Stay Safe: Be extra careful of scams right now

Last Updated on 1 January 2021 by Dan

Hello everyone! A little bit of a downbeat one in the present environment, but an important point I’m having to hit home again. Unfortunately most organisations that track and follow scams are noting a significant uptick in the present environment as people look to take advantage.

I know I find this just….absolutely disgusting. At a time when humanity and families are facing difficulties and there is more than a need than ever for people to work together, some people are looking to use that to take advantage.

So I wanted to reemphasise some of the points about caution specific to the present environment. If you haven’t already, I’d recommend reading the Wilderness’s guide to being scam aware as that provides a good base understanding of how scammers try and manipulate you, and the guide to telephone scams builds on this further.

The point today is that some of the underlying conditions that make a scam work (wanting to help someone and a slight sense of panic) are particularly easy to fall for in today’s environment.

Be more cynical of everything on Social Media

(Ok, that friend showing off their latest attempts at Sourdough baking might be legitimate – apparently that’s become a thing!)

I’m meaning where you see a story of someone in difficulty who you don’t know well. It could be something that been reshared from a good friend or example, and usually includes a long story about someone going through some form of hardship.

The difficulty with these is that there really are people in hardship in the present circumstances, and it’s only human to want to help them. I’m not saying at all to ignore them (that would lack basic compassion) – but just to be cynical, clear headed and have full knowledge of who you’re dealing with before taking any action.

Where posts are actually scams, they’re often designed to push buttons on your emotions when reading them, perhaps referencing the impact to children.

Check facts on the person independently. Make sure any charity is officially registered with the Charity Commission and had a good reputation.

It’s horrible that people would do this. It’s horrific given there are plenty of people who genuinely are going through hardship and your help can do good.

I’m not saying harden your heart, I’m simply saying be absolutely sure that your money is going to the right people.

Picture of a phone, reflecting social media use.

The refund scams trick

Another tactic that’s being used at the moment goes the other way – instead of appealing to your sympathy, it pushes on the other emotion of the idea that “hey, it’s always good to have something for nothing!”

Usually, you receive a call or text promising some kind of refund or handout given the ongoing disruption (I understand impersonation of HMRC has been particularly bad on this front).

The trick they’re using with this is there there has been a huge amount of Government support and tax breaks offered, so people might be expecting something like this to appear. Especially if you are a bit of a financially challenged situation, it seems to only make sense to grab at that lifeline. Usually, they’ll just be out to “just check your account details”.

Again, think and challenge first! An organisation like HMRC is not going to call you up and ask you for sensitive information – they’re going to send you an official letter.

If you get a call like this, it’s not unreasonable to say that you’d like this confirmed in writing before handing anything over. Don’t give anyone your address – HMRC will definitely have it themselves (or if you’ve recently moved, make sure you let them read out the address they have to you, rather than the other way round!

It’s also worth searching any numbers that call you – most official numbers will link back of an official website. Most scam numbers will hit on nothing (there’s also a few reverse lookup websites where people can leave comments and may clue you in on if genuine of not”.

There’s an old adage of “it it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Be extra cautious about applying that maxim right now, and keep your cash safe!

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