Scammers play on our ego by promising all sorts of fame and fortune in a bid to get us to hand over our details and get hold of our hard-earned cash.
It’s no secret that it has been a productive couple of years for scammers.
Data from UK Finance suggests unauthorised financial fraud losses across cards, remote banking and cheques came to a whopping £844.8m in 2018, up 16% from the year before.
Barely a week goes by without warnings from Action Fraud or another fraud expert body about the wily tactics being employed by those looking to get their mitts on your money.
So much of our focus is on obvious financial scams such as emails posing as someone from your bank or a phone call promising you an investment opportunity you can’t miss out on.
Yet there are plenty of scams that aim to tease us into handing over our personal and bank details without impersonating banks or financial institutions.
I recently received an email, apparently from a ‘Mark Peterson’, with the potential to make me a star.
It said he had been directed by the board of Metropolitan Model Management to contact me about using my profile picture on Facebook for a new billboard advert.
Not just any ad either – this would be a Samsung ad in the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris.
To take part, all I’d have to do is send a copy of my picture to a separate email address, and I’d get more details about the advertising campaign and the fee.
Oh, and that fee? A tasty little $600,999.
How does this scam work?
Obviously, it’s palpably ridiculous, and not just because the only chance of a modelling assignment for me is as the ‘before’ photo for a firm flogging hair plugs.
There are other tell-tale signs too such as the frankly bizarre fee and the odd grammar and syntax in the email.
You can see how this scam works.
In order to process that huge payment, you’ll need to share with them all sorts of personal details, or even pay a processing fee.
And not only will you never see that enormous payment, but your cheeky chops won’t make an appearance on a billboard at Charles de Gaulle or any other airport for that matter.
But what if…?
The trouble is, people fall for scams like this every day.
If it’s not the promise of a modelling assignment, it might be something lower key like the promise of ‘free’ phones or tablets for testing.
Hope can be a big driver in pushing us to make daft decisions, to convince ourselves that even though something looks too good to be true, maybe just this once it isn’t.
The National Lottery has stuck with the tag line of ‘It could be you’ for an awful long time, and with good reason.
Why can’t you be the lucky one, just this once?
By using legitimate business and location names, the hope from the scammers' perspective is there is just enough credibility to convince you to go for it, just to see if it really is legit.
The carrot or the stick
The other approach by scammers that may be particularly effective at the moment is the stick.
Some scammers warn recipients if they don’t act immediately, they will be on the wrong end of some form of punishment.
This can range from supposedly locking your PayPal account, to the terrifying threat of bailiffs turning up at your door to remove your possessions over a phantom unpaid tax bill.
Just as the promise of unexpected riches can tempt us into doing something silly, so too can the threat of being unfairly punished.
That this has led to some pensioners spending thousands on iTunes cards and reading codes down the phone to scammers posing as HMRC tax collectors, is a disturbing reminder of the potential effectiveness of these apparently implausible scams.
Complacency is the enemy
The fact is that when it comes to scams, we can be our own worst enemy.
It’s when we get a bit complacent and believe there’s no chance of falling for a scam that we are at our most vulnerable.
Yes, saying you always need to be on your guard and view all offers with suspicion does sound a little paranoid.
But if you are on your toes and always asking whether that offer really is too good to be true, means you’re far less likely to be caught out.
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