Scams Awareness — reporting scams and reducing stigma

July is Scams Awareness Month (SAM) and this year the key aims are to increase reporting and reduce the stigmatisation of victims. Melanie McGinn explains why reporting scams is so important and how consumers can protect themselves against scams


Advisers working with scam victims and their family members will nearly always mention the embarrassment and confusion felt by those who fall for scams. These feelings often stop people from reporting incidents, with estimates suggesting that as few as 5–15% of scams are reported. Part of the SAM campaign’s aim this year is to reduce the stigma around scams and encourage people to work together to stop them. Reporting scams can provide those working in consumer protection with vital intelligence that can be used to prevent others from falling victim.

Citizens Advice has been working with partners from the Consumer Protection Partnership to agree themes and create resources for advisers, who can register their participation in SAM by adding themselves to the ‘partner map’. These resources enable consumer organisations to work with local partners to raise awareness of specific scams targeting certain demographics. Raising awareness of scams and tackling the associated stigma are essential to reducing the negative impact, but it is also important that consumers know who to report scams to and how to report them.

How should consumers report a scam?
If an adviser is concerned that a client they are working with is trying to scam them, or that they have been a victim of a scam, there are a number of ways to get help or advice. Knowing which organisation is the best to contact in a particular situation can speed up access to help. Some of the key organisations to report scams to are:

Financial providers —if a scam is connected to the consumer’s debit cards, online banking, cheques or if bank details have been given out, the first step should be to contact the bank or credit card company. This can equally apply to insurance companies or pension providers. Remember, do not use links or numbers given by potentially fraudulent emails or callers. Many financial providers are now also engaging with enforcement bodies, such as Trading Standards (TS) to develop better understanding of scam victims and how to help their customers.

Citizens Advice consumer service— this is a telephone and online service that enables people to report incidents and get advice if they are concerned about a potential scam. The service works very closely, and shares intelligence, with TS. Intelligence reports are sent to local TS offices to act on, depending on the level of intervention required and local priorities.

Action Fraud (AF)— this is the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and internet crime. It is important for consumers to report to AF so that intelligence can be gathered to create a national picture of scams and fraud for the enforcement organisations. However, advisers and consumers should be aware that they will not get advice or feedback from AF as it is a reporting body only.

What can consumers do to prevent scams?
There is a wealth of information available on ways to protect against scams, such as online advice, TV shows, news articles and campaigns like SAM. Wherever possible, consumers should take the time to learn about criminals’ techniques in order to recognise potential scams. Here are some steps they can take to get informed and stay a step ahead of the scammers.

Get advice from Take Five to Stop Fraud— this is a national campaign that offers straight-forward and impartial advice to help everyone protect themselves from preventable financial fraud. This covers email deception and phone-based scams as well as online fraud, particularly where criminals impersonate trusted organisations. Led by Financial Fraud Action UK Ltd (FFA UK), it is being delivered with and through a range of partners in the UK payments industry, financial services firms, law enforcement agencies, telecommunication providers, commercial-, public- and third-sector organisations.

Screen calls there are a number of ways consumers can reduce the amount of nuisance and potential scam calls. Some of these are free, but others may incur a cost, so remember to check with the provider. The Telephone Preference Service (TPS) will block certain calls from a telephone line. Consumers can register with the TPS for free and should see a significant reduction in calls. Once registered, if consumers receive any cold calls they can be reported to the TPS.

Call blocker devices can also be installed in the home to screen calls. They can be a great source of stress relief as the consumer will only receive calls they have agreed to. Consumer association Which? has conducted a detailed analysis of different call blockers so that consumers can decide which device would be more suitable for their needs. Some phone companies may offer the same facility via a telephone line, but consumers will need to establish whether there is a cost and what is included in the service.

Postal scams — the Mail Preference Service (MPS) is a free service that consumers can use to reduce the amount of unsolicited mail they receive. Potential scam mail can also be reported to Royal Mail directly and consumers can sign up to their ‘Door to Door’ opt out programme, which means Royal Mail will not deliver unaddressed post.

The National Trading Standards Scams Team (NTSST) has been operating since 2012 targeting scam mail and working with victims of scammers. The team launched an initiative with Royal Mail and Trading Standards Scotland to create a new process for cancelling the contracts of companies that send fraudulent mail. So far, over 6,000 items of mail have been returned as part of the operation in the UK and more than £186,985 has been returned to victims. In addition to their proactive enforcement work, the NTSST has set up the Friends Against Scams initiative that aims to protect people and prevent them from becoming victims of scams by empowering communities to take a stand against scams. The project provides online training and face-to-face sessions for anyone wanting to develop a better awareness of scams, how to spot them, how to help others avoid being scammed and where to get help.

This list of support organisations is not comprehensive, but it shows the level of activity around protecting consumers from scams.

Advisers can encourage clients to report scams through these mechanisms and in some cases, with permission from the client, can report the scam on their behalf. Scams Awareness Month will be encouraging as many people as possible to learn how to recognise and deal with scams. As well as the campaign resources, there are also self-help materials available through many of the scam prevention organisations’ websites, that can be used with the client throughout the year.

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