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How to avoid scams and spot a fraudster

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Avoid scams and spot fraud: online and on the phone

Are you worried about being defrauded by phone or email? This expert advice will give you the courage to challenge the con artists

Dr Paul Seager, a psychology lecturer and expert in lie detection, has worked with Santander to create their Scam Avoidance School. He shares his advice on staying safe online and on the phone.

Hardly a day goes by without the press describing a victim of an online scam or the target of telephone investment fraud. You might feel that everyone is out to get you, and that it’s not safe to open an email or answer the telephone. However, by understanding the psychology behind such scams, you can protect yourself.

Avoiding telephone scams

Don’t be scared to answer the phone, but equally don’t be afraid to hang up on a caller if you don’t know who they are. You may think that doing so is rude, and we don’t like to have a negative view of ourselves as this may dent our self-esteem, but by reframing these thoughts and thinking about them positively you’ll see you’re not being rude, you’re being security-conscious.

Nevertheless, some fraudsters are skilled at keeping you talking, and not giving you time to think about hanging up. They employ psychological techniques to get you to do what they want. One such example is the norm of reciprocity – they appear to do you a favour (eg “I’m calling to help you to…”) because you will then feel obliged to do something for them, like give out personal information.

Another technique used is the principle of liking – we tend to comply with requests from people who we like or who are similar to us. If a caller tries to make it sound as if they are just like you (“Yes, I use internet banking, too”), be wary. Fraudsters will use these techniques, which when combined have the power to influence people to take unwise actions. Being aware of these ploys makes you less likely to fall for them.

Avoid scams and spot fraud: stay safe online

Avoiding email scams

What about the abundance of emails you receive – how can you sort the genuine from the fake? If you don’t feel able to delete any unexpected emails that you receive, a simple tip would be to study the language used in the email. By doing this, you are not making any rash, rapid decisions: many scam emails succeed by getting us to click on links without thinking about it.

Secondly, by spotting anomalies in the language, you can identify fraudulent emails for what they are – for example, any message that starts along the lines of ‘Dear Friend/Valued Customer/Client’ or anything else that is not specifically your name should be viewed with suspicion, as should any email that is unsolicited or unexpected.

Additionally, any email that contains spelling mistakes or is poorly written is unlikely to come from a legitimate organisation. The more of these signs an email contains, the more likely you should delete it immediately.

My advice to help you protect yourself from scammers and fraudsters is simple: when in doubt, hang up or hit delete.

Santander is running a Scam Avoidance School for over-sixties, with an online tutorial. Visit the website for more details.

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