My text message from a scammer?
Tony Levene has received an alarming text message. Was it from a scammer?
Ding, dong – or whatever noise my phone makes when a text message arrives.
Although I didn't recognise the number 07909 529509 - not everyone I know is in my contacts' list - I opened it to find the following:
“You may be entitled to 3,750 pounds for the Accident you had.
To claim for free reply with YES to this msg.
To opt out text STOP.”
Leaving aside grammar and punctuation difficulties, this immediately raised several questions.
- Who sent it? There was no name and the mobile number was unrecognisable (or checkable)
- How could the unknown sender know I had suffered an accident? The fact is that I have not had an accident recently. My last mishap was many years ago and as it was entirely my fault, so even if I had thought of claiming for negligence (I could not) there was no way a court would have awarded me anything.
- Even, however, if I had had a mishap where someone else had been negligent and hence I could have claimed in a court, how could the sender know it was worth £3,750? It's such an odd sum. Any recompense might be more or less but it is highly unlikely to have been £3,750.
- What will happen if I reply YES? Would I end up receiving a endless wave of porn pix at £5 a throw or be connected to some £10 a minute overseas call centre? I did not know who sent this so why should I have any confidence in a response?
- Why should I spend money on a text to say STOP to an unsolicited message? And if I did, would this unleash the same payment problems as if I had texted YES? I remember the computer scam a few years ago where people found they had been connected to a 50p a minute line in some South Pacific island for hours on end.
So I closed the text, without either a YES or a STOP. But despite ignoring the message, an hour or so later, my phone rang with a Manchester number on display.
I called back to hear a recorded message saying: ““This is HYC. Press one and we'll connect you to the first available adviser.”
My suspicion is that there is a way of knowing which phones have been used to read the text. As with spam emails, I’m guessing even opening a spam text sends a signal. If any lovemoney.com readers can shed any further insight on whether this is the case, it would be great if you could comment below.
The text gets your attention
HYC turns out to be “Help Your Claim Ltd” - a firm which, to quote its website, is, “based in the Financial Capital of the North, Manchester Spinningfields, we are a regulated claims management company, specialising in financial claims against mis-sold Payment Protection Insurance.
We are experts in making compensation claims for mis-sold payment protection insurance and unfair credit card charges. Our staff have many years of experience in dealing with financial claims so you can be sure your claim is in safe hands.”
Set up in April 2009, HYC has one director – Peter Anwar, aged 30, who is also a director of The Financial Rights Centre and Help your Debt. The Financial Rights Centre was set up on October 27 this year while Help Your Debt dates back to March 3, 2010. The Office of Fair Trading has criticised use by claims and debt management companies of titles which might imply a free service or one connected to a good cause.
Its website does not mention accident claims although this does not mean it will not handle lawsuits from mishaps. But, accident or not, it has your attention for a potential financial claim.
And clearly, it is effective at sucking people in, at least some of the time. I know this because the exact same text message has been sent to me recently from other companies, all claims management firms.
Waste of time and money
Insurance insiders tell me that this message alone could be responsible for one in nine of all claims. In some cases, a mobile company's entire customer base has been texted.
Insurers say the costs of dealing with claims – some turn out to be groundless and some fraudulent - has pushed up the cost of cover, especially for motor insurance.
Earlier this year, Mark Brill, chair of the Direct Marketing Association’s mobile council said: “If it [the receiving phone] is a personal account, then people they contacted should have directly opted-in or, at the very least, a soft-opt in as a result of an enquiry, or previous purchase. The company should also identify themselves in this kind of communication.”
In my case, Brill's advice was ignored.
A sharp practice
If you respond to this text, it’s likely that your time will be wasted. But it affects even those people who do not respond. You may find yourself worrying over who the sender is, how they got your number, and how they can be so sure you have had an accident. And if you really have had an accident (or have a loved one injured), you may find this an unwarranted intrusion into your life.
It’s a sharp practice and yet Help Your Claim is not doing anything illegal, and is in fact authorised by the Ministry of Justice. But authorisation only requires meeting minimum and minimal standards and is not, according to the Ministry, a “recommendation or endorsement”. Sending out pest texts is not specifically banned by the Ministry – although you might think it should be.
Have you ever received a text like this? Please share your experiences using the comments box below.
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Award-winning scams expert Tony Levene explains why he's writing a blog about scams and why he is The Scam Magnet!