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How Scams Have Changed – And What You Can Do To Protect Yourself

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Online scams have changed from badly written emails to sophisticated and clever messages designed to catch you off guard – here are some of the tricks to look out for.

The psychology of scams has certainly developed over the past decade, with modern-day fraudsters using clever but manipulative tactics to exploit our human nature.

Falling for a badly worded email promising a share of a Nigerian royal’s inheritance is generally a thing of the past, thanks to improved spam filters and better public awareness. What scammers are targeting now are the social media and messaging platforms that have become part of our everyday lives.

With more than £1.2 billion stolen from UK consumers in 2022, Facebook, Instagram, dating apps such as Tinder, Hinge and Plenty of Fish, as well as WhatsApp, Snapchat and TikTok, are the go-to hangouts for online fraudsters. Thanks to rapidly evolving AI, the prevalence of highly sophisticated, faked voice messages is on the rise too. These modern-day scams take advantage of our busy lives, create a sense of urgency or panic, and ruthlessly steal our personal information or hard-earned money.

Scam victims often talk about feeling embarrassed and angry afterwards, not happy that someone was playing with their emotions or caught them ‘on the hop’. Distracted by work, illness, bereavement or other life events, it’s easy to see why people fall victim to a WhatsApp or text scam. One such example is the ‘Dear Mum/Dad’ scam.

You get a text message from an unknown number – it’s your son or daughter saying they’ve broken their phone, are messaging from a friend’s phone and need money to buy a new one. They say they’ve been locked out of their bank account, too, as they can’t complete the security checks without their phone, so can you please send the money to this different account instead? Most parents would rush to help their children without question. But the message has been sent by a scammer and they are trying to get you to transfer money quickly via online or telephone banking before you even suspect that a fraud has taken place.

This is a type of Authorised Push Payment (APP) Fraud, where victims are tricked into sending money for what they believe to be a genuine reason, for example, to buy a product, pay a trusted person, or make an investment – in this case, they are transferring money to someone they believe to be a family member.

We have never before received so many spam text messages, emails and WhatsApp messages, so it is not surprising that fraud is the most commonly experienced crime in the UK.

Criminals are setting up overseas call centres to manage sending millions of messages on a daily basis – the messages often come with a number to call to sort out a ‘problem’, such as failed delivery of a parcel or the suspension of an Amazon Prime or Apple Pay account. While many mobile phones now warn you that they believe the messages are spam, or you may have never owned an Apple product, if the scammers send out enough often automated messages, eventually they are going to land in the inbox of someone who is actually waiting for a parcel or does indeed have an Amazon Prime account.

Once a person clicks on the link or phone number in the message, they’re put straight through to the scammers. Using clever social engineering techniques, the scammer preys on distracted or vulnerable people and uses persuasion to gather personal information or bank details, or even to get them to transfer money.

Not everyone will fall for a text scam – your 13-year-old son or grandson might also be sent the same ‘Hi Mum’ scam message, but clearly won’t fall for it! – but as mobile phone companies work harder to filter out these messages, the scammers always need to be a step ahead.

More recently, there have been a number of reports of ‘voice cloning’ scams, where artificial intelligence (AI) has been used to mimic real voices, including one case where a mother received a phone call from her distressed ‘daughter’, claiming she had been kidnapped. A ransom was demanded, but the daughter was contacted separately and found to be safe and well, and the deepfake scam was uncovered by police before any money was handed over.

As we increasingly live our lives online, posting videos and photos to social media platforms, scammers have the means to steal audio files containing our voice, upload them to an AI ‘text to speech’ or ‘speech to speech’ tool, and let the computer algorithm do the rest. Many of these online tools boast the fact that they can ‘clone your voice’ – concerning when in the wrong hands.

Receiving a telephone call from a voice that you recognise would not immediately raise any red flags, but if the person was in distress, claiming to be in trouble, it’s natural you would panic. These sophisticated scams are another example of how fraudsters take advantage of our human nature.

Sabrina Gross, a fraud investigator and biometrics specialist, advises that people should:

  • Establish ground rules – if you or someone in your family receives a distress call, agree to hang up and call them back immediately.
  • Create a safe word that only your family knows, which will be used in times of genuine danger.

More generally, we need to be aware of what the next scam will be. During the COVID-19 pandemic, there were text message scams advising us we had been in close contact with someone who had recently tested positive. These included a website address where we could order a PCR test – but were actually ‘phishing’ scams designed to collect personal details.

Hester Abrams, from Stop Scams UK, says that “if it’s in the news, it’s going to be a scam”. Be it the cost-of-living crisis, the war in Ukraine or the Israel/Gaza conflict, these all create opportunities for fraudsters to invent the next scam.

Sarah Spruce, Head of Professional Negligence at TLW Solicitors, says:

“The Government is understandably keen to clamp down on fraud which, according to one recent publication, accounts for 40% of crime but receives only 1% of police resources. A new National Fraud Squad is being set up, with over 400 new investigators.

Action Fraud, the fraud and cyber reporting service, will be taken over by Capita, who will run the contact centre and provide new fraud reporting tools.

In addition, the Government also wants the financial industry and technology companies to do more to stop criminals. The Online Safety Bill is welcome, but these new measures will take time to implement, and the scammers will respond by continuing to develop their tactics and use clever psychology to take advantage of innocent people.”

If you have lost money to Push Payment Fraud, the first thing to do is contact your bank and the police. They will conduct an investigation and see if any of the money can be recovered. Report any scam texts or calls to 7726, a free UK service available to most mobile customers. 7726 spells SPAM on an alphanumeric keypad.

If a police or bank investigation is unsuccessful, or you do not think the bank handled your complaint appropriately, it is possible to take a claim to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS), an independent Government-backed organisation that settles disputes between financial businesses and their customers. TLW Solicitors can help guide you through this process; our experienced team knows the claims and appeals channels inside out, as well as the time limits involved, and the legal and banking jargon often used.

If you have been the victim of an online Authorised Push Payment (APP) scam and lost money as a result, contact us for a free, no obligation discussion. We understand you may feel embarrassed and might not have told friends or family about what has happened, so we always act in the strictest confidence.

We work on a ‘no-win, no-fee’ basis, meaning that if the case is unsuccessful, we will not charge for the time we have spent on it.

Call us on 0800 169 5925, email info@tlwsolicitors.co.uk or fill out one of the forms below.

It is important to get advice as soon as possible, as strict time limits can apply.
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Meet Our Team

Meet Sarah, who heads up our experienced Authorised Push Payment Fraud Claims team.

Sarah and her colleagues are on hand to help with your claim.