Despite the rise of digital technology, the old-fashioned conman is still at large using simple psychology and plausibility to blag millions of pounds from victims.
The National Fraud Authority estimates fraud costs the UK more than £73 billion a year; but CiFAs, the UK's fraud prevention service, says: "the stark reality is that much fraud simply evades detection." Here are some of the most popular scams currently after your money.
COURIER FRAUD This has claimed a reported 2,229 victims in two years, most of them elderly, and is the latest financial scam to be targeted by the Metropolitan police. One victim, it reports, lost £155,000.
Courier fraud involves fraudsters telephoning victims and claiming to be from an authority, such as the police, bank or serious Fraud Office. they say the victim's bank account has been compromised and their card must be collected by courier.
As most people would be suspicious and refuse to co-operate, the fraudster then instructs the victim to hang up and call the authority, supposedly to verify that the caller is genuine.
But when the victim dials the number, the fraudster does not disconnect. the victim thinks they are speaking to someone genuine, when in fact they are still speaking to the fraudster or a co-conspirator. Now the victim is hooked, believing the call to be genuine.
The fraudster then asks the victim to reveal their card's piN, usually by typing it in on their keypad, and sends a courier to collect the card. Once the card and piN are in the fraudster's hands, they can use them to raid the victim's bank account.
Commander Steve Rodhouse, the Metropolitan police's lead on organised crime, says: "We want people to question even truly genuine-sounding calls and, most importantly, remember police and banks will never ask for your PIN or bank card, so you should never give these away." The latest financial scams tend to be novel variations on old themes. For example, 'boiler room' scams, involving high-pressure salesmen cold-calling investors, offering them lucrative-sounding investment opportunities, have been around for decades. What has changed is the nature of the investment schemes on offer.
Toby Parker, spokesperson for the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), formerly the Financial Services Authority, says: "A lot of the firms that were involved in bogus share sales or land banking have moved on to other investment schemes and are now selling carbon credits or rare earth metals. It's the same con; different product." CARBON CREDITS Carbon credits are certificates that allow energy-intensive businesses to emit carbon dioxide. Legitimately bought and sold on the secondary market, they were intended to provide financial incentives for companies to reduce their overall carbon emissions. But the sharks have moved into these unregulated waters.
Fraudsters cold-call potential investors claiming this is a 'once in a lifetime investment opportunity' – but often the certificates are not worth the paper they're printed on. "People are literally buying thin air," says Parker. "We're not aware of anyone making any money from carbon credits yet." RARE EARTH METALS Similarly, investors are being approached by conmen flogging investments in rare earth metals – elements used in the manufacture of mobile phones and computers.
'Brokers' offer to buy and store the commodities on your behalf, promising returns of up to 60% a year. The sales pitch is that such 'rare' elements are bound to go up in price. But these elements are not that rare and there's no guarantee you could sell them back in this private, unregulated market.
The FCA warns: "We are yet to see any convincing evidence that there is a viable market for retail investors to make money from investments in rare earth metals." PENSION FRAUD 'Pension liberation fraud' involves fraudsters claiming to be companies from which you can earn cashback, raise loans or invest money by releasing the value of your occupational pension scheme if you transfer the accrued pension benefits to them first, usually abroad.
Some victims are left with as little as a third of their original pension, if they are lucky enough to get anything back at all, says The Pensions Regulator.
CARD SCAMS Losses due to credit and debit card fraud totalled £388 million in 2012, with crude scams such as 'shoulder surfing' at cashpoints contributing to the increase. Losses from online banking fraud alone rose 12% to £39.6 million in 2012, according to Financial Fraud Action UK, including 256,000 reported phishing attacks.
Phishing is a way fraudsters glean personal data through the distribution of mass emails pretending to come from legitimate institutions and containing links to fake websites. If users click on these links and enter their security details into the fake website, scammers have all they need to raid users' bank accounts.
Some good advice is to hover over suspicious links – don't click on them – and the real weblink will pop up. If it doesn't match, you know not to trust it. And watch out for spelling and grammar – scammers aren't known for their command of English. Whether low- or high-tech, fraudsters are always trying to steal your cash. Make sure you don't become the next victim.
How to protect Yourself against financial fraud • Always be suspicious of cold-callers offering investment opportunities, particularly if they say you have to act quickly.
• If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
• No financial institution will ever ask for your PIN, either over the phone or via email.
• Never click on links within emails purporting to originate from legitimate financial institutions – you will never be asked to update your security details this way.
• Always keep your firewall and antivirus software up to date. Set it to download updates automatically.
• Never pay money upfront.
• If you don't understand it, don't invest in it.
USEFUL CONTACTS If you are in any doubt about any financial scheme or firm, seek advice from any or all of the following organisations: Action Fraud: 0300 123 2040 Financial Conduct Authority: 0845 606 1234 Money Advice Service: 0300 500 5000 Moneywise are offering Yahoo readers a free copy of their magazine – simply follow this link!