Before you book your summer holiday, it might be a good idea to acquaint yourself with the latest online travel scams – of which there are many.
According to a new report from the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, travel-related internet scams are diddling customers out of about £7 million a year, and last year there were 5000 reported cases of holiday fraud.
So what should we be looking out for? Well, fake ads for apartments and villas are very popular amongst Internet fraudsters. 3 out of 10 victims fell for imaginary accommodation advertised on Facebook, so before you get the credit card out, it’s a good idea to check that your dream destination actually exists, and isn’t just a stock photo of some random guy’s house in Tenerife.
21% of cases involve people falling for airline ticket fraud, where people pay for tickets in advance, with the promise of a booking, and the booking is never made. And because these ‘companies’ rely on paperless ticketing, fraud is rife – particularly on flights to Africa.
The solution? Check, check and double check. ABTA says you should do a thorough background check of any holiday company before you book, and read all customer reviews in case there are any grievances or evidence that other victims that have been scammed.
Anyway. HAPPY HOLIDAYS!
Facebook have got rid of the advertisements for a deals website, after users complained that it was siphoning cash from their bank accounts but failing to deliver.
HotCrazyDeal, which operates out of – oh the dodginess – Panama, used these ads to tempt users to sign up for a “free” seven day trial. However, soon these users were left with a £29.90 debit coming out of their bank accounts each month.
Such temptations as ‘£1 for £30 of groceries at Asda, Tesco or Sainsburys’, offers at Pizza Hut and unearthly savings on Oyster cards were actually not official deals at all, but lies. LIES. Even Apple and Argos has distanced themselves from this shady operation.
Users have to enter their bank details on the HotCrazyDeal website, after which it says customers can spend the deal at the retailer and claim the cash back via PayPal, so long as they send a scanned copy of the receipt to the website.
But this is patently all bollocks, and as angry users have found out, it’s harder to get out of HotCrazyDeals than they’d hope, with further amounts being rinsed from their accounts.
So basically – don’t be sucked in by those adverts on the side of Facebook. Apart from the ‘Women looking for single men in your area’ ones obviously.
We regularly delete that Paypal email addressed to ‘dear costumer’, and we can spot a Nigerian inheritance scam at fifty paces. But what email dodginess can we look forward to in 2014?
Well, this year, email scams are getting more creative than ever. Rugby fans should be aware of the Rugby World Cup 2015 scam, where unscrupulous websites are selling fake tickets in exchange for your hard earned cash. The advice is only to buy from the official site.
Then there are fake Royal Mail emails, from an address called ‘Royal Mail Group.’ These bogus emails try to convince you that you’ve missed a package or something has got lost in the post. If you click on the attachment to retrieve your parcel, it installs malware, so don’t click, and delete the email immediately.
It’s doubtful that you’ll invest in graphene after receiving a junk email, but if you’re tempted, don’t. Graphene is a new kind of carbon substitute and won’t be used commercially for another 6 years, so if someone tries to sell you it, it’s impossible to tell if it’s the real thing.
Then of course, there are the phone scams you’re probably more likely to fall for, like ‘vishing’, where people pretending to be the bank say your account has been compromised and then put you through to a fake bank representative.
But although these scams have new guises, it’s still the same old story – don’t give anyone your information unless you’re 100% sure it’s a trusted site or caller. And for God’s sake don’t open random zipfiles from people called Eugenia Pontes Pontes or Maximus Gloryhole.
A local council has issued a warning to everyone because some people are really quite dim and have been sending money to scam mail fraudsters. As a public service, we feel we should at least share this news in case you or a loved one is that stupid.
One lady, in Surrey, paid out over £200,000 over more than 50 years in fees without receiving any winnings because, as we all know, scams don’t tend to pay out.
Sylvia Kneller from Farnham got addicted to replying to letters in the post which said she had won cash prizes and eventually, Trading Standards persuaded her to tell her story in a bid to warn other gullible people.
Now in her 70s, she first replied to the letters when she was 20, every time sending money for imaginary processing fees. Ms Kneller said: “It does get you all excited and they shouldn’t do that to old people. It’s not right. The amount of money, £200,000, is what I have spent out thinking I was going to win, but I never got a penny.”
“But in your mind you believe it. Other people start on at you and you know they are right but you still believe, you still want to do it, it becomes like an addiction really. My first husband, we parted company over it because he was fed up with it and he ended up with my best friend. I do not send money out now because I can’t afford it. If I had kept my money in my purse I would have been rich.”
Trading Standards are investigating numerous 80 cases involving people falling for scam competitions. Gillian Guy, chief executive of the Citizens Advice, said: “In the last 50 years, scammers have been quick to embrace new ways to rip people off, including the internet and mobile phones. Our evidence from the last few years shows that scammers are exploiting difficult economic times and targeting people with fake job offers, training scams and phoney help with debt. Scams are crimes so it is vital they are reported.”
So there you have it. You might be too clever-clever for these scams, but keen an eye on those who might not be.
Don’t get caught by copycat websites- especially when filing your Self Assessment return by 31 JanuaryJanuary 13th, 2014 • 5 Comments
If there’s one thing the new year hasn’t seen the back of, it’s scams, and the most recent scam-a-la-mode is the copycat website scam.
Scam sites can cover anything, but their weapon of choice tends to be governmental type document completion, ideally where there is a fee to be paid. Recent scam sites found included provisional driving licence, European health cards and passports as well as congestion charge and even self-assessment tax return sites.
Last week, the Advertising Standards Authority upheld a complaint against paylondoncongestion.co.uk, which charges drivers a premium for paying the London Congestion Charge- costing £16 instead of £10 for driving into London, or £20 instead of £12 to pay the next day. However, paylondoncongestion.co.uk has declined to take any notice whatsoever of the ASA ruling.
The ASA told This is Money: “In 99 per cent of cases, advertisers comply immediately. But in this instance, Paylondoncongestion has not. We are disappointed. The website still does not make it clear that it is unofficial”. Unfortunately, many of the other tools at the ASA’s disposal do not hit scurrilous companies where it hurts- in the bottom line- with ‘naming and shaming’ the firm or paying for ASA adverts to appear in internet searches alongside those of the scam website to warn potential users away, not likely to be as effective as a fine. The ASA do have redress to the Trading Standards Institute who can take statutory action and issue fines, but by that time, the tricksters are likely to have disappeared back into the woodwork.
But some claim that much of the problem could be easily solved by search engines. If scam websites didn’t appear above the official site, far fewer people would be tricked into spending more than they need to, or even losing money altogether- and some think the likes of Google should act.
Mike Walker googled “hmrc” to file his tax return. He clicked on the top result, taxreturngateway.com, and realised too late that it was not the official government site. He told The Guardian: ”It looked very similar, but it was only once I’d gone through the process of filing my return and made a payment of £400 that I realised it wasn’t the same.”
However, while the site has clearly paid for its premium position above the organic results, is it, or Google, breaking any laws? Taxreturngateway.com clearly states on its home page that “We are not connected to or affiliated with HMRC, DWP or any other official government body. We offer a bespoke, value for money, tax return assistance service for which we levy a charge.” They highlight that HMRC filing is free and even have a link back to the HMRC site. They claim they are providing a tax return completion service, for a fee, and it’s not their fault if people can’t read properly. Caveat emptor and all that jazz.
Google reportedly removed taxreturngateway.com from its advertising spots last month, but reinstated the site after investigating complaints.
So what do you think? Are people caught by these scams just victims of an online version of survival of the fittest or should someone somewhere take some action to stop them? Preferably with a few more teeth than the ASA.
Oh, and don’t forget to file your tax return online with HMRC by 31 January 2014.
A botnet has been discovered which targets shop tills, and it has stolen what’s been described as a ‘titanic volume’ of credit card details. 20,000 cards could have been affected since August.
It’s not the first time a botnet has infiltrated points of sale – last year the Subway virus, created by two Romanian hackers, managed to cream off 146,000 credit card numbers by hacking 200 shops. But it seems like the viruses are becoming more sophisticated than ever before, and there’s been dozens of them popping up all over the place in recent months. With this particular virus, hackers are able to access payment machines in real time and issue commands, leaving customers completely vulnerable.
So what can we, the average consumer, who doesn’t know a botnet from their bottom – do about it? Well, nothing really. It’s down to digital crime units, like the one run by Microsoft, who recently busted three botnets. The latest is a group of computers called ZeroAccess, which highjacked search results and led people to dodgy websites, where it would install malware and then steal your information.
So it’s a matter of taking care on the internet and hoping that the hidden army of Cyber Bergeracs out there can take down these botnets before they get your card. Reassuring, eh?
From now on, I’m paying in CASH.
Hooray. It’s December. That means everything is now officially mince-pie scented and dusted with picturesque snow that never actually arrives. Even Trading Standards (or specifically the National Trading Standards Board (NTSB)) have been hitting the sherry are getting in the Christmas spirit and have produced a “Twelve Scams of Christmas” that you just have to sing along to…
Twelve Vishers Vishing
Vishing has caught a lot of people out recently – consumers have already lost £7million to this scam, according to Financial Fraud Action UK. Scammers call victims pretending to be a bank, building society or similar official and attempt to get personal information. Consumers must remember that their bank or building society will never ask for details over the phone – they already have them
Eleven Alarming Alarmists
The National Scams Hub is warning consumers about a possible burglar alarm scam where consumers receive a cold call from a company offering to install security systems. The security system may be free or available at a nominal cost but the on-going maintenance cost is high and there is a daylight-robbery cancellation fee.
Ten Dodgy (Car) Dealers
Not very festive, but apparently yuletide is also a time to be wary of buying second hand cars, as greasy second hand car salesmen might be clocking the car to make a few extra quid.
Nine Grants Disappearing
It’s like something from your Christmas list- an email from the ‘Commonwealth Secretariat’ and ‘HM Treasury’ telling explaining that you qualify for a free £1,000 grant to be paid directly into your bank account. Unfortunately those who gleefully hand over said bank details will normally see more than the fictional grant disappear…
Eight Council Tax Bands- a- Playing
Getting your property rebanded for Council Tax purposes could save you a pretty penny, always assuming you have a genuine case and you fill in the relevant forms from the Valuation Office Agency (available free). Still, these pesky facts don’t bother claims company fraudsters who are happy to take your money and run- North-West Scambuster investigations discovered that less than 0.1% of claims submitted by companies claiming they can obtain council tax refunds are legitimate. You just pay high, up-front fees to a company that does no work on your behalf.
Seven Computers Crashing
Sometimes the old ones are still good. The National Scams Hub and trading standards are warning of a simple scam where the victim receives a bogus call from a computer company claiming that they had been alerted by the internet provider to a serious virus attack. The scammers tell the victim the only way the problem can be fixed is to buy a special computer programme. You can guess the rest.
Six Alternative Investments
Targeting the ‘more money than sense’ brigade (and we all know a few of those) these cold-callers offer attractive ways in to a range of exciting investments- diamonds, wine, carbon credits (?!)- but at hugely inflated prices, and with magical disappearing companies. Some cat is getting the cream, but it’s not the hapless investor.
Five Doorbells Ring
December is not the warmest time of year to be knocking on doors, but this time it’s not carol singers ringing your bell. Bad weather is used by rogue traders to convince some residents that they need unnecessary and often substandard home improvements at extortionate prices. Or by unscrupulous
energy companies to pressurise the elderly and vulnerable into signing expensive service contracts.
Four Calling Loans
Christmas (and January) are often times when money is tight,and that’s where loan companies sidle in offering relief. The National Scams Hub says many people have received unsolicited text messages or telephone calls from firms offering them an unsecured loan. Those who accepted were charged large, upfront fees for little or no service.
Three Free Trials
Christmas and New Year is also free trial target time. Whether it’s trying out a one-day delivery service, a film streaming service or a weight loss programme, these companies make their money on the guarantee that people will forget to cancel the trial in time, or worse, require notice of cancellation of almost the same period as the trial itself.
Worse, some scammers hide expensive contracts in amongst the fine print and after customers enter their card details to pay for the post and packaging on a freebie, the nasty people use these hidden contracts to regularly take sums of moneys from the victim’s account.
Two Bogus Charities
While no-one wants to curtail the season of goodwill, the NTSB just want to make sure you are actually giving to charity and not to some clever scammer lining his own pockets. Consumers should be wary of vague statements on packaging such as ‘donations for work creation’ or ‘donations to poor children’ and look for registered charity numbers where you can. Also check things like charity collection bags to make sure they are destined for who you think they are- before you fill them
And a dangerous toy under the tree…
The NTSB want to stress that, while a cheap toy or electrical gadget might seem a bargain, sub-standard foreign imports will not adhere to safety guidelines and have the potential to be dangerous for kill unsuspecting gift recipients. And that will not make a merry Christmas.
NTSB chairman Lord Toby Harris, wearing a red suit and white beard, chortled: “Last year, UK adults spent an average of £592 on Christmas. At a time of year when we know consumers will be parting with hard earned money, it is imperative that they be made aware of current scams. The NTSB encourages all consumers to check the legitimacy of chosen traders before buying gifts or committing to contracts.”
Consumer Minister and part-time elf Jo Swinson advised: “The first thing people should do is follow the old adage – if something sounds too good to be true than it usually is. If something is not quite right or they are being pressured into buying goods or services they don’t need, then they should report this to the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 08454 04 05 06. They can ask trading standards to investigate claims and make sure consumers get a fair deal.”
There’s a lot of concern regarding a company called Alpine Electronics. Not to be confused with the Alpine who make car accessories, but rather, a site people have spotted some bargains that appeared to be too good to be true. And, it appears they were indeed not to be believed.
The company, trading via alpineelectronicsltd.co.uk had offers on cheap consoles. After taking numerous orders, the site is now down and it appears that all orders have gone with it.
BW staff contacted the numbers that were on the site before it went down, and there’s no answer. After finding the address of the company, we called the company next door and found that Alpine Electronics had upped sticks and moved on. The person we spoke to admitted that they’d taken numerous calls regarding this matter.
Looking at scamvoid/alpineelectronicsltd, it seems this was a very new company, which makes it difficult to assume that this is anything but a scam.
Over on HUKD, there’s a lot of discussion about the company, with one user noting too many indescrepencies (see here), and lots of comments about emails going unanswered and phone calls which were vague about the company’s history. Many customers have said that they’ve received fake DHL emails about delivery.
Amazon customers have also been talking about Alpine Electronics, with many feeling they’ve been duped. Some customers have already contacted the police about the matter.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU HAVE AN ALPINE ELECTRONICS ORDER?
To be safe, it is worth getting in touch with your credit/debit card company or call Action Fraud on 0300 1232040. When contacting Action Fraud, be sure to let them know that the company has vacated their premises, which means they won’t instruct you to send a Breach Of Contract letter to Alpine. Your bank should stand the cost of the transaction, but you’ll need to contact them for more details.
Should your bank prove difficult, remind them that you are in fact protected by Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act whenever you make a purchase for goods or services worth between £100 and £30,000 using your credit card. Section 75 states that you and your credit card provider are “jointly and severally liable” for your purchase. That means, if you’re scammed, your card provider must refund you if the retailer won’t.
Most debit card providers offer protection also. A scheme called Chargeback offers protection on purchases made using Visa, Visa Electron, Mastercard and Maestro debit cards. This makes it possible for you to claim a refund if your transaction is unsatisfactory (goods not being delivered, multiple billing, fraud). Claims must be made within 120 days of when your goods should have been delivered and ask your bank to initiate the Chargeback process and a dispute will be opened by your bank.
If Chargeback fails, take your claim to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
It’s hard to imagine it’s possible to scam a supermarket self service machine without something going embarrassingly wrong. Most people can barely manage to scan a tin of beans before the red light goes on and a grumpy supervisor starts fiddling about and cursing the very ground you walk on.
But Nicholas Long, a 25 year old hockey player with debts up to his eyeballs, managed to trick a Sainsbury’s self service machine to read all his shopping as ‘Loose Onions’ and conned the supermarket out of £450. He used the scam 20 times in 3 months at the same branch of Sainsbury’s in central London.
‘It is a straight forward allegation that he went to Sainsbury’s and was seen scanning various items in at the self-service checkout.’ Said Prosecutor Denise Murrin. ‘All items were being scanned as loose onions, but the store does not sell loose onions. It was an inexpensive way of doing his shopping.’
Angus Mathieson, who was defending Long, said he was in debt after his father’s building firm collapsed, and explained: ‘It was a stupid thing he has done. He was not getting a stupid amount, not substituting champagne or anything like that, but just getting an avocado and claiming it was an onion.’
I can’t help feeling a begrudging admiration for him. He’s beaten the system and turned avocados into onions! He’s like JESUS. However, Long won’t be able to show us how to do his underhand scam- he’ll be doing 180 hours community service instead.
Being at Disneyland, standing in an endless queue of idiots overseen by a guy dressed up as Goofy, is often a disability in itself. But able-bodied cheaters are pretending to be with disabled punters to skip the queues and are spoiling the Disney ‘magic’ for everyone.
At the moment, disabled people get priority through a backdoor system which allows them to join shorter queues for rides. But Disneyland and Walt Disney World say that approach has been ’problematic.’
It’s all down to a popular scam which involves disabled tour guides, who are paid to accompany able bodied people so they can get easier access to the rides. The practice is popular with rich, awful families, with the genuinely disabled guides commanding hundreds of dollars for the low down and dirty service. Nobody has turned up with seven disabled dwarves yet, but if the scam continues, it’s only a matter of time.
So from the 9th October, disabled people will have to carry Disney approved disability cards. The card will work like a restaurant reservation, with a shorter wait time and a return time.
However, I’m not convinced that this scheme is the most jazzy Disney-esque solution to the problem. How about issuing a magically extending Pinocchio nose that starts to grow every time a punter cuts in with a paid-for wheelchair companion?
Criminals impersonate an emergency call from your bank, saying that your credit card details have been stolen– and then while you’re flustered, they ask you for your details and nick all your money. And it’s so convincing that one in four adults who received the calls were duped, according to a study by Financial Fraud Action UK.
As well as pretending to be banks, the shysters have also convinced people their computer needs a security upgrade, and have asked for passwords. They carry out ‘work’ while you’re still on the phone, but they’re actually stealing your personal information.
They’ve thought of everything, too. The credit card scam asks victims to tap in their pin on the phone keypad (for privacy), then they record the keytones. Some gangs then have the balls to send a courier round to your house to pick up your compromised credit card ‘for analysis.’ They even fake the caller ID, by coming up as ‘bank’ or ‘credit union.’
You’ve got to admire their evil persistence, eh? DCI Dave Carter, head of the Dedicated Cheque and Plastic Crime Unit warned:
‘Always be wary of cold callers who suggest you hang up the phone and call them back. Remember that it takes two people to terminate a call so try and use a different phone line if you are asked to ring back.’
Manuka honey has become the holy grail for alternative health bores in recent years – and apparently has infinite uses, from curing upset stomachs and treating skin infections to grouting the bathroom.
It comes from bees in New Zealand, and can retail at up to £45 a jar. But if you’re the kind of idiot who is happy to spunk almost fifty quid on something you can put on your toast, be careful what you buy. You could just be getting bog standard honey instead of genuine Manuka.
Producers in NZ say that they make around 1700 tons of Manuka honey a year. BUT, in the UK alone, we get through 1800 a year. Globally, it sells 10,000 tons. You don’t have to be Carol Vorderman to see that doesn’t add up.
John Rawcliffe, from the Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association (Yes, there IS such a thing) said: ‘There is potentially huge fraud. There are higher and ever-increasing volumes of honey being labelled as manuka that are not manuka.’
Despite there being no clinical evidence that Manuka honey does anything other than taste nice, someone is making a sweet profit from honey fraud.
The Food Standards Agency has issued a nationwide alert, asking trading standards departments to BEEware of fakes.
Another day, another scam – except this one is particularly evil. Motorists are being warned about a new insurance scam nicknamed ‘Flash for Cash’, where gangs are flashing their lights to let people out of junctions and then crashing into them on purpose.
Criminals usually target expensive cars, but also – because they’re lovely that way – they’re ploughing into the back of vehicles driven by old people and women with children in the back. As Neil Thomas from the Asset Protection Unit explains, they like to pick on people who won’t fight back.
‘Perhaps single females in the car with children in the back, perhaps doing the school run. Where they know there’s going to be no resistance, no real argument at the scene. The children are going to be upset.’
There’s already an established scam, known as ‘crash for cash’ where the scumbags slam their brakes on (often with tail light bulbs removed), causing innocent motorists to crash into the back of them.
However ‘flash for cash’ is trickier and harder to prove, as it’s a case of the innocent motorist’s word against theirs. Gangs are making thousands per accident through false personal injury claims, loss of earnings and repair claims – and it’s costing insurance companies around £392 million a year.
So, forget goodwill, courtesy and all that crap. If some dodgy-looking geezer flashes their lights you to let you out, ignore them.
Thanks for making the world a better place, criminals.
In a triumph for minimum wage Walter White-esque jet sprayers everywhere, some over privileged woman’s Bentley got a valet car wash and ended up looking like this. Oops.
Jessica Sawyer, from Bramhall, Cheshire, was distraught when the £80,000 Bentley GTC her mum bought for her for her 30th birthday was totalled after she put it into the five star ‘Wash and Shine’ in Cheetham Hill, Manchester.
When she discovered that instead of a nice polish it had been driven through the car wash reception area by a thief, she burst into tears. But the car wash deny responsibility, saying that the guy she gave the keys to didn’t even work there. Police have refused to get involved, saying that it is a civil matter.
Obviously, poor Jessica will be sobbing into her 10,000 thread count Egyptian cotton pillows at this terrible situation – and bemoaning her insurance premiums when the £38 grand worth of damage is fixed.
Sorry, but let’s all take a moment to play the WORLD’S SMALLEST VIOLIN. She gave her keys to some random serf, assuming he was there to shine her 80k car. An 80k car bought as a birthday present, while other people are lucky to get a crumpled tenner and kick up the arse. Now she has a rubbish car like the rest of us.
Seems like a happy ending to me.