this, they might then be told that they’ve made a profit on their investment and be encouraged to “invest” even more, with the scammer showing them fake numbers on a screen. But when they try to withdraw their money or ask for their money to be returned, the scammer will cut off contact with them.
If you are going to invest, it’s important to know what you’re doing and make sure you’re investing with legitimate companies. To learn more about investment, check out our Investing pathway.
Advance fee scams for jobs & internships 💼
In advance fee scams, somebody is offered an opportunity, product or service, but to take advantage of it, they must make an upfront payment. Once they’ve made this payment, the product or service doesn’t arrive, or the opportunity turns out to not exist. 🚫
Students are particularly targeted by advance fee scams for job & internship opportunities. If you’re not already, at some point you’ll be looking for jobs or internships in an extremely competitive environment. You might face a lot of rejection in the job market and the search can often be disheartening, meaning that when an attractive offer does come your way, you might want to snap it up – whatever it costs.
In this type of scam, scammers advertise a job on social media or a job-advertising website such as Indeed, claiming to represent a company. Once you enquire about the job, you’ll be asked for your CV and a cover letter and the scammer will claim to pass these onto the employer on your behalf.
Soon after, the scammer will get back in contact saying that you’ve been successful, or that you’ve been offered an interview with the company. They’ll then ask you to pay a fee, and you’ll be pressured to pay or risk having the opportunity taken away. The reasons they’ll give for the fee can include a commission for finding the role or admin fees. Of course, the job they’re advertising doesn’t exist, so once you pay you’ll be left with nothing.
Taking the scam even further, the scammer might try to get a copy of your ID, saying they need this to ensure you’re able to work in the UK. They’ll then use this to apply for things in your name, such as loans or phone contracts, which could put you in serious financial risk. 🤦
To make sure you don’t fall victim to this type of scam, you can:
- Speak to Student Support Services at your university or college – they might be able to help you verify how legitimate the offer is
- Ask the agent advertising the job which agency they work for, then research the agency and get in contact with them
- Contact the company offering the opportunity directly to see if it really exists
- Keep in mind that, if something seems too good to be true, it usually is!
Rental scams 🏠
Rental scams also fall into the advance fee category.
Students have to sort out accommodation, often with a lot of time pressure and in a very competitive student rental market. It can be even harder if you need to do this in an area you’re not familiar with if you’ve moved there to study from your home town. Scammers often take advantage in this situation.
These scams often involve contracts for houses that don’t actually exist, or that the scammer has rented to multiple people at the same time, something you might not realise until you arrive at the house for the start of the next year.
How to protect yourself against rental scams:
- Make sure you visit the property yourself with an agent/landlord. If you can’t go yourself, get a friend, relative or someone reliable to visit for you and make sure the property exists and is available
- Get in contact with the Student Housing department at your uni or college as they are likely to know about the local housing market
- Don’t transfer money for a property advertised online if you have any doubt at all that it exists
- Do your research: check that the agency is legitimate and that they are registered in the UK
- Get copies of any tenancy agreements and safety certificates (including gas & electricity certificates)
- Only transfer funds after getting account details directly from the landlord or agent and after following the above advice
- Be very wary if you’re asked to transfer money through Western Union or another money transfer service
Phishing, smishing & vishing scams 📧
You’re likely to have heard of phishing before, but there are also some other types of scams that are grouped together under the ‘ishing’ type:
- Phishing – scam via emails that contain dangerous links/attachments attempting to get you to provide your personal details
- Smishing – scams via links sent in a text message
- Vishing – scams via phone call or voicemail
A smishing scam you might have seen is a text sent to students claiming to be from HMRC, asking them to give their bank details for a tax refund – there were 5,000 reports of this scam in just 2 months!
Advice if you receive a suspicious text, call or email:
- Links: don’t click them! 🙅 If you do click one, make sure you don’t give any info on the website that opens up
- Don’t download or open any attachments
- Don’t contact the senders using the contact details given in the communication
- If you’re expecting communication from a company, do your own research online to find their contact details. If you get a phone call, say to the caller that you’ll contact them yourself on the phone number that you find – a genuine caller will not mind this
- Use different email addresses: one email for important things e.g. student loan, banking & family stuff, and a separate email for less-important things, such as newsletters, discounts & deals
Money mule scams 🐴
Money laundering 🧺 is a way for criminals to “clean” the earnings from their criminal activity by sending them through an innocent bank account so that the funds seem legit – and students are often dragged into this activity, being used as money mules!
Money mules can be completely innocent in this type of scam and might believe that the money they’re receiving is for a genuine job they’ve applied for. Despite this, being involved in this type of scam can lead to a criminal investigation, have negative effects on your credit score and negatively affect your financial future.
A good example of money muling is the fake ‘mystery shopper’ job. A scammer will post a job advert online, saying that they want to test a bank’s customer service and transfer times. Once you contact them, you’ll be asked to share your bank details and you’ll then receive a sum of money and be asked to transfer this money onto another bank account, less a fixed amount which you get to keep as a commission for the “job”.
You’re likely to be targeted by this type of scam as scammers look for people with no or little credit history and no history of criminal activity. The ‘mystery shopper’ job is just one example of money muling, but it’s important to see through this type of scam to avoid getting yourself into trouble.
How to protect yourself from money muling:
- Don’t give your bank details to anybody you don’t know or trust
- Don’t transfer money to anyone or anywhere you don’t know
- Don’t let anyone have access to your bank account
- If someone reaches out to you offering you easy money, be suspicious!
- Remember that getting involved with money muling could have a serious negative impact on your future – is it really worth it?
- As mentioned before: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is
How can you report a scam or financial crime?
The best way to report a scam is by reaching out to Action Fraud through their reporting tool or by phone at 0300 123 2040 (in England & Wales).
You can report a scam at a police station or by calling 101, but the police will usually direct you to Action Fraud first so that they are able to bring together all information about scams, recognise trends and catch large-scale scammers.
In Scotland, the process is different – you should call 101.
What happens when I report a scam?
When you report a scam or financial crime, Action Fraud will give you advice on how to avoid scams. Not every report of a scam will lead to an investigation, but each report allows the NFIB to to build up their picture of the scams landscape and set the UK up as well as possible to deal with scammers.
Here are more resources you can use to have an even better chance of protecting yourself from scams and fraud:
- The Action Fraud website has lots more advice on scams & fraud
- Follow Action Fraud on Instagram
- Get Action Fraud alerts about scams & fraud in your area
- 3 other websites that will help you to stay safe online: Cyber Aware, National Cyber Security Centre and Get Safe Online
- Get straightforward advice to prevent email, phone-based & online fraud from Take Five
- Use Google or TinyEye to check if an image is used somewhere else online and help you to spot a scam advert (read this article to see how to do it from your phone)
We’ve also got lots of learning content to help you to avoid falling victim to scams:
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