Now more than ever, there’s an army of unscrupulous characters out there ingeniously trying to get their grubby hands on your hard-earned money. Lorna Hogg alerts you to some of the more common confidence tricks
The word `scam’ is now an all too common part of everyday life, as an unpleasant side effect of life online. Scams continue to permeate increasing aspects of our lives. When it comes to our 24/7 holiday deals, tax payments, banking, shopping, dating, travel plans, and even charity donations, we’ve been joined online by 24/7 fraudsters. So, how can you protect yourself and your money – and avoid the wrong kind of online interest?
Mairead was delighted when she opened a Revenue email, which told her that she was entitled to a tax rebate. She discovered that she could claim €645.27. All she had to do was to open the accompanying attachment and send in her tax details to claim. Unsure, she rang a friend, who alerted her at once to a scam. Mairead called her accountants and bank. She was told that the email was not from Revenue, despite its familiar logo, but was a well produced international scam. Had she opened and followed instructions on attachment, the scammers could have had access to her financial details. She later discovered that there have been Irish victims to this scam.
Tom and Sinead were very interested in holiday rental villas, after hearing of friends’ experiences. Tom went online to check holidays with some of the major tour groups, and was delighted to later receive an email,which he assumed to be from them or a linked company. It contained details of holidays in the area he had researched.The pictures were the same as those on the tour operators, and the deal was very good – with the option of reduced fare flights included. As the ‘middle man’ would be cut out, he would deal directly with the local suppliers. He snapped up the deal, paying by bank transfer as requested, to cut out bank charges. However, to his horror, once the money had gone through, there was no trace of any holiday company – or flight bookings. His bank told him that he had fallen for an all too common scam.
Mary takes online security carefully and never gives out her bank details or passwords online or on the phone. So, even when she had a phone call from a different bank, concerned by some payments relating to her own account, she politely insisted on personally calling her own bank. There was a click on the line as the call ended, but oddly, she did not hear the usual tone of a clear line. However, she continued, dialling her own bank and was quickly put through to security. She gave her account number and password as requested, and was assured that the matter was in hand.
She was surprised and shocked some days later, when her bank called her to say that there had been ‘unusual activity’ on her account. Scammers had made the initial call to her. They had not rung off after the call, but stayed on the telephone line afterwards. They had then pretended to be speaking from her own bank, and taken down her account and password details. The prompt action of Mary’s bank had averted a scam – but she still had to close her accounts and change her bank cards.
Susie had been on her own for some years, and having recently retired, was finally tempted to try online dating. With seemingly endless new sites to try, she finally contacted a widower, John, who said he was Irish, but based in Dubat. They got know and like each other over a few months, and he was enthusiastic to fly over to see her, despite his family commitments. After several postponements, he told her that family illness had arisen, and that there were problems with health insurance issues. He became more upset with each cancellation, and finally Susie suggested that she gift him a flight to come over to Ireland. After weeks of persuasion, with considerable emotion he accepted the offer. She sent over €1000 towards a flight – advance booking was too complicated, as he was unsure of dates.
When all contact ceased and John disappeared offline, Susie told one friend, still thinking that she was in a relationship. When the scam was explained to her, she was humiliated and shocked as well as upset at the loss of her money. The discovery that ‘John’ was a fraudster, and had duped her with pictures and emails, left her too embarassed and upset to worsen her hurt by telling anyone, let alone reporting it.
Scanning the scammers..
Be wary of unexpected wins or congratulatory notes, especially if you have to think about when and how you entered any competition, purchase or draw. Be especially wary asked to release personal details e.g. bank account, to collect your prize. Scammers work on the premise that we’re so happy to have won or been given a prize, that we don’t always check how or why.
Be wary of any call claiming to be from your bank or utility provider – genuine callers will understand your concern. Being cautious can protect you. Also, be careful of calls claiming to be from major stores, suppliers or brands with whom you may have had contact, requesting personal information.
A deal, offer or prize is suspect if speed is of the essence, whether to accept, contact or buy.
When it comes to payment, be careful about how you book or buy. Ensure that you are on the official website. Avoid links in connection with payments.
If you’re booking a villa or holiday home, Google the company or address, and check on Google maps to see that it actually exists. Do an online search, and look at consumer reviews and warnings. If in doubt, call the main holiday provider, rather than relying on a `local agent’. Pay by credit card whenever possible.
When you pay online, always look for the padlock symbol and/or HTTPS in the address , to ensure safe transfer.
Be careful when dealing with vendors of tickets for cup final tickets, popular concerts and large venue/ crowd pulling events. Even if a ticket is valid, it may have been sold on the black market, and could be in a reserved block, previously assigned to one name. Your ticket might allow entry to the venue – but not to the seat.
Don’t use public wi-fi facilities for financial transactions.
Think carefully about ticking links on completely unknown emails, or attachments – they could contain viruses which allow fraudsters to spy on you. Also, be wary of ticking online boxes for deals, prize entry or online competitions. Your details could be sold on to another user.
Report scams to the Garda, who also have an excellent website on the subject. Also, report any suspicious activities – you could protect or help someone else.
Finally, some of the best advice for avoiding online fraud has, ironically, been around for years –
`If it sounds too good to be true – it probably is’.