Fraudsters are getting cleverer. They have to, because their victims are getting wiser and better at spotting criminal scams.
Unfortunately, that means that the scams and frauds they perpetrate are becoming more sophisticated and convincing almost by the month.
Being aware of the potential for scams is one important way to steer clear of them.
So NatWest has worked with research agency The Future Laboratory to analyse data from the last 18 months and pinpoint eight scams and frauds they predict could become a real problem this year.
Julie McArdle, NatWest’s security manager, says: “Financial fraud is now the most common crime in the UK... Scammers are dogged in their attempts to get their hands on people’s money and are always looking for new ways to get ahead. This means banks and customers need to evolve alongside scammers too.
“By being aware and staying ahead of scammers, we can stop them winning and keep the country’s money safe and secure.”
Here are the potential scams you need to be aware of.
Social media spying
This has been a gradually unfurling trend in fraud but it’s likely to grow even more this year.
The analysis suggests that fraudsters are increasingly targeting people in a very personalised way, and as people share so much information about their lives it can be easy to use it against them.
For example, a criminal might see that someone is planning to move house and know that they will very likely be making a large payment soon. Therefore they can target that individual, impersonate their solicitor and divert the money to their own accounts.
The more you share, the more fraudsters potentially have to work with. Be careful about what you share and ensure your profile is kept private so only your friends can see.
Malicious software on smartphones
We’re all quite aware of the dangers of viruses and other malicious software on our computers, but this year a growing threat is software targeting smartphones.
Given that so many of us conduct banking, pay bills and shop using our handsets, it’s really important to be careful.
Stay safe by keeping your phone’s operating systems up to date and avoiding jailbreaking a device as that can expose you to additional security risks.
Bogus Brexit investments
As if Brexit wasn’t dominating our lives, conversations and politics enough, now there’s a risk it’s going to be used to steal our money.
Fraudsters often sue current affairs to create plausible scams and this year they are set to use the impending Brexit date to push fake investment opportunities.
For example, they might suggest that it will destroy the value of their savings or pension pot, to urge them to move their money into a fake investment ‘opportunity’.
Be cautious, don’t respond to cold callers and always look into a scheme in detail before handing over any cash.
FIFA World Cup Forgery
Enough people are desperate to get tickets for this year’s big football event that fraudsters will be out in force.
There will be websites selling fake tickets and fake travel companies selling fake package trips to Russia.
Again, vigilance and research is the best way to guard against this kind of scam. Don’t line the pockets of a criminal AND miss out on the football.
This is a serious and growing threat that often particularly targets the young and the broke.
Criminal recruiters trawl social media for targets, often students, and entice them into becoming money mules by receiving funds into their account and transferring them on.
As well as the risk of being landed with a criminal record, there’s also a risk that these mules will be rinsed themselves. After all, there’s certainly no honour among thieves.
Royal wedding fever
Lots of couples will be tying the knot this year, some in order to marry at the same kind of time as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
But weddings have become expensive affairs and where there’s money, there are scammers.
Some will offer extravagant wedding packages at bargain prices, using realistic and professional websites, full of details regarding venue hire, dresses and catering. You pay your money to snap up a deal and they vanish.
Again, thoroughly researching a company before handing over any cash is the only way to remain safe from such scams.
More than 16 million people used dating apps last year and this is likely to rise again this year.
Criminals are known to create fake profiles and lure victims into sharing data such as where they live, the names of any pets, favourite sports teams and so on. They can then use that information to steal their identity and open credit cards or take out loans in their name.
Another risk is that they build a relationship with their victim online and then ask for money, perhaps pretending they need it to visit or to pay medical bills.
It’s a particularly cruel scam and people seeking romance need to know the risks.
First-time buyer conveyancing fraud
It’s a sad truth that conveyancing fraud cases have been on the rise over recent years. This is when criminals hack into email and monitor those sent by a solicitor as part of the house-buying process.
When the victim is expecting to transfer their deposit or another payment, the hacker intercepts and pretends to be the solicitor, telling them to make payment to their own account.
Once they have done so the money is swiftly transferred away and lost. Usually, it is the would-be house buyer that is left out of pocket and sometimes even forced to pay cancellation fees because they are no longer buying the property.
It’s cruel and this year it is expected to hit more first-time buyers than ever as house prices slow or even fall, allowing would-be owners to buy. However, all homebuyers are at risk of this fraud.
One way to ensure this doesn’t happen to you is to transfer a small amount before the main payment and then ring the solicitor using a trusted number to ask them to confirm receipt and how much it is.
That way you can be sure that your main payment will be made to the right account – it takes about five minutes but it can help avoid a lifetime of regret.
Are fraudsters getting cleverer? What scams have you spotted so far this year? Have your say using the comments below.