Interactive Investor

Impersonation scams: what to look out for and how to stop being polite

14th September 2021 12:09

Katie Binns from interactive investor

With this type of scam on the rise, we outline how to avoid becoming a victim and reveal why it’s not always good to be polite.

Impersonation scams more than doubled in the first half of 2021 to 33,115 cases, resulting in the shocking theft of £130m, according to trade association UK Finance.

Impersonation scams involve criminals posing as a trusted organisation such as a bank, a service provider, a government department or even the police.

They trick their victim into transferring money using a range of cover stories such as claiming they need to protect an account from fraud, that a refund sent by mistake must be returned or that a fine or tax needs to be paid.

This particular type of scam is the latest in a long line of nasty tactics that people have fallen victim to in the last 18 months as the pandemic has proved rich pickings for fraudsters.

UK Finance has this week launched its Take Five Week campaign to encourage people to stop to think, challenge potential fraudsters when asked for their information or money, and promptly call their bank and the police.

Take Five fraud expert Tony Blake, emphasises the importance of pausing for a moment: “If someone contacts you unprompted and asks for personal or financial information, stop and take a moment to think – even if they claim to be from an organisation you trust. Only criminals will put pressure on you to act quickly.”

It also seems that we are too polite for our own good. Research for the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign has found that politeness can often get in the way of people saying no to con-artists.

Nearly a quarter (23%) of people feel uncomfortable saying no to a request for personal information from a stranger via phone call, with nearly a fifth feeling the same when it comes to email or text. Nine in 10 (92%) people admit to saying yes to listening to calls or listening to messages because they do not want to appear rude.

Yet politeness, drummed into most of us from early childhood, can be a difficult habit shift.

Debrett’s, the legendary etiquette expert, has partnered with Marcus by Goldman Sachs this year to create a “good manners guide to outsmarting scammers”, which provides tips for tackling suspicious callers politely and assertively.

It suggests, for example, flipping conversations by politely asking cold callers for their name, number and who they work for or telling them you will deal with whatever the issue is yourself.

If you are up for being less courteous when dealing with a potential scammer, you could say: “There’s someone at the door, I’ll just let them in” and leave them hanging. Alternatively, start speaking another language, sing Fleetwood Mac’s ’Little lies’ or ask: “Did l ask you to call me?”

If you do fall victim to an impersonation scam, do not feel embarrassed. “Criminals are experts at pretending to be someone they are not – and can fool even the savviest of people,” says Blake.

Contact your bank or building society if you think your details have been compromised, call the police if you have transferred money and report the issue to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.

These articles are provided for information purposes only.  Occasionally, an opinion about whether to buy or sell a specific investment may be provided by third parties.  The content is not intended to be a personal recommendation to buy or sell any financial instrument or product, or to adopt any investment strategy as it is not provided based on an assessment of your investing knowledge and experience, your financial situation or your investment objectives. The value of your investments, and the income derived from them, may go down as well as up. You may not get back all the money that you invest. The investments referred to in this article may not be suitable for all investors, and if in doubt, an investor should seek advice from a qualified investment adviser.

Full performance can be found on the company or index summary page on the interactive investor website. Simply click on the company's or index name highlighted in the article.