There are many types of fraud and people of all ages from all backgrounds can be targeted by scammers with new methods of obtaining money or stealing your personal details. Fraudsters prey on victims’ hopes and fears – you may be targeted while looking for romance, needing a loan or a job, hiring workmen, shopping on-line, buying a car, or investing in a pension, etc. A fraudulent scheme can not only cost you money but can also rob you of your identity and credit worthiness.
Fraud can be defined as:
“A false representation of a matter of fact whether by words or by conduct, by false or misleading allegations, or by concealment of what should have been disclosed—that deceives and is intended to deceive another so that the individual will act upon it to her or his legal injury”.
Fraud is a deliberate act of deception intended for personal gain or to cause a loss to another party. (Article 1 of the Convention on the protection of the European Communities’ financial interests, 1995)
More than half (56%) of Europeans […] experienced at least one […] type of fraud/scams in the last two years. – ‘Monetary fraud’ was most frequently encountered, followed by ‘identity theft’ and ‘buying scams’.
Financial fraud takes several forms: you may receive an email from ‘a friend’ who’s stuck in another country and needs help; you may receive a telephone call from ‘your bank’ asking for your account details; you may be ‘offered’ the opportunity to invest in a pension scheme; you may receive a letter saying you’ve won a ‘fabulous prize’; ‘a representative’ may ring your doorbell collecting money or clothes or food for a charity, etc.
If you receive unsolicited (e)mails, phone calls, home visits, you should leave the letters unanswered, hang up the phone, or close your front door on the unwanted visitor. If you feel uncomfortable about the email, phone call or visitor you should contact the police or your local victim support organisation.
Identity theft crime involves taking a victim’s personal details: name, address, social security number, bank details etc. from documents thrown into the trash or found in stolen wallets, or from information shared on the internet, or by using a credit card to pay for shopping. The stolen details may create a new identity for the thief, allowing them to open bank accounts, obtain loans, use your credit card, order goods, take over bank or phone accounts, obtain a passport or driving license, etc. If your identity has been compromised, you should contact your bank, credit card company, and the police as soon as possible.
You can be a victim of scammers selling counterfeit or illegal goods or using fake online websites or social media pages to sell non-existent products. Scammers will nearly always require you to pay by money order or wire transfer rather than by credit card via a secure payment portal. If you become a victim of an online shopping scam, contact your bank to protect your account and credit card. You should also contact the police to report the scam.
Victims’ rights in the EU are established under The Victim’s Rights Directive. The European Consumer Centers Network provides help and advice for consumers in Europe as well as information on the rights of cross-border shoppers. The enforcement of intellectual property rights deals with counterfeit goods and intellectual property rights.
Directive 2019/713 updates the EU response to ‘non-cash means of payments using new technologies’ that benefit not only businesses and consumers but also criminals and are part of the EU’s efforts to enhance cybersecurity. The directive defines the areas of fraud and counterfeiting of online payments and extends criminal liability to virtual currencies and digital wallets. It makes clear that any involvement in the following activities is punishable as a criminal offence:
- Fraudulent use of non-cash payment instruments;
- Offences related to the fraudulent use of non-cash payment instruments;
- Offences related to fraudulent use of non-cash payment instruments;
- Fraud related to information systems;
- Tools used to commit offences.
The Directive provides guidelines for penalties and depending on the offence, jail terms can be one to three years, or more if a crime is committed by a criminal organisation. Member States must apply the Directive’s conditions by 31 May 2021.
So, what can you do to combat this ever-increasing threat? Europol suggest the following ‘common sense’ tips to help you stay safe:
- Beware of cheap travel offers.
- Keep your debit/credit cards safe. Don’t make a note of your Pin codes or passwords.
- Consider all personal information requests as suspicious.
- Protect your PC, laptop, tablet and smartphone with strong passwords and security programs such as antivirus/anti-spyware.
- Protect your mobile devices when using WI-FI in public places – you could give away personal details by mistake.
- Only buy from trusted sources. On the internet, make sure the Internet security protocol called 3D Secure -Verified by Visa/SecureCode/SafeKey is in use.
- Check your credit card statements – saving your card receipts will help check your purchases.
- Use HTTPS and SSL protocols when browsing over the internet, look for the padlock symbol on the URL bar.
- Never respond to ‘phishing’ emails asking for personal details nor to unsolicited proposals offering you easy money.
- Only download files or software from trusted sources.
The videos below show how to protect yourself against online fraud: https://www.facebook.com/C5News/videos/1604731056218033/ and https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=8&v=sq-0tjv4_BA&feature=emb_logo
While fraud today is often online, scammers still try to defraud victims face to face. Doorstep scammers include rogue traders (who claim you need work done to your property then either take your money after doing a poor job or don’t carry out the repairs), people with hard luck stories (who claim to need access to a phone, or a glass of water, look for a lost dog etc. then steal from you after entering your house), or bogus officials (claiming to ‘read the gas meter’ or ask survey questions then either steal personal details or physical property). Such scammers often target the elderly or housebound as they are vulnerable and may live alone.
- Be on your guard: if someone turns up at your door uninvited – be suspicious, don’t let them in.
- Put up a sign: place a sign in the window saying that uninvited callers are not welcome.
- Keep your home secure: don’t let strangers into your home and keep your doors locked. Ask to see callers’ ID cards, call the company to verify ID is genuine – look up the phone number yourself. If you have any doubts, don’t let them in, tell them to come back later (when you can have a friend or relative with you).
- Set up a utilities’ password: you can set up a password with your gas and electricity providers to ensure callers (such as meter readers) are genuine – only genuine callers will be aware of your password.
- Nominate a neighbour: before letting a stranger into your house, give your neighbour a call and ask them to pop round. A genuine caller will return at a prearranged time when you’re can have someone with you.
- Consider smart security devices: smart doorbells incorporate a camera and you can to speak to a caller without opening the door; some can also send a message to a relative to tell them you have a visitor.
- Take a photo: if you’re suspicious, ask the caller if you can take their photo on your mobile phone. Then send it to a close friend or relative. If the caller is genuine, they probably won’t mind.
- Call the police: if a caller refuses to leave, phone 112. If you are suspicious, but not in immediate danger, call your local police non-emergency number.
If you’ve been a victim of fraud or of a scam, protect your personal details and your bank/credit card information from further risks and see whether or not you can get your money back. The steps you need to take will depend on the fraud that has been perpetrated.
If the scammer contacts you directly: ignore the mail, phone call, message but keep a record of the contact so you can report it.
If the scammer has had access to your computer: you will need to reset your passwords, contact your bank to tell them your financial information may be stolen, you should update your antivirus software, and you may need to contact an IT specialist.
If you have transferred money to the scammer: contact the police.
If you think your bank account details or PIN have been stolen: contact your bank immediately, keep an eye on your credit card statements and your credit score.
In all instances, you should report the scam to the authorities and contact local services for emotional support.
Many victims of fraud are afraid to make a report they have been scammed as they feel embarrassed and think the police will not take them seriously, or that prosecution is unlikely. However, it is important to report fraud or a scam, to ensure this crime is made a police priority.
Make a note of:
- Who you’ve been in contact with – including names, telephone numbers, addresses, if you have them
- Why you’re suspicious
- What personal or bank details you’ve shared
- Whether you’ve paid any money or had money taken from you
- How you’ve paid – by credit card, bank transfer etc.
You should report the scam to your regional fraud center, or European Consumer Center, or cybersecurity center as well as to the police. If you are a victim of online fraud, visit Europol’s website to discover how to report the crime online in your country, this will vary from one country to another. If you cannot make a report on line, go to your local police station to make a report.
Being a victim of fraud is an emotional experience, you will be stressed and worried especially if you have lost money or personal details that may affect your future credit score. Victim support services offer free, confidential advice and support to fraud victims.
If you’ve been affected by fraud, there are a number of ways you can contact support services to get assistance or information.
- Get support locally from your nearest Victim Support team.
- Contact the Consumer Centers Network.
- Report Cybercrime online.
- Call the 116 006 telephone number for helplines for victim support. Available in Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden.
The 116 006 number provides information on victims’ rights, offers emotional support, and refers you to appropriate support organisations. As a single access point, it provides information about local police and criminal justice proceedings, compensation and insurance matters, and other sources of help for victims of crime.