This month marks the annual Scam Awareness month in the UK, spearheaded by Trading Standards and The Citizens Advice Bureau under the headline “Don’t be rushed, don’t be hushed”. Most scammers prey on the vulnerable or to our natural curiosity and greed. More often than not confidence tricksters try to move quickly on their victims, acting before their prey have had a chance to realise that they have been duped. The motto of “if it looks too good to be true, it probably is” has never been more relevant today. The Internet brings us all a world of opportunity but it also makes us lower our guard, trusting those we virtually meet online more than we would if we bumped into them on the street. It is far too easy to pretend to be someone you aren’t online and this is why scammer, crooks, thieves, fraudsters and confidence tricksters thrive.
The word scam hasn’t been around for that long. It is thought to have originated in the United States during the 1980s after the FBI’s Operation ABSCAM that targeted high-profile confidence tricksters, and formed the basis of the 2013 Golden Globe winning film American Hustle. But today we all know what a scam is, yet few of us take adequate precautions in our daily lives.
Scams come in many forms, although technology has made it so much easier for the perpetrators to stay hidden in the shadows. Email is still the favoured tool used by fraudsters. Over 200 million emails are sent every 60 seconds, with Spam emails still being a prevalent as they were a few years ago. Whilst many people will spot a scam email a mile off, some people are fooled. Lottery scams and other mass market frauds cost UK consumers over £3.5bn a year, with one particular scam, according to the Citizens Advice Bureau netting an estimated £500,000 in just one day with over 22,000 people responding to a phishing email. The cost of carrying out that particular scam is likely to have been less than a pound. To put that into further context, The National Lottery donates around £33m per week to their good causes, meaning that the amount consumers were defrauded out of last year was TWICE the amount that the actual lottery were able to donate to charitable and good causes. This is why scam awareness month is so important.
Many global brands realise that educating customers is one of the most important steps they can take to reduce the risk of scams. By publishing details of what to look for, how they can check if an item is genuine and more importantly, giving them a mechanism to report scams, brands aim to turn advocates into their own private detectives. That shouldn’t be the only approach they take – monitoring the Internet for infringements is a sensible step as well as getting a feel of what activity is taking place on the new battleground for brands, social media. If every organisation took some accountability to educate their customers then the volume of illegal activity would be reduced.