Impersonation scams more than double in a year

·4-min read
Impersonation scams more than double in a year
More than a quarter of people say they have fallen for scams involving some kind of impersonation, according to a survey. Photo: Getty

New research has found that people are at increasing risk of impersonation scams, with lack of awareness leading to a spike in cases. 

According to Nationwide Building Society, cases more than doubled between 2019 and 2020 in the industry. Data this year shows continued growth, albeit at a slower rate. The average loss-per-case also fell by over 40% in the same period.

According to Nationwide’s poll of 2,000 people, more than a quarter (26%) of people say they have fallen for scams involving some kind of impersonation. 

These scams often involve a person being tricked into making a payment or giving personal and financial details to someone claiming to be from a known or trusted organisation. Ruses often include pretending to be from the police, your bank or building society, utility or telecoms companies or a government body, such as HMRC or the DVLA.

Despite the continuing rise of economic crime, the fear of being targeted is low on the average Brits' worry list. 

“People may think it’s surprising that others fall for scams, but the criminals are becoming ever more convincing both in what they say and the technology they use, intercepting emails or spoofing texts to look like they are genuine," said Ed Fisher, head of fraud at Nationwide Building Society.

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Just one in ten (10%) worry about being approached by a criminal pretending to be from a trusted organisation. This compares with more than a quarter (28%) who are worried about having their house vandalised or burgled.

The research reveals an element of "it wouldn’t happen to me" when it comes to the prospect of being duped. Close to half (46%) of people don’t think they’d be likely to fall for a scam. However, when pressed, around one in eight (15%) admit to not knowing what an impersonation scam is, with a further 41% saying they only partially understand.

The chances of being targeted appear to reduce with age, possibly indicating scammers are preying on a lack of experience more than other vulnerabilities. 

The research shows 48% of people aged 16 to 24 say they have been conned, compared to 39% of 25- to 34-year-olds and just one in ten (10%) of those aged 55 and above. Some 11% of people say they have been targeted on more than one occasion, the poll shows.

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It’s one reason why the number of impersonation scams has increased significantly — people who fall for them are not careless. But the key to thwarting the scammers is education and learning as much you can about the tricks they use as well as telling your friends and relatives what to look out for.

Tips for avoiding impersonation scams:

  • If you ever receive a suspicious call, text or email, don’t automatically believe it is who you think, even if it’s purporting to be from a company you know and trust.

  • Never act on a call out of the blue or transfer money at a caller’s request. A genuine organisation would never ask you to move money to another account for security reasons. A genuine organisation can resolve issues without you needing to do anything with your money or security credentials.

  • Don’t give anyone remote access to your computer following a cold call or random text and don’t allow anyone into or to view your internet banking activity for any reason.

  • Don’t be rushed into making a decision or taking action. Take some time to investigate they are who they say they are and that they are a genuine person or organisation. For example, check for any discrepancies in the sender’s email address or caller’s telephone number and contact them back on their registered number so you know you are speaking to them.

  • If you have any sort of doubt, hanging up the call or deleting the email is the wisest initial step to take.

  • It’s important to share your concerns as well, so immediately call your bank, building society or even the police from a different phone or email them using a trusted email address. Your debit or credit card will always have your bank and building society’s official number on the back.

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