RALLI SOLICITORS LLP have been defending people charged with fraud for over 40 years. Some are guilty, some innocent. Some whose identity has been stolen, have no idea what has been done in their name and are difficult to defend although innocent. Yes, we as a firm have been very successful but not everyone has understood that they need such specialist experience. Some innocent people who are charged with fraud offences are particularly concerned about damage to the reputation in business circles especially when they are high profile businessmen or women. Even when acquitted after being charged they fear that in the future people will just say that “they were really guilty but Ralli got them off!” That is why Ralli does not publish details of cases on their website when people have not been charged after a police enquiry into their actions or the matter is not yet high-profile in the national newspapers.
STOP RIGHT THERE.
Although what I have said happens to be true, I am really marketing the Ralli fraud defence team, but you spotted that didn’t you? Didn’t you? If not, you really should read this article to the end because you are an ideal candidate for a scammer!
The Government says they are taking robust action against the scammers, and in fairness, they are doing what they can, but what are the chances of you not falling victim to a scam as a result of Government action?
FUNDING THE WAR AGAINST CYBERFRAUD
Perhaps you are aware that the Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) provided £1 million recently to help develop approaches to defend UK military systems and networks from cyber-attacks, (of course you’re not!) This relatively small amount and the fact that it is designated for the military is perhaps a clue as to the proportion of funding to help individuals like you, compared with the cumulative resources of the vast avalanche of scammers and fraudsters trying to relieve you of your money.
May I ask you to consider some questions.
- What kind of manpower do you think the government has to tackle the thousands of scammers throughout the world using artificial intelligence and other means to defraud you?
- How high in the batting order do you think you are when the government is trying to defend its own infrastructure against cyber-attack from individuals and in some cases, sophisticated well resourced, criminal gangs or even foreign governments?
- What kind of power do you think the British government has to tackle individuals operating from countries with which we do not enjoy good relations especially when those countries themselves cannot, or do not seek to, identify the scammers?
- With stretched resources and an underfunded criminal justice system how much extra money will the government spend to bring foreign small-time fraudsters to justice in the UK? Even if convicted foreign individuals may well be sent back home after 18 months despite being sentenced to a longer-term of imprisonment.
Having thought about these and other questions which have occurred to you I suspect you have come to the view that there is very little assistance out there for you in practical terms. As many unfortunate victims have discovered you are on your own! You need to keep alert.
There is, of course, Action Fraud and you are encouraged to and should report any fraud to that organisation on the ActionFraud.org.uk website or telephone number 03001232040. Be aware though that they say in terms that although they will refer all fraud crime cases to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau run by the City of London Police each report cannot be investigated individually, and the information provided will help the police build the national picture of fraud. In reality, there are so many reports I suggest it is very unlikely that if you have lost under £250,000 it will go any further than being logged and even for larger sums the chances of a prosecution will be less than 5% of those reported to the police. Of those prosecuted, some will be innocent but many will be guilty but not necessarily convicted.
By now you probably will have realised in most instances it is going to be down to you to protect yourself. But what about credit card and bank protection I hear you say. Well if you have given out your details to a fraudster and willingly handed over money to someone in some of the circumstances below do not assume you will actually get a pay-out.
THE CONNED AND THE BIGGEST LOSERS YOUNG & THE ELDERLY
I came across some interesting statistics from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in its annual report. It would appear that 40% of adults aged 20–29 who reported fraud (and many of course don’t) ended up losing money in a fraud case. Perhaps surprisingly that in the case of consumers aged 70 and older only 18% lost money in reported fraud cases. The catch of course is that senior people falling victim to fraud lost much more money and on some occasions their life savings.
COMMON CYBER SCAMS
If you are still reading this article thank you. I suspect that most people reading it would have done so to see what scams to avoid so let’s look at a few. I know most people are aware that the scams fall mainly into distinct categories.
- There are emails that have developed and become more sophisticated since the original Nigerian request for money to release huge sums in which you could share. Typically, these emails rely upon your greed and involve you sending money in the hope of making riches. You never get to speak to the person writing to you and the golden rule is do not send money to people you do not know. Corresponding over a period of time on the Internet it does not count as knowing them despite pictures and regular updates or even Skype chats. As a warning, victims of so-called romance scams lost over £300 million in 2018 and the figures are rising. Victims are often too embarrassed to report the scam or were so convinced or besotted that they simply cannot believe that their lover would cheat them. Some romance scams do however go into the next category.
- The next category is where you actually physically meet a person. They become your friend or your lover, so you trust them. They invest your money for you, they borrow money from you, and they get access to your personal details perhaps even becoming a signature on your bank account. They prey on the lonely and decent members in our community. In reality, you only know what they have told you about themselves. You came across them online. You had no friends in common. They are plausible and confident. They have to be to reach the stage they are at. Because of the personal contact, in theory, they are more likely to be caught but having said that the chances are by no means high. They are despicable but perhaps no worse than the next category.
HMRC, THE COURT AND BANK PAYMENTS
- You do not know the next group, but you certainly know the organisation which they purport to represent. They pretend to be from HMRC or your bank, your utility provider or your Internet provider. They have a firm and almost threatening official manner. Failure to comply with their demands will result in trouble for you. The problem at the tax office needs resolving. Monies are owing and immediate action is required. There is always an urgency about the situation. Before you can resolve the problem, they ask that you provide information for them to check they are speaking to the right person. The bank needs to deal with a payment right now but again they need to be sure to whom they are talking. They are going to go through the procedure to check and will debit your account many thousands of pounds which will not be recoverable if you do not authorise or stop payment for which of course details are required. Ralli recently came across an example of a call supposedly from ‘a Bailiff’ he was going into your place of work to do strain on the computers and other equipment in front of your staff if you did not pay the £1500 judgement. Additionally, there would be the cost of the Bailiff attending which would greatly increase the amount due. You of course know nothing about it, but the suggestion is that you make the payment to the bailiff’s Court account and then apply to the court to get the money back (note the introduction of something familiar and trustworthy and therefore reassuring. Here the court but often a well- known insurance company, bank or other household name). It was all going to happen within the hour if payment was not made to the bailiff. Needless to say, the court account was the scammer’s account.
- Regrettably, bogus charities with web pages and names very similar to the real thing are a rich source of income for the scammers. You should be very careful to ensure that you are dealing with the real thing probably by phoning a published land line to check before using the web page. `be extra careful not to be signing a direct debit making your donation monthly instead of the one-off payment you intended.
- A particularly nasty type of case is the so-called ransomware attack. Having got into your system because you clicked on a free offer or receipt from someone you didn’t know (beware the attachment) everything you have will be wiped out and your company effectively brought down if a ransom is not paid literally within hours. The scammer will do it if he has really got into your account and the chances are you will have been notified by a pop-up rather than a telephone call, so he has access. The reason he will follow through is so that others will pay him.
- We have also seen examples of respectable members of the community being sent invoices for access to premium hard pornographic sites which in effect is a ransom because innocent people pay rather than have the publicity suggesting that they are paedophiles or pornographers. These people usually have not had anything to do with such sites but hold respectable high-profile positions in their community sometimes a local councillor or clergyman.
- In the world of eBay and Amazon and similar companies, more and more people are shopping online even more so during the virus lockdown of Spring 2020. When you sell your motorcar or any other valuable item you expect to receive payment. You may accept card payment or some other secure payment, but the next scam works when you receive too much money. You may be asked to send the overpayment back, which you do because you are honest, only to find that the original payment which you thought had cleared does not clear or was fraudulently obtained and is called back by your bank. Meanwhile, the overpayment is quickly cleared through the system to the fraudster and you have lost your goods plus the overpayment. Sometimes you are merely asked to return the overpayment to a third-party account. This will be to make it harder to trace. If you are lucky the aim of the scam is merely to launder money not to steal money from you.
GET YOURSELF A PAY RISE
- Common features of the scams are to get your details and from that either take monies from your accounts or purchase goods pretending to be you. You might receive an unsolicited email message or unsolicited mail advertising a job with big earnings for little work or in a similar field to that which you work but at a much larger salary. You will be asked to fill in ‘routine paperwork’ and in doing so provide Information about your Social Security number, name, address, et cetera. You will be asked to provide details of your bank account to receive your salary or monies for travelling to an interview. Your new employer may offer to pay money into your account for e.g. a uniform. The themes are the same, you give your details and they take your money! Prizes from competitions which you did not enter, you ‘having been selected’ et cetera, free gifts and supermarket huge discount vouchers work more or less in the same way to the same end. You give out information and you lose money.
JOIN THE FAN CLUB
- Social media is a great tool for the cyber-fraudsters, and our celebrity clients are particularly vulnerable to this. The scammer creates a virtually identical Facebook account including profile picture and basic information acquired from the real account. He then sends friend requests to the original accounts friends list to get the personal information of the friends who grant access to their profiles. He then operates as a trusted celebrity.
- The scammers create and publish fake retailer websites. Some sites replicate existing genuine sites. The bogus site offers deals that look fantastic discounting expensive and popular brands in, for example, a one-off, special relocation sale. What tends to be relocated is your money! You may receive nothing, but you might receive e.g. a picture of an item and that causes more problems because you don’t automatically have a claim against the card provider or e.g. Amazon on the basis that you paid for goods but didn’t receive them. You will find yourself in a long-winded process and may get no compensation because the vendor has not responded or claims to have sent the goods and provides documentary proof of delivery of his parcel!
- We have already seen that the common theme is getting hold of information about you and using it to your detriment. If the scammer can pose as you with all the relevant details, he can wreak havoc. There are numerous ways that your computer can be hacked. Even if you change your password regularly and buy a good antivirus product the authorities are playing catch up with the scammers. There were instances where a pop-up for antivirus software is malware. This is in addition to the many emails purportedly from friends or your bank or your online provider. An interesting news article which you click onto may give the scammer access to your device. Clicking on a link uninstall the malware which can be designed to scan your device for personal and banking information even logging your keystrokes or destroying your files or locking you out of your device hence the ransomware
- You may receive an email advising you that there is a problem with your computer and offering technical support. Perhaps having had a problem you may go online and look for such support choosing the free and carefully worded option provided by the scammer. If you are asked to send money via wire transfer it is hard to reverse, and you are better off sticking with a credit rather than a debit card.
- Not wishing to be too technical a virtual private network secured browser (VPN) can provide security and anonymity when you’re online by hiding your IP address and encrypting your internal traffic. Search engines such as Safari or Firefox private browsing or DuckDuckGo and other similar products will not collect or share your personal information. Generally speaking, public Wi-Fi in the hotel lobby or on trains is not secure enough for e.g. doing financial transactions.
HELP! HOW DO I DEFEND MYSELF?
I could easily write another page or two with current scams operating out there but let us look at what you can do to try and keep safe.
Firstly, I suggest you check your insurance and take out the best insurance you can afford to cover you against being scammed. Look at your credit card and see exactly what you’re covered for and your house insurance and examine the small print.
Secondly don’t call back when you receive unexpected emails and texts from your bank or other providers such as Microsoft. They do not send you unsolicited emails asking you for information or request access to your accounts or computer. It is safer to phone back your bank on their regular number and just check what they want.
You are at your most vulnerable when you are tired so be particularly wary late in the day or when you have just woken up. When you are trying to do a number of things at once do not start responding to emails from people you do not know which happened to land on your computer.
If you are a professional such as a lawyer or an accountant, ask yourself why this new client with this high profile and valuable work should choose you out of all the lawyers he could’ve chosen.
HAVE I GOT A SHARE FOR YOU!
The same applies to the man who phones with some wonderful share tip for a quoted company you have never heard of which if it does exist will undoubtedly have restrictions about which you are not told Why should you suddenly be chosen to invest in some foreign share which is going to rise hugely in a short period. Sometimes a fancy brochure arrives in the post first and you send back a reply card for information. The brochures go to people who already appear as a shareholder of a penny stock and a likely mug investor for a boiler room to call. Just think about it. If the tipster knows so much, he would not be spending his day in a call center telephoning people like you who he doesn’t know. He would be on his luxury yacht sailing in the Caribbean.
WATCH TV. NO CUP OF TEA
Basically, just apply logic to what’s happening.
If you want to practice how to do this look at the adverts on television and ask yourself what the advertiser is actually saying in the advert. It’s quite a good game to play. For example, if it is the best which they have ever produced that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s any good or better than the competitor’s products but merely another attempt from that particular manufacturer. The adverts are really full of doublespeak!
Finally, I suggest before ever clicking onto an attachment or pop up or offer just say to yourself, “Ralli warned me and count to 6 and then ask yourself is this genuine?”
(More advertising for Ralli which I trust you spotted this time.)
PLEASE NOTE, all opinions in this discourse or strictly my own and not necessarily that of Ralli Solicitors LLP or its specialist fraud department ——(you must have spotted that one!)
Be well and stay safe.
This blog was written by: Stephen Fox
DISCLAIMER: Please note that this post sets out the general position under the general law. It should not be acted upon in any specific circumstances without taking specific legal advice as to those circumstances. Also, it should not be relied upon, acted upon or treated as a substitute for specific advice relevant to particular circumstances. If you do require specific advice please contact us for assistance.