If you've been thinking that text scams and phoney emails feel more common than ever right now, you'd be correct – a report from TSB Bank recently found that impersonation fraud has soared by 300% since 2019. But what exactly is impersonation fraud? And how can you be more mindful of it?
In a nutshell, impersonation fraud could be anything from scammers posing as your bank in an email and trying to trick you into revealing personal information about your finances, to scam artists pretending to be parcel delivery services and claiming you owe them money, via realistic looking text messages. It's a tactic used by criminals in the hopes of extracting private details and/or money from you, and unfortunately the methods used are becoming more sophisticated than ever.
Whilst previously it's older people who've been depicted as the most likely to fall victim to a money scam, new research on over 2,000 people, by Visa and the Aston Institute for Forensic Linguistics (AIFL), has found that one in four (25%) 18 to 34-year-olds would unknowingly trust a fraudulent message (almost double those aged 55 and above).
The research also states that the frequency at which we're all being targeted is now, on average, twice a week (with 55% of consumers citing an increase over the last year).
So, what are the typical phrases and tactics that we ought to be keeping an eye out for? Being asked to click on a link or 'take urgent action' are amongst the most common techniques used by fraudsters, followed by asking the recipient of the text or email to resolve a problem (something 72% of people involved in the research said they'd experienced, and which can leave the recipient feeling panicked and therefore more vulnerable).
Of the 155 fraudulent text messages analysed within the research, 32% contained references to a 'unique offer', and the phrases 'click here', 'account information' and 'gift card' were also identified as commonly used phrases in dodgy communications.
Common reasons for trusting a fraudulent message were familiar wording (39%), respondents feeling the action required, such as clicking through to a webpage, was clear (36%) and recognition of a brand name or product (34%).
When it comes to spotting the signs, Visa and the AIFL say to always be especially wary or suspicious of any message or communication which:
Asks for money or bank details
Contains spelling or grammar mistakes
Comes from an unusual email address or phone number
Mentions undated timeframes such as 'in 48 hours' or 'by tomorrow morning'
Sounds too good to be true (e.g. you've won an incredible prize or a gift card)
They strongly recommend you do not click on any links and instead, contact your bank (or the company you suspect is being impersonated) via their genuine phone number or web chat function, and flagging the message you've received. It can also be helpful to get a second opinion from a trusted friend or relative, if you're unsure as to a message's legitimacy.
Dr Marton Petyko, Aston Institute for Forensic Linguistics, said of the research, "Our analysis is the first study of its kind that provides insight into how language is used by fraudsters in short, one-off messages, and is an important contribution to better understanding the things people should look out for when receiving unsolicited messages.
"By highlighting the communicative strategies, words and phrases used by fraudsters, we hope people can more easily spot the language of fraud as it stands today, which ultimately helps to protect them."
Visa adds that its Zero Liability Policy is designed to protect customers should any unauthorised or fraudulent charges be made from their account, meaning if something does go wrong, the card holder won't be held responsible.
If you are targeted by a fraudster, to help others avoid falling victim you can report it to Action Fraud. If you think you have been defrauded, call your bank and explain the situation – they can often help you claim your money back. To find out more about the protections you have when paying with Visa, click here.
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