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Get Better at Stopping Scams with This Scam Protection Framework

Giles Mason talks about stopping scams and how to protect yourself.

Most of us want to be polite and help others where we can. But scammers can take advantage of that. Using tools like critical thinking, situational awareness, and slowing down conversations can help you get better at stopping scams before they become financial disasters. Using the Stop-Challenge-Protect framework can help you do that.


See Stopping Financial Fraud with Giles Mason for a complete transcript of the Easy Prey podcast episode.

Giles Mason is the Director of Campaigns at UK Finance, a trade body for the banking and finance industry in the UK. He worked in communications for many years, but became passionate about fraud awareness campaigns because he saw how much it helped people in their day-to-day lives. The costs of cyber crime aren’t just financial – they are also emotional and social. And keeping that money away from criminals stops it from funding more serious crimes.

Every person that we can help prevent being a victim of fraud is a great thing.

Giles Mason

Giles is responsible for planning and delivering UK Finance’s campaigns. One campaign that they are running right now is Take Five To Stop Fraud. It introduces the Stop-Challenge-Protect framework. The goal is stopping scams by empowering people to stop and avoid them.

Take Five To Stop Fraud Campaign

The Take Five To Stop Fraud campaign launched in 2016 as a response to a rise in fraud and scams in the UK, especially authorized push payment fraud. Authorized push payment fraud is any scam where the scammer convinces you to send them money. Because it was you sending the money, not an unauthorized person hacking your account, it’s considered an “authorized payment.” And authorized payments aren’t included in most consumer protection regulations. Even if you sent it under fraudulent pretenses, it’s not treated as seriously by banks and you’re less likely to get your money back.

In response to the rise in authorized push payment fraud, UK Finance launched the Take Five To Stop Fraud campaign aimed at stopping these scams by giving straightforward advice to help people stay safe. They want to help you to stop and think to better spot anything suspicious. And once you’ve spotted something, they want to empower you to challenge it and protect yourself.

Stopping Scams with the Stop-Challenge-Protect Framework

The advice that Take Five To Stop Fraud offers three simple steps to help you stay safe.

First, STOP. Giles has talked to many victims who said that as soon as they clicked that link, hung up the phone, or replied to that email, they knew something wasn’t quite right. But if you don’t stop to think until afterwards, you’re probably already ensnared by the criminal. It all hinges on the first step – stopping to think before you’ve been caught in a scammer’s trap.

Second, CHALLENGE. It’s okay to refuse requests and say no. Only criminals will try to rush you or get you to panic, or get angry when you say no. You can also challenge requests by insisting on verifying someone is who they say they are before you give out any information or money (for example, if someone is claiming to be from your bank, you can hang up and call back with the number on the back of your card).

Third, PROTECT. If you think you’ve been caught in a scam, take steps to protect yourself. Call your bank immediately to report the loss. Chances are low that they will get your money back (though it is possible), but they can at least flag the account you sent it to as suspicious. Also report it to your country’s fraud reporting organization. (In the UK, that’s Action Fraud; in the US, it’s IC3.) Reporting it goes a long way towards stopping scams.

Current Trends in Scams

In terms of numbers of cases, the biggest scam right now is purchase scams. These types of scams can be a whole range of things. It could be a customer buying something that was misrepresented, but more often it’s a scammer selling something that they don’t have or that doesn’t exist. They often start with ads on social media advertising something for sale. It could be a fake tech product, or tickets to a sold-out concert. Anything with high demand is a great target for these scams.

The criminals advertise the product and trick customers into paying for it. The customer makes the payment to purchase the product. Then the scammer ends up with the money, and the customer never gets the product they paid for. Purchase scams make up about half of all authorized push payment scams. But generally, the losses are smaller in terms of amount lost.

There’s also been a rise in what’s called “mom and dad scams.” The criminals pretend to be your child and have some reason why they need money. Sometimes it’s because their phone broke, and that’s also why they’re texting from an unfamiliar number. It could also be that they got arrested even though they’re innocent and need bail money. There are all sorts of excuses, and unfortunately they can be very successful.

The fact is that we’re seeing more and more scams take place online or originate online. People are using the internet for normal aspects of everyday life. Naturally, that leaves more chances for criminals to take advantage.

Scams with the Biggest Losses

The types of scams where victims see the biggest losses tend to be impersonation scams and investment scams. Impersonation is when the scammer pretends to be someone they’re not, such as from your bank or the police. It could also be a delivery scam – we saw a lot of those during the coronavirus lockdown. Lots of people were ordering stuff online to get delivered to their homes. Scammers would send a text pretending to be from a delivery company claiming that they either needed to make a payment or reschedule the delivery. It encouraged them to click the link and provide some information. In reality, that information went straight to scammers.

Stopping scams requires us to consider what kinds of scams are out there.

In investment scams, the criminal persuades people to invest in a bogus investment. It could be anything from cryptocurrency to gold to fine wines. They claim that you can get huge returns and make big money if you invest now. And there’s always some element of pressure. They might say there’s only a short window of time where it’s a good investment, or there’s a special deal only available today. Unfortunately, this can be very convincing.

There’s always some element of pressure. … Sadly, that can trick people into parting with their money.

Giles Mason

These scams often last a long period of time, too. Romance scams do, as well. Some take months or even years as the criminal grooms his victim and makes them feel like they’re really in a relationship. The longer these scammers can string the victim along, the more likely that they’ll get lots of money out of them. Stopping scams and preventing losses is harder the longer the scam has gone on.

Getting Money with Authorized Push Payments

Since Giles works with banks and other financial institutions, the main type of payment he sees for scams is authorized push payments. It’s usually done through online or mobile banking, but sometimes over the phone. However it’s done, the money comes out of the victim’s bank account. In the UK, like the US, if you authorized the transaction, it’s essentially like giving someone cash. There’s no way to reverse the transaction. If you contact your bank quickly after realizing it was a scam, they will do what they can to trace the stolen funds and get them back. But the money moves quickly, and they may not be able to stop it.

Giles also sees quite a bit of fraud still happening on credit cards. This is what’s called unauthorized fraud. A criminal steals your credit card details and uses them to buy something online. (Both credit cards and unauthorized fraud have more protections for you, so your chances of getting your money back from this type of fraud are good.)

For businesses, a common way that scammers steal money is through invoice fraud. The fraudster impersonates a vendor and calls the company. They claim that the vendor is updating their finances and the company needs to send the vendor’s payments to a new bank. The company pays into the new account. They often don’t realize the fraud until they’re contacted by the real vendor asking why they haven’t paid. Sometimes this can happen from the other direction, too. One criminal got into a lawyer’s email system and told a customer that the account where they needed to send the money for their house purchase had changed. The hopeful homebuyers didn’t realize the deception until the lawyer asked why they hadn’t sent the money yet.

Stopping Scams with Effective Challenges

Most of us want to help out others, and we don’t like telling people no. Especially in the UK, Giles thinks it’s in the British nature to be helpful and polite. But part of stopping scams is empowering everyone to realize that we don’t have to fulfill requests.

It’s okay to refuse, ignore, and reject requests.

Giles Mason

It is okay to just say no to a request. It’s also okay to push back and ask for more verification. Say someone calls from your bank and say “We’ve spotted something suspicious on your account and we need you to go through some security questions.” It does feel awkward and impolite. But once you’ve done it a few times, it starts to feel more natural.

A key to stopping scams is challenging anyone asking for info or money - it's hard the first time, but it gets easier.

If they’re from a legitimate organization, they will understand that you don’t want to give that information to a stranger. They may provide you an extension number or tell you who to ask for when you call back, but they will encourage you to call from a trusted number. If they say that you can’t hang up and that it has to be dealt with right now, that’s suspicious. Some scammers will start screaming or threatening you if you challenge them. In that case, you know they’re scammers because no legitimate organization would let their employees treat customers that way.

Only a criminal is going to be pressuring you and saying, “No, no. You’ve got to stay on the line. You’ve got to do this now.”

Giles Mason

Scammers Don’t Like Challenges

Giles once got a call from a scammer claiming to be from HMRC, the UK tax office. They claimed there was a warrant out for his arrest if he didn’t pay his tax bill right away. Giles knew it was a scam, but he stayed on the line to see what they would do. They tried to convince him that they were legitimate by having him check the number they were calling from with the official HMRC number. (Giles knew phone numbers could be spoofed.) They also tried to get him to download different banking apps to transfer money. There was always a reasonable-sounding excuse for why he should do slightly strange things. They had obviously been challenged before and were trying to head off the arguments. But the ultimate goal was to get Giles to transfer some money.

As humans, we’re wired to respect authority and help other people. We don’t want to challenge others, and it’s easier to go along and not ask questions. But asking those questions and challenging requests for information or money is essential to stopping scams. Do that first step of stopping and thinking. When you get the feeling that it’s not right, push back. You can just say no.

It feels unnatural to say no. But the criminal is trying to prey on that.

Giles Mason

Stopping Scams and Protecting Yourself

Fraud can happen to anybody. Your demographics only affect what types of scams you’re susceptible to. Investment scams often target older people with more money to invest. Younger people tend to be more willing to share personal information, possibly because they’re more used to sharing information about themselves online. Young people are also using a wider variety of online marketplaces, which can put them at additional risk. But we are all being targeted by fraud all the time, whether we realize it or not. The key to stay safe is to Stop-Challenge-Protect. Stop and think about what’s being asked, challenge the asker, and protect yourself if you were a victim.

There isn’t a particular target for the criminal. … They’ll try to get to anybody that they can get some money out of.

Giles Mason

If you think you’ve fallen victim to a scam, contact your bank right away. The earlier you speak to them, the better they can track the funds and the higher the chance you can get some of it back. Also take steps to protect yourself from potential fraud. If you’ve given away information, it could help criminals get into your account in the future.

Finally, reporting scams is a huge step towards stopping scams. In the UK, you can report scams to the police at actionfraud.police.uk. (In the US, you can report it to the FBI at ic3.gov.) It helps them build a picture of what’s going on with scams and how to bring criminals to justice.

Learn more at takefive-stopfraud.org.uk. There you can find lots of advice on different scams and how to protect yourself, as well as quizzes to test your scam-spotting skills. It’s the best place to go for great advice to stay safe.

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