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Seasonal money scams on the internet

MoneyMagpie team 10th Apr 2011 No Comments

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Online fraud is rising and a lot of the scams come off the back of news events now. It’s easy to be conned because the fraudsters are getting cleverer. Here are the latest seasonal scams to watch out for:

Japan Aid and other disasters

It’s particularly nasty to use people’s finer feelings to defraud them but, sadly, bogus charity websites and emails are on the rise.

Just a few days after the Japanese earthquake disaster, on-line criminals had already started to exploit the tragedy. It was the same with the Haiti disaster and other terrible events. Barely days after they happened there were websites up-and-running enabling people to ‘donate’ to their ‘charity’. There were also emails going around encouraging people to send them money.

As always, it’s best to be suspicious of emails that come from people you don’t know. Even emails that appear to be from people you know should be regarded with suspicion if they are asking for money or recommending something you haven’t heard of. A lot of scam artists are now hacking into people’s email addresses and spamming their entire address book with dodgy emails.

In fact, if you get a desperate email from a friend saying they are in a foreign country and have been mugged, or had their passport stolen or some such story and need you to send them money urgently, don’t do anything. If you are really worried then phone them or contact a mutual friend to check. This scam is going round daily at the moment and people are being taken in by it because it is very persuasive.

Volcanic ash scam

This scam, which is still going, is also known as ‘the Frank Adam scam’. The way it works is that fake claim companies are targeting those affected by the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud that caused chaos to European travellers last year. In May 2010 an email circulated claiming to be from Frank Adam, Chief Consumer Protection Officer of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Frank’s email goes on to explain that the receiver of the email has been identified as an air passenger affected by the travel disruptions and will receive £2,000 compensation from a CAA fund. To receive your compensation you must send Frank your name, address, a copy of your passport and an administration fee to release your compensation fee.

The CAA issued a press release stating that the CAA is aware of the scam and urged passengers not to respond to Frank’s email. The CAA has confirmed that the CAA did not send the emails and that there is no such fund.

Fake tickets

Major events such as Glastonbury, the World Cup and the Olympics always generate scammers to sell counterfeit tickets to people desperate for a bargain. The OFT report that more than 5,000 music fans were victims of ticket scams in 2009 music festivals.

First of all, check what date official tickets are released on the official website of the event. Tickets sold before this date are clearly fake! The events official website may also list ticket suppliers so check if where you are buying from is listed. If not, it’s probably fake.

The OFT launched a site called Just Tick It which aims to help music fans avoid fake ticket sites.

Avoid buying second hand tickets from auction sites such as eBay. The seller’s sob story about why they can’t go may sound plausible but fake tickets on the internet are easy to sell. However, the ticket reselling site Seatwave is trustworthy and worth looking into. See our article on how to get tickets cheaper and this one on how to get into festivals for free for other ideas.

Fake websites can be tricky to spot but the Action Fraud website has tips on how to spot a fake ticket seller. The scenario is either you’re told that the tickets will be emailed to you and then they never arrive, you’re told that the ticket seller will meet you on the door and he never shows up, or you receive counterfeit tickets and you are refused entry on the door.

A major supplier of tickets to events around the UK, Ticketmaster has a ticket exchange option that lets you sell any tickets that you purchased from Ticketmaster if you are unable to use your ticket. Tickets on the Ticketmaster ticket exchange are completely legitimate, though a small seller fee does apply.

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Bogus recruitment agencies

The recession has meant that there are many more people chasing fewer jobs. The need for work has spawned a number of recruitment scams you need to be wary of.

For example, you get a phone call out of the blue from a recruitment agency you have never heard of and can’t remember applying to. The agent claims to have the perfect job to match your skills but your CV needs re-writing before it can be sent off to the employer. Coincidently, the recruitment agency has their own CV re-writing service. Or perhaps they say you need to attend a skills course. Either will cost you a fee, and then you will definitely get the job of your dreams!  Too good to be true, isn’t it? Quite.

Scammers have also targeted the unemployed during the recession as the number of jobless rises.  According to the Office for National Statistics, the unemployment rate between January and March 2010 stood at 2.51 million. That’s a lot of people to target.

Even with genuine recruitment agencies, many jobs that are advertised don’t really exist. It’s a marketing ploy to get people through the door. But genuine recruitment agencies won’t require you to pay them any fees. They get paid through commission from the employer. They know whether they can get you a job or not and they will only take you on if they think you have a chance.

Agencies won’t tell you the name of the company advertising a job until you’re selected for interview. That’s procedure and it doesn’t signal that the agent is a con artist. However, asking you for money and not having a legitimate email address, working telephone number or office address are the immediate signs that it’s a scam.

The Guardian recently exposed a fraud recruitment agency, Employer UK, who offered CV checks, interview coaching and extra skills courses with fees of up to £550. Employer UK has since shut down its website earlier this year, but it sucked desperate graduates and the unemployed into paying a few hundred for its services. A graduate friend of mine was even duped by Employer UK, who obtained her contact details from a job site and gave her a hard sale of £300 for a course to brush up on her skills before she could begin the perfect job that they had for her.

Apart from pressure for fees, all your personal information on your CV is now available to bogus recruitment agencies too. Identity theft is the other motive for bogus agencies. Your name, address, date of birth, contact details, education background and employment history are now all available from your CV – perfect for ID theft. CIFAS, the UK’s Fraud Prevention Service, reported that 27,000 people were affected by identity fraud in the first quarter of 2010. Check that you haven’t been a victim by signing up to Creditexpert’s free credit report check.

Don’t apply for jobs where the agency name is hidden and if the agency name is viewable, run an internet search and type ‘scam’ next to the agency name in a search engine to see what results come back. If the agency is a scam, the most common search results will be forum discussions from victims warning others to resist contact.

Online dating scams and social networking hackers

Dating and social networking sites are a playground for hackers! Even the most genuine dating or social networking site can be infiltrated with scammers who spoil the fun for the rest of us. The danger is that anyone can set up an online profile and pose as anyone.  These aren’t exactly seasonal – they’re happening all the time – but they seem to crop up a lot in the warmer months.

See our article on safe online dating for help keeping away from dating scammers (or worse), but here are some principles to abide by when dealing with online dating, or if you get unsolicited dating emails:

  • Ignore appeals for cash from your new ‘love interest’, no matter how sad the sob story. Don’t respond as this lets hackers know that your dating/social networking/email account is live and you will be targeted even more with these messages.
  • Never send money to anyone you meet on social networking or dating sites!
  • Be wary of social networking “friends” that you don’t recognise. They can steal your identity if you post a lot of personal information about yourself. Make sure you keep your privacy settings tight and put as little information on your profile page as possible.
  • Responding to fake messages or friend requests from social networking sites may give scammers access to your account. They could lock you out and send viruses to your friends, keystroke logging being the most common virus that tracks the keys that are typed on the keyboard (this includes web addresses, passwords and card numbers).
  • Keep the details of your life as discrete as possible. I.D. thieves use your personal information to obtain loans in your name and you could get a bad credit history. Letting people know when you’re not at home invites house burglars.

According to Experian, it can take around 500 days to discover that you are the victim of identity theft. You can get free access to your online credit report for a whole month with CreditExpert from Experian. Join now to see who might have accessed your details.

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Jasmine Birtles

Your money-making expert. Financial journalist, TV and radio personality.

Jasmine Birtles

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