What is it?
You’re convinced to make a payment or give personal and financial details to someone claiming to be from a trusted organisation such as your bank, the police, a delivery or utility company, communication service provider, a government department such as HMRC or someone you trust such as a friend or family member.
These scams often begin with a phone call, text, message or email that appears to be from a trusted organisation or person. A criminal might say your bank account is at risk and ask you to move your money to a ‘safe account’. They might get in touch impersonating a police officer, saying your money needs to be analysed as part of a police investigation.
They may also get in touch via social media, sending you messages or by creating posts. When criminals impersonate a friend or family member, they often invent reasons to ask for money, such as being stranded overseas or urgently needing to pay a debt, rent or a bill.
Criminals use a tactic called social engineering to groom and manipulate you into transferring money or divulging your personal and financial details.
Criminals use many tactics to trick you including ‘spoofing’ which makes their call, text, DM or email appear genuine. These messages will often lead to a website that is made to look legitimate using another tactic called ‘cloning’. Cloned websites often look almost identical to the real website of a trusted organisation. Phone numbers and sender ID’s can also be cloned to make a scam message appear genuine.
In some cases, criminals try to dupe you by sending couriers to collect your cards, cash, PINs or valuable items in person.
How to spot impersonation Fraud
- You receive a call, text, email or DM with an urgent request for your personal or financial information, to make a payment or move money
- You receive a message from a friend or family member requesting financial assistance often with an urgent reason such as them being stranded overseas or requiring medical help
- You’re pressured to act immediately. The caller pressures you to rush causing a level of panic. Texts or messages may include a ‘hook’ to grab your attention, for example the criminal might say your money is at risk and you need to act to save it, or suggest you will get a reward if you do what they ask
- You’re asked to transfer money to another account for ‘safe-keeping’
- You’re asked to purchase high value goods/vouchers to cover the cost of fines. They might also ask you pay a bill for tax or utilities or provide financial details to receive a rebate
- You’re asked for cash or a payment as part of a police investigation or told money in your account needs to be analysed as part of an ongoing investigation
- The sender’s email address is ever so slightly different to that of the genuine sender
Examples of impersonation fraud
Transfer money to a ‘safe’ account
Roy* received a call from someone claiming to be from his bank’s fraud team enquiring if several payments on his account were actually made by him. He didn’t recognise them and was advised it was nothing to worry about, that his account had been compromised, and he urgently needed to move money into a ‘safe’ account in order to protect it. Roy did as he was told and transferred the balance from his account, as well as the money in his savings into a ‘safe account’ which actually belonged to the criminal.
Problems with your internet connection
Leanne* was contacted by her internet service provider informing her the internet router she was using had been hacked. The caller asked for remote access to Leanne’s computer and said that she would receive £500 as compensation for the inconvenience. Leanne provided her bank details and was told to log onto her online banking to check the money had arrived. To her surprised £5,000 not £500 had been deposited and she was urgently asked to return the overpayment to a bank account provided by the caller. Unbeknown to Leanne, whilst the criminal had access to her account all of her money was transferred to another account.
Damon* received a phone call from the police advising they were investigating some cases of fraud at his bank. He was told he would have to go to his bank branch and withdraw his funds to assist the police in their investigation. The caller even said an officer would meet him to collect the cash.
Damon was assured that there was nothing to worry about and he would receive the funds back once the analysis was complete. The caller gave him an excuse to use if he was questioned at his bank branch.
Once he had made the withdrawal he took the cash back to his house and soon after an officer arrived to collect it. Damon handed over his cash but would never hear from the caller or officer again.
Outstanding HMRC tax bill
Sally* was busy working when her phone started ringing. She hastily answered it noticing at a quick glance that the caller ID said HMRC. The automated call from Officer Mark Wilson from HMRC took her by surprise. She was urged to call the number provided immediately, with failure to do so resulting in legal consequences, including the threat of an arrest warrant. Sally was confused and shaken, the caller’s tone, although automated, sounded official and included details pertaining to their department, which led her to dismiss that this could be a scam. She hurriedly keyed in the phone number and was informed of an outstanding tax bill amounting to £4,675 that required urgent payment. The officer urged Sally to make the payment, reinforcing that she would receive a criminal record if she refused. Panic stricken, she read out her bank details to the criminal purporting to be Mark unaware that she was in fact being scammed.
Listen to a scam HMRC call below:
Friend in need scam
Ahmed* had finished work one day and was rushing to catch a train. As he left his office he received a message from his son saying he had a new phone and giving him his new number.
Minutes later Ahmed received another message from the same number informing him that he was struggling to access his banking app on the new phone and was worried because he had to pay an urgent bill. Ahmed received a further message asking if he could pay the bill. Worried for his son and knowing he would pay him back when he could, Ahmed followed the instructions and transferred the money to the account. It was only after he had transferred the money and couldn’t get through to his son on the new number that he realised it was a scam.
*These case studies are based on insights from partners