There are all sorts of lists I wouldn’t mind my name turning up on. Top prize promotion agencies? Naturally I like to think Prizeology is already on that. Prize draw scams experts? Well, if I’m not on that one I really should be. World’s best dressed? OK, in my dreams. But I never want to appear on a suckers’ list and I don’t want my nearest and dearest to appear on one either.
I recently blogged about suckers’ lists – you can read that post here – but they basically list the details of people who have already been scammed, because scammers believe those people are vulnerable to being scammed again. Sophisticated and organised criminals trade these lists on the dark web, and they’re a valuable commodity. Each one may have several thousand names on it and, although estimates vary, there are definitely a number of them in circulation.
A lot of the names on these suckers’ lists are those of older people, and they can certainly be extremely vulnerable to approaches from scammers, but, as I always say, scammers are experts at manipulating people’s emotions and anyone can be scammed.
Obviously, the best advice is don’t get onto to one of these suckers’ lists in the first place. That means being cautious about sharing personal information and ticking the boxes to sign up for marketing materials. I’m not saying never sign up for emails or newsletters – they can be interesting, useful or contain discount codes – but I am saying reassure yourself that the businesses you’re signing up with are legitimate.
Similarly, if you receive an unsolicited call requesting personal information, don’t give it out. If you think the enquiry may be legitimate, you can always check out the company online and call back. However, never call back the number which comes up on your caller ID or a number the caller gives you. Always, use the number given on the company’s website, because that way you can be sure the approach is genuine. This applies whether you’re contacted via a landline or your mobile.
If you suspect that your name, or that of a friend or relative, is on a suckers’ list, you can try to reduce your exposure to further scams by trying the following strategies. I can’t guarantee they will be 100% successful – as I say, scammers are often highly sophisticated and it can be hard to outwit them – but persistently rebuffing their advances should eventually work as in the end they’ll decide you’re not worth the effort and will, hopefully, but unfortunately for someone else, move on to the next target.
- If you install a call blocker this will allow you to filter calls by blocking international calls and those from a withheld number. This should reduce the volume of unwanted calls you receive. It sounds drastic, but you might also want to consider changing your phone number.
- Installing anti-spam software on your computer or setting up a spam filter should at least reduce the number of scam emails you receive. You can report online scams to Trading Standards via the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 040506.
- If you believe a relative or friend is responding to scam prize draws sent by post, particularly if they’re sending money to claim fake prizes, you could tactfully suggest that it might be a good idea if you have a look at what comes through their letterbox first. Obviously, this needs to be handled with sensitivity.
- One clue that someone is being reeled in by scammers is if they’re buying lots of trinkets and tchotchkes or medications they don’t need via mail order. You can and should report all scam mail to the Royal Mail, which also has information on its website about common and recent scams to look out for.
- Never send money to someone you don’t know. Period. That should go without saying and I don’t know else to phrase it, but it’s always worth reiterating that it is a Bad Idea. If you know someone who you feel is vulnerable to being scammed, and again it’s a sensitive subject, try suggesting they discuss it with you before they actually part with any cash.
- National Trading Standards Friends Against Scams is recruiting One Million Friends Against Scams. This initiative aims to raise awareness of the risk of being scammed and highlight a range of prevention strategies.
- Finally, you can’t fault scammers for their persistence, but they also know how to lie low and bide their time, and can wait a year or more before attempting to hit you again, so whatever you do, stay vigilant and don’t let your guard down.
As well as being Prizeology’s chief prizeologist, Sarah Burns is a Scambassador for the National Trading Standards Scams Team.