Wednesday 26 October 2016

Charlie Weston: Heartless con artists are catching people all the time

Published 20/11/2015 | 02:30

Scam merchants are getting better at taking people in. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Scam merchants are getting better at taking people in. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

THE lady was surprised to be told she had a problem with her computer when she answered the phone.

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But the man on the other end of the line sounded convincing, and told her he was from Microsoft.

He issued dire warnings about any failure to follow his instructions. He wanted access to her computer remotely.

Being in her 70s and not very tech-savvy, she agreed to his demands, something that ended costing her €100 for no discernible benefit.

It was a scam, just one of a host of fiddles being used by fraudsters to con consumers out of their money.

There are a spate of consumer scams out there at the moment, many of them related to computers. And these heartless con artists are catching people all the time.

They are very persuasive, with people of all levels of education, sophistication and experience falling foul of these fraudsters.

It is worth remembering that there are many ways you can fall victim to a scam or fraud. The best defence is to be always on your guard. If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.

But the danger is that online scams seem to be harder to detect for unsuspecting consumers. Scam merchants are getting better at taking people in.

Many have moved on from the old phishing emails, claiming to be an African official with money to send you, as long as you pony up your bank identification numbers.

One of the most devious ones doing the rounds at the moment is the subscription trap.

With this scam, consumers are trapped into long-term costly contracts when they sign up for "free" trials, or trial offers with health, nutrition and beauty-related products.

Slimming pills subscriptions are very common with this type of scam, according to the Consumer and Competition Protection Commission, the State body that used to be called the National Consumer Agency.

With this scam the victim pays a postage fee to get a free sample of the product.

However, hidden in the small print is the catch - unless you contact the company to cancel within a set time-frame (usually 14 days), you will be billed every month for the full cost of the product.

A lot of people are being caught out by the scam outlined at the start of this piece where the victim is talked through the log-on steps in order for the fraudster to gain remote access to the computer for which they charge "fees" and gain access to personal and financial information.

Earlier this year the Gardai took the unusual move of calling a press conference to tell people about an underhand trick that is costing householders untold financial damage.

With this one, scammers use cheaply available technology to mimic the telephone number of the organisation they want to impersonate and then make it appear on the victim's caller ID.

They invite the caller to call back using the number on the back of their bank card but the scammer keeps the line open so the victim is connected straight back.

For this reason, banks advise consumers always to use another phone to make the call or wait five minutes until the line has cleared.

The bottom line is that you need to be wary to avoid all these scams.

There are a number of things to look out for, according to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, including:

* The call, letter, e-mail or text has come out of the blue;

* You have won a prize but never entered a draw;

* You are asked for money up front to release your "win";

* You are asked for your bank account, credit card details or other confidential information;

* You are told you must reply straight away or you will lose the winnings or refund.

Always be suspicious of tempting offers and always use your common sense. And if you do fall for a scam, don't be embarrassed - act on it immediately. If you have been a victim of online fraud then contact the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation at 01 6663777, or call in to your local garda station.

The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission advises that you should let your family and friends know so they won't get caught out.

Irish Independent

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