Suckers’ lists – not the kind of lists you want to be on

Regular readers will know I’m not usually one to blow my own trumpet (OK, I may toot a borrowed cornet occasionally), but the other day I was quoted in the Telegraph. You can read the piece here – if you’re not a regular Telegraph reader you’ll need to register to see the full text – but the story was a distressing and depressing one about John Mundy, who had £280,00 stolen from him by scammers in 2017 and then, almost exactly a year later, lost another £18,500 to scammers.

John and his family believe it was no coincidence that John fell victim to two devastating scams just a year apart. They believe that, having been scammed once, his personal details were then placed on a suckers’ list, which was bought by organised criminals on the dark web. And, as I told the Telegraph journalist, they are almost certainly right.

You know the markers burglars are supposed to scrawl on exterior walls to indicate which homes are easy targets? Suckers’ lists work in the same way. They identify people who have been successfully scammed once and are easy targets for scamming again. However, rather like burglars who wait until you’ve claimed on your insurance and replaced your high-value consumer goods before breaking in again, scammers may hold off until their target has let their guard down, allowing a certain amount of time to lapse before they hit a ‘sucker’ again.

Scammers can purchase a legitimate marketing list for a particular demographic – say, over 65s, homeowners, living alone – and target the people on the list with a scam. They then add the details of those they successfully scam to a new suckers’ list, which they sell on to other criminals, so they profit from exploiting their victims not once but twice, and then the scammer who buys the list exploits the same victim again.

If you’re elderly, socially isolated and have no access to the Internet, so it’s harder for you to verify whether what you’re being told by the scammer is true or not, you’re more likely to be a repeat scam victim. According to Professor Keith Brown of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, by 2019 the details of a million pensioners will be on suckers’ lists, but the scammers don’t discriminate and anyone who responds to an approach by a scammer, even if it’s by doing something as apparently harmless as entering a scam prize draw, could be added to a list. And unlike the Telephone Preference Service, which allows you to opt out of sales and marketing calls, once your name is on a suckers’ list, you won’t be able to get it removed.

Suckers’ lists aren’t new. They’ve been around for decades, but they’ve now become extremely valuable commodities. We’re living in something of a golden age for scammers. They’re highly organised, and they use the Internet and its underside very effectively to buy and sell these suckers’ lists and perpetrate major, large-scale fraud. John Mundy is no fool and the scammers who hit him were extremely sophisticated, impersonating Barclays and BT employees, and executing elaborate scams.

As well as being Prizeology’s chief prizeologist, Sarah Burns is a Scambassador for the National Trading Standards Scams Team and an anti-scam campaigner.

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