Police Scotland are warning the public to be vigilant against falling victim to online and telephone scams following recent incidents in the North East.
Becoming the victim of fraud can be deeply distressing particularly when the sum of money lost is a significant sum to the victim and they realise that it resulted from being conned.
Fraudulent activity to be wary of includes phishing, boiler room fraud and online relationships.
Phishing is when criminals use fake e-mails or web links to acquire sensitive personal information, such as passwords, usernames, or bank account details. This is used to commit fraudulent or even criminal acts in your name, leaving you responsible for the consequences. Such emails and linked websites often appear genuine but are designed to trick people into entering personal details so as to access your identity, steal from your bank account or infect your computer with a virus which allows them to control your system.
Common indications that an email may be fraudulent include, using generic terms like ‘Dear account holder’, the email states that urgent action is required, the message may contain an unrecognisable link, spelling errors or the email address is different from the trusted company’s website. Also no padlock sign on website and no https:// at the beginning of web address.
Be alert to emails from a company you normally have dealings with that state your payment method or credit card details have failed to register. As well as unexpected e-mails from a company you have no business with.
These can all be tell-tale signs that a communication is not genuine and should be ignored.
Boiler room fraud is where a bogus stockbroker, usually based overseas, cold-calls investors and coerces someone into buying worthless shares. Their favourite targets are people with previous experience of buying shares, whose names are on share registers.
The fraudsters are usually well spoken and knowledgeable. They often have experience of working in the stocks and shares market. They are persistent and may call their victim several times. Among tactics employed by such fraudsters are assurances that a company is about to announce a major discovery in technology or mining, for instance, and that this will send the price of its shares soaring.
The Financial Services Authority (FSA) recommends that potential investors check its website both for a list of boiler rooms www.fsa.gov.uk and to find out if the so-called stockbroker is authorised in the UK. The Regulator is unable to take action if the boiler room is not based or authorised in Britain, so victims are vulnerable as they will not be able to claim compensation from the FSA or the Financial Ombudsman Service if something goes wrong.
A check can also be made with the US Securities and Exchange Commission www.sec.gov to ascertain if the company is regulated in the United States.
Some indications that a deal may not be legitimate include being asked for money up front to pay unexpected fees (such as customs) before the shares can be released, being put under pressure to reply immediately or that the offer will be given to someone else or being asked to keep the details secret. Companies will typically be based overseas, as it is illegal for UK based firms to cold-call an investor to attempt to sell shares. The boiler room may have a UK listed phone number to give the impression that they’re based in the UK, but a check with the FSA will confirm if they are legitimate or not.
Fraud committed via online dating is becoming more apparent in our area and we would urge anyone using the internet to meet people to use common sense.
Criminals will trawl dating websites and start emailing individuals to gain their trust and declare an interest in forming a relationship. The criminals will state that they live abroad and after a period of time will say they want to come and meet the individual, however do not have the finances to do this. The victim then sends the criminal money online to travel and then does not hear back from them again. Or they do hear back, but only looking for more money having concocted an excuse as to what happened with the last money sent.
Be aware that a computer screen can highlight a multitude of sins when it comes to getting to know strangers and those with genuine intentions would normally not ask for money.
Detective Inspector Iain McPhail, of the Economic Crime Unit, said
So much of our daily routine and communications is now electronic and online, this has provided criminals with opportunities to exploit people in various ways.
Sadly financial crime is an area which is often under reported, mainly because the victims feel embarrassed and humiliated that they were conned out of sums of money and they quite often do not confide in other family members as they don’t want people to know.
I would urge the public to be cyber savvy and if using the internet, to be wary of clicking on links that are emailed or appear in pop up boxes at random and to keep their virus software up to date on their computers. If in doubt do not click on any links you are unsure about.
Also the general advice is to never give out personal details, particularly financial details, or transfer money without doing some simple checks to ascertain if the product, service or company is legitimate.
Do not be bullied or pressured into buying anything over the telephone. If you are feeling uncomfortable with any conversation just hang up. Do not be attracted by a promise to make quick and easy money. If the offer is too good to be true, then it probably is.
If you are a victim of a fraud or scam I would urge you to report it to us on 101.