Warning of con artists using cost-of-living crisis to target vulnerable

Nottingham residents have been urged to be on their guard against scams related to the current cost-of-living crisis.

The warning has come from Nottingham City Council’s Trading Standards Service as part of Scams Awareness Fortnight, which started today (Monday) and is led by Citizens Advice.

Con artists seek to exploit victims’ vulnerability and there is often a corresponding increase in scams during national times of difficulty. This was seen during the Covid pandemic and again more recently with sharply rising food and energy prices.

Since the beginning of the current cost-of-living crisis, Trading Standards officers have already seen examples of scammers:  

  • Offering fake government rebates and tax discounts;
  • Selling used products, like phones and laptops, on online marketplaces and failing to deliver;
  • Operating fake ‘get-rich-quick’ investment schemes, with false promises of quick returns.

Scams can affect everyone but there are some simple steps that people can take to help themselves, their family, friends and neighbours:

  • Don’t be rushed into making quick decisions;
  • Never give money or personal details, like passwords or bank details, to anyone you don’t know, trust or have only met online;
  • Before you buy anything, check the company or website you’re using. Read reviews from different websites and take a look at their terms and conditions;
  • Pay by debit or credit card. This gives you extra protection if things go wrong;
  • Be suspicious. Scammers can appear like a trusted business or government official, have a professional website and say all the right things. Take your time to work out if this is a real organisation. Ask them for ID or contact the organisation on a number you know and trust;
  • Don’t click on, or download, anything you’re not sure about and make sure your anti-virus software is up to date;
  • Keep your online accounts secure:
  • Use a strong password for email accounts that you don’t use anywhere else. Choosing three random words is a good way to create a strong and easy to remember password. You can also add in numbers and symbols. If you’re worried about remembering lots of different passwords, you can use a password manager;
  • Some websites let you add a second step when you log in to your account, known as ‘two-factor authentication’. This makes it harder for scammers to access your accounts.

Neghat Khan, Portfolio Holder for Neighbourhoods, Safety and Inclusion at Nottingham City Council, said: “We know how hard things are at the moment. We’ve emerged from a global pandemic and straight into a cost-of-living crisis, which is affecting so many.

“The sad truth is that there are some despicable people who will deliberately use periods of uncertainty like this to con others out of their money and possessions.

“Our officers support many residents every year who have unfortunately fallen victim to scams, as well as trying to promote wider safety messages to the public. The aim is to stop people becoming victims in the first place, but we will also be there to help anyone who has been affected. The key thing is for people to talk to others if they think someone is trying to con them.

“What makes this such a distressing crime is that the elderly and vulnerable are deliberately targeted because scammers know they have a greater chance of success.

“We hear stories about victims in Nottingham who have been tricked out of very substantial sums of money – sometimes life savings. It is a constant battle, but we will continue to stand up for and protect people in any way we can.”    

General advice is available from the Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 0808 223 1133 or at https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer/. If someone believes they have been scammed, they should contact their bank and Action Fraud as soon as possible to protect against further exposure.

Many victims are reluctant to talk to friends and family out of embarrassment or shame at being scammed. However, it’s really important to speak out to raise awareness and help ensure that others aren’t tricked in the same way.

Learn how to spread the message by becoming a Friend Against Scams at https://www.friendsagainstscams.org.uk/training/friends-elearning. To date, nearly one million people have completed the short online session so far and are turning their knowledge into action.

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