Scammers won’t think twice about preying on vulnerable people. Here’s how we can all fight back.
There are a lot of scams. All are bad, but some are particularly disgusting, preying on young, vulnerable or trusting people. We think it’s vital to highlights as many of these nasty con tricks as we can, in order to prevent you from getting caught out.
Here are five scams which we think are among the most disgusting – we’d welcome your thoughts too:
1. The debt management scam
Defrauding people who are already in desperate financial circumstances really takes the immorality biscuit. Sadly, those who are collapsing under a mountain of debt, and can’t see a way out, make ideal victims for unscrupulous fraudsters.
This is where the debt management scam comes in. The swindle usually involves unsolicited contact by phone from a supposedly reputable debt management company. These firms charge for services to help alleviate debt problems by negotiating with creditors, setting up debt management plans and arranging Individual Voluntary Arrangements (IVAs).
The scammer’s aim may be to extract an exorbitant fee out of you in return for what turns out to be a fake debt management service. Or they may simply be after your personal data and bank details to plunder your account. Remember a genuine firm won’t contact you completely out of the blue.
You should also be wary of some legitimate debt management companies. The good news is the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has this week taken action against 129 firms who face losing their consumer credit licences unless they take action to comply with the OFT’s Debt Management Guidance.
It’s high time the debt management industry underwent a good clean-up. If you need help, remember that there are several fantastic debt advice charities – such as the Consumer Credit Counselling Service, Citizen’s Advice, Christians Against Poverty and National Debtline – which are completely free to use. They should be your first port of call if you have run into trouble with your debts.
2. The student loans scam
Scams which target the financially inexperienced are particularly ruthless. The student loans scam is a classic example which is more prevalent at the beginning of a new term when loans payments are made. This takes place three times a year in September, January and April.
That means right now a raft of phishing emails are being sent to students which claim to be from Student Finance England or the Student Loans Company. But really they are a crude attempt to persuade students to confirm their bank details, giving scammers an opportunity to gain access to accounts fraudulently and help themselves to the loans.
Student Finance England has categorically stated it will never ask students to disclose personal data by email. So, in theory at least, it should be easy to spot the scam. Be on your guard – if you receive a phishing email report it to the Student Loans Company via firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. The fake charity collection bags scam
Fake household charity collections take advantage of our desire to do a good deed. It’s a fairly unsophisticated trick where a donation bag is put through your letter box and appears to be from a charity. But, in fact, your items will be collected and re-sold with the profits benefitting a company rather than a good cause.
Of course, you won’t lose a fortune if you fall for this scam. After all, you’re only giving away unwanted goods, but why should you line a company’s pockets rather than someone who is genuinely in need?
The Association of Charity Shops estimates this scam generates more than £1 million a year. If you want to stop it from happening, check the donation bag is from a registered charity by contacting the Charity Commission. You can also contact your local council to find out whether the collector has been licensed in your area.
Having said that, you can avoid the scam altogether by making donations to charities directly.
4. The fake miracle cure scam
This scam is particularly cruel and cons people with health problems who may have had no luck with conventional treatments. You might see an advert online or by email which claims to provide a miracle cure for anything from minor complaints to serious illnesses.
The ad usually offers a money back guarantee, but stocks are limited requiring you to put in an order immediately. Endorsements by medical professionals and satisfied customers may also feature, but of course all testimonials have been faked.
In return for your money, your ‘order’ may never actually arrive. If it does, you’ll find the treatment has absolutely no effect or, in a worst case scenario, it is harmful to you. To protect yourself from this very serious scam, always be very cautious about buying medicines online or by mail order. Consult your GP or NHS Direct if you have any doubts whatsoever.
You can also read the advice available on Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) website. Counterfeit drugs can also be reported here.
5. The career opportunities scam
Our final swindle is the career opportunities scam. Imagine this scenario: you’re at work and feeling unfulfilled when you come across an opportunity for an exciting new career. It’s something you’ve always wanted to do.
To set you on the path to success, you’ll be asked to pay an upfront fee for a training course, study materials or equipment to arm you with all the skills you’ll need for your dream job. But once you’ve handed over your cash, you receive nothing or if you do, it’s pretty useless.
In an alternative version of the scam, you’ll be forced to call a premium rate 090 phone number to apply for the job or get further information, but this simply enables the scammer to make money out of you.
Before you hand over any cash, fully research the company to make sure they’re above board. Read the small print so you understand exactly what you’ll get in return for your cash. And always think twice about calling a premium rate line.
If you’ve been targeted by one of these five disgusting scams – or by any others – make a point of reporting it to Consumer Direct.