Attempted fraudulent activity on the rise

Stuart Wilson

March 31, 2021

stuart wilson air group

Stuart Wilson is chief executive at Air Group

I’m reticent about using my own personal experience to extrapolate out into the wider world, but on this occasion – especially having read the Work & Pensions Treasury Select Committee’s concerns on pension scams in the weekend papers – I think it is worth highlighting, particularly to advisers who are more likely to work with older/retired/vulnerable customers, as we do in the later life space.

Whether this is because of the pandemic and COVID-19 I don’t know, but it seems undeniable to me that there has been a significant increase in the amount of attempted fraudulent activity, and it is tending to use mobile phone calls and messaging even more so than it has done in the past.

Interestingly, I don’t think there will be anyone in the land who doesn’t have some sort of junk/spam settings on their email, and I would probably suggest that the far greater software we all have on our computers and devices, has a lot to do with a decreased tendency to ‘activate’ any fraudulent emails that are sent.

I’m willing to be schooled in this area, but from my perspective, the level of protection I have on my mobile phone appears to be far less than that which is on my emails, for example, and that seems to be why more and more criminals and fraudsters are targeting this area.

Just over the last day or so, I’ve had messages and calls from criminals purporting to be ‘HMRC’ talking about a tax rebate, from ‘banks’ asking me to authorise payments and from the ‘Royal Mail’ asking me to pay for postage which has been undercharged.

And, somewhat worryingly when these are calls they are appearing on my phone as UK-based numbers, when the reality is they are being made by call centres overseas who are working on an industrial scale targeting this country.

There’s no doubting these are organised operations and I suspect large numbers of people will recognise them for what they are, delete or hang up, and hopefully block any numbers so they stop getting these communications.

But, the likelihood is, that these scams continue to be perpetrated because they work, and they don’t have to work too many times in order to generate a significant amount of money.

If you get a chance search for #royalmail scam or #safeaccountscam on Twitter and you’ll see how these work, but if you also read a post from Emmeline Hartley you can see how devastating this can be – even for someone in their twenties.

She moved all her savings to what she thought was a ‘safe account’ and needless to say it has not ended well.

Now, I’m fully aware that anyone can be a victim here, but as mentioned above, if these calls and messages are being made to everyone, then vulnerable people in particular are more likely to taken in, as are those who might not be as au fait with the technology and are perhaps likely to be more trusting.

There is clearly a role for advisers here, even if it’s just to send out an email or two to all clients outlining what is happening, the risks and what they should do.

Imagine someone who has just released a significant amount of equity from their home, which they have in their savings account, being caught out by this type of fraud. It would be utterly devastating.

However, we also need action from our regulator. There is a huge focus on vulnerable customers at the moment, and rightly so, but these current threats predominantly from overseas are very high and need to be addressed.

The opportunity for massive losses for individuals in our advisory customer base is huge, and even if there is simply a much bigger focus on educating consumers about these threats, that would be a big start.

It’s up to all of us to make this effort, but it should perhaps be led centrally by our regulator, and should offer all regulated firms the communications which we can then send out, and detail to our clients, to make sure they are not the ones being caught.

This threat is not going to go away and we need the FCA to lead the way in tackling it.

Sign up to our daily email