Britons are being warned about the most convincing scams being seen by consumer group Which? this year.
The company said there are four believable scams to look out for in 2023 to ensure you don’t lose your money, explaining that consumers can protect themselves by signing up for scam alerts or seeking out expert advice.
Lisa Barber, tech editor at Which?, said: “It’s appalling that 2023 has seen scammers continuing to thrive, as a new wave of convincing scams bombards consumers from every direction.”
The warning comes after the government published a new fraud strategy earlier this month, which includes banning cold calls on all financial products, such as those relating to insurance or sham cryptocurrency schemes.
The government also plans to work with advertising regulator Ofcom to use new technology to further clamp down on number “spoofing”, so fraudsters cannot impersonate legitimate UK phone numbers.
Under the plans, banks will be allowed to delay the processing of payments for longer to allow for suspect transactions to be investigated.
Here are four scams to watch out for:
1. Pig butchering
These scams have been given their name by fraudsters because they “fatten up” the victim by forming a romantic connection before executing the investment part of the scam.
The scammer and victim typically meet on a dating site, and the victim is “love-bombed” for some time by someone who appears to take a great interest in their life.
The scammer will often encourage their victim to move from the dating platform to a private messaging service, removing them from any protections the dating site might offer.
When the victim is sufficiently groomed, the scammer claims they have been having success investing – typically in property or cryptocurrency – and offers to invest some of the victim’s money. If the victim consents, they are sometimes shown a crypto trading platform controlled by the scammers and encouraged to sign up and begin depositing funds.
One victim lost £107,000 to such a scam, believing she was investing in retirement apartments overseas, Which? said.
2. Fake missing person appeals
People are being asked to share fake online posts about missing people more widely.
Which? said its experts know they are fake because there are near-identical posts in community pages across the world that display the same content but give different locations.
Comments are turned off on the posts to avoid people pointing out the inconsistencies, Which? said.
After one of these posts has gained a large number of likes, the contents are edited into something completely different, such as a straightforward investment scam. The large number of likes and shares that stay on the post lend credibility to the fraud.
Which? said the “despicable” scam relies on responsible citizens liking and sharing posts in an attempt to help, which they do in large numbers.
Some missing person posts are genuine, but Which? said it can sometimes be difficult to tell.
To avoid perpetuating a scam or unwittingly participating in stalking or harassment, Which? suggests only sharing official posts, posted by organisations such as the police or the charity Missing People.
3. PayPal scams
People will receive a “money request” from a genuine PayPal email address. This might seem above board, but scammers may send out fake payment requests, often for high-value items, or pose as HMRC to demand “overdue” tax payments, Which? said.
In some versions of the scam, the fake invoice states that the victim’s PayPal account has been compromised and urges them to call a fake fraud hotline.
People should never pay PayPal invoices they do not recognise, or call phone numbers attached to these invoices, the consumer group said.
4. Fake app alert
Some apps can install malware on phones, steal data and perpetuate scams, Which? warned. It said app stores do take steps to crack down on the problem, but threats can remain.
When installing an app, click on the developer’s name and check what other apps it has made to see if these seem legitimate, Which? suggested.
It also said people should remember that app reviews can be faked. The app will likely ask users for permissions – to use the camera, for example. These need to be relevant and proportionate to the functions of the app, Which? said.
People who believe they may have been scammed should contact their payment provider immediately and report the incident to Action Fraud.