Warning on Fraud and Scams

Pictured are: Susanne Smith, (Money Advice at Citizens Advice), Fiona Macleod (Police Scotland) and Jay Moran (Trading Standards).

Western Isles Citizen’s Advice Service, Police Scotland and Trading Standards at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar have come together to raise awareness about frauds and scams.

Police in the Western Isles dealt with over 70 reports of fraud in 2021, with personal financial losses totalling nearly £900,000 - an average loss of approximately £12,800 per victim.  It is not always possible to recover these losses.

Norah MacPhee (Western Isles Citizen’s Advice Service, Stornoway) said, “Scams aren’t just a minor inconvenience to people”.

Fiona Macleod (Police Scotland, Western Isles) said, “the impact of scams and fraud can be financially and emotionally devastating for the victim, with many suffering isolation and hardship as a result - some even become more susceptible to further exploitation.” 

Jay Moran (CNES – Trading Standards) said, “The location of the Western Isles may present limited opportunities for scams and doorstep crime to be committed in person by fraudsters attempting to take money from people. In the case of Internet, mail and phone scams these are very real problems for people no matter where they live. This can of course also include our businesses that may also be targeted by the same means and who also need to be vigilant too.”  

As life becomes increasingly busy and complicated, so do criminals and the means by which they seek to take advantage of us for financial gain.  There are so many types of scams, with new scams tactics consistently emerging and tricking consumers – some scammers use several different scams with an individual victim to get what they want.  Cyber-fraud is the most changing form of financial crime affecting Scotland.  Some of the more commonly reported scams are:-

  • You receive a message or telephone call from someone purporting to be from your bank, or your bank’s fraud department, and they tell you that there has been suspicious or fraudulent activity with your account(s).  You are then encouraged to provide your account details and passwords in order for your money to be transferred into new accounts where you are told your money will be safe.  Your bank will never get in touch with you and ask you for personal and account details, or to transfer money in this way.  Never offer or give out your personal details, account details, passwords or security codes;

  • You are befriended via a social media or online dating platform, and enter into what you believe to be a genuine relationship with a real person.  This ‘person’ then begins to ask you for money, or asks you to keep money in your bank account for them, then transfer it elsewhere.  Commonly, the person says they work overseas, or in the military, that the circumstances are some type of emergency, or that you are the only person they trust to help them.  This is Romance Fraud, and you are potentially being used as a Money Mule (someone used by criminals to launder money).  The money you are asked to hold in your account and transfer is often ill gotten gains such as controlled drug supply, human trafficking or illegal weapons trading.

  • You receive an email or text message from a well-known organisation or company.  For example, PayPal, TV Licensing, HMRC, telling you one or more of the following:-   there has been suspicious activity on your account; your account has been suspended; you are due a refund; or your direct debit was declined.  A quick way to identify a scam email is to check the sender’s email address. If it’s something like zxk1942R3@gmail.com, it’s a scam.  There may be a link which takes you to a fake website – don’t click on the link!  If you need to check your account – use a different, (confirmed as genuine) method to contact the organisation or company.  Some of these scams will ask you to provide or update personal details – you’d never be asked to do this in this way by the real organisation or company.  PayPal, TV Licensing and HMRC, along with other government bodies, organisations, businesses and retailers have dedicated sections on their websites to help customers identify if they are being scammed.

  • You receive a communication (online or telephone call) and are told that you are due a refund, or that someone you know is in some form of trouble – you are then asked to purchase, and provide the protected codes of a quantity of gift cards to either release the refund or help your loved one.  This is Gift Card Fraud – you’ll never be asked to pay for a product or service like this with Gift Cards.  If the message comes from someone you know – their contact details (and sometimes their social media profiles) have been mined (or hacked) for Identify Theft, it is not your friend or family member contacting you.  Don’t give money or any form of financial gift to someone you have met online, and be wary of unusual requests from family and/or friends contacting you and asking for money – verify identities using information that you know cannot be found online! 

  • You respond to correspondence or ‘clickbait’ (online content, the main purpose of which is to attract attention and encourage the user to click on a link) relating to an investment opportunity offering unrealistic returns.  You then have to make further payments, sometimes being told this is for fees and/or taxes, and are promised an increase in value.  This is an investment scam, the most profitable form of cybercrime affecting Scotland – many ask for investment in cryptocurrency, such as bitcoin.  Don’t click on the link!  If it sounds too good to be true, it is likely a scam.

Norah MacPhee (Western Isles Citizen’s Advice Service, Stornoway) said, “Under-reporting and stigma continue to be barriers in scams and fraud, with many feeling too ashamed and embarrassed to tell someone what has happened. There are so many types of scams, with new scams tactics consistently emerging and tricking consumers; as well as scams that we don’t know about, which makes it very difficult to help, prevent and support those who have fallen victim.”

Fiona Macleod (Police Scotland, Stornoway) said, “Anyone can fall victim to this type of crime, not just the elderly and the vulnerable – even if we think we’re scam aware, all it takes is for us to be caught off guard in the moment by a skilled manipulator.”

Jay Moran (CNES – Trading Standards) said, “We will continue to work hard with our partner agencies in the Western Isles to protect people and to provide help and support to the victims of scams, including preventive measures. We would encourage anyone who has concerns for themselves or others they may know relating to scams to report it to Advice Direct Scotland on 0808 800 9060 in the first instance. They provide expert civil advice on a wide range of consumer issues, including scams and will refer criminal matters to the Police and Trading Standards where required.

There is a mass of keep safe information relating to scams and frauds available to the public online, more details can be found at:-

 I would urge everyone to consider a visit to one or more of these sites, a five minute scroll during some downtime might just be what keeps you and your money safer.”