For decades I’ve been reading about human behaviour and its importance in building wealth. But a crucial part of building wealth is keeping hold of it. In addition to minimising poor investment decisions (we all make them) we also need to be smarter than the scores of behavioural psychologists (called scammers) who are using every trick in the book to part you from your money.
I’ve been studying scammers and how they operate since losing several hundred pounds in a boiler room scam nearly 30 years ago. But I’ve got a confession, despite being “scam aware” I’ve just been scammed again. My loss this time is a modest £1.50 but it appears that was merely the entrance fee to bigger, more sophisticated scam.
I’d been expecting delivery of several online purchases, so when I received a text purportedly from Royal Mail saying “Simon was unable to deliver your parcel today because no one was home, please pay a £1.50 redelivery charge” it seemed genuine.
I was annoyed at the missed delivery because I’d made sure there was someone home, and my annoyance meant I wasn’t thinking straight. Furthermore, some of my packages were urgent, so it was important to quickly rearrange delivery. I clicked the link, paid the redelivery charge and thought no more about it.
About a week later I received a call from Steve at my bank checking on some suspicious transactions on my account. He named the bank he was calling from and the telephone number that flashed up on my mobile phone was known to me. “Do you recall making a payment to Royal Mail for £1.50” he asked? I said yes and immediately recalled my annoyance at the missed delivery.
“It was a scam” said Steve, as he carefully explained that Royal Mail don’t charge for redeliveries, and how I needed to be alert to scams in text messages. Steve was obviously there to help me. He then asked whether I recognised any other suspicious activity, such as attempted payments to several other banks. I later surmised he was fishing for accounts I might have elsewhere.
Having gained my trust Steve moved to the next phase of the scam, gaining access to my bank account. He was concerned my account could have been compromised, and to protect me from future fraud he wanted to verify a few more details including the approximate balance on my account. That was when my fraud antenna started twitching.
I said I was beginning to feel uncomfortable about the direction the call was going, and I would hang up and call my bank before giving that information. “Don’t do that” he said and asked me to go online to verify the number he was calling from. He was desperate for me to stay on the line, and if I called my bank the ruse would be up. I put the phone down and using a different phone I called my bank.
No-one at my bank had called me, and they also said they never display caller ID as it’s possible to spoof phone numbers, so they appear to be genuine. Important information that isn’t commonly known. As a precaution they replaced the bank card I had used for the original £1.50 delivery charge. This was how the scammers had identified where I banked, which allowed Steve to pass himself off as a bank employee.
Scammers are pulling these tricks all day every day, and they just need to find someone who is distracted enough to give them access to their bank account for them to be successful. I was surprised at how easily they had managed to get through my initial defences.
Scam awareness websites like Crimestoppers, Age UK, Citizens Advice and Action Fraud are great at giving you advice on how to avoid the traps and what to do if you are a victim of this type of fraud.