Christmas this year will hopefully be a safe and caring one for many, but we also see a rise in certain types of fraud over the festive period. We caught up with Amy, a Fraud Protect Officer, to find out more about how they help people and asked for some tips about staying safe online over the festive period.
What does the average week of a Fraud Protect Officer look like?
Usually we have one or two days of home visits, which involve protecting and supporting victims of fraud and then the rest of the week is about education. No two days are the same, but we’ll talk with PCSOs, community groups, retirement homes and universities among others. We regularly liaise with regional contacts, other organisations and post on social media to reach our communities.
Obviously, because of COVID, we haven’t been able to get out as much as we’d like to, so instead we host online talks with these groups and send out materials to them as well.
How do you help vulnerable people in your role?
We provide emotional support and put measures in place to prevent them becoming repeat victims in the future. Often, if someone has been a victim of a fraud, their details will be sold and they’ll be targeted again.
We focus on education – sharing information about scams, providing materials and taking steps such as installing call blockers on their phones. The feedback on these call blockers has been amazing, with one previous victim saying that she hasn’t received any scam calls since the blocker was installed three months ago.
Talks are also important as they allow us to contextualise and explain information that can seem scary to certain audiences. We will hand out booklets and leaflets at talks and invite attendees to raise any questions and concerns they have.
Can you explain about the different types of fraud you deal with?
There are so many different types of fraud: romance fraud, investment, lottery, remote access, online shopping, and various different telephone scams.
Victims can sometimes be in denial that they are victims of fraud and that’s often the biggest challenge we face. Exposing why something isn’t real is key to helping victims. Once they understand that, we can then take the steps to supporting them and preventing it from happening again.
Are there specific times of the year that you see an increase in fraud?
During the festive period we see a rise in online shopping and romance fraud, but a lot depends on current affairs, such as COVID. Environmental factors such as this are exploited by fraudsters to make a financial gain for themselves.
How can we stay safe online over the festive period?
Passwords – use strong passwords which are different for each of your accounts.
Privacy – just as you lock your front door, you should also keep strangers out of your social media profiles by adjusting your privacy settings.
Share with care – personal information is gold to a scammer, so be careful what you share online and protect your identity.
Shop, but don’t drop – be careful not to drop your guard when online shopping in the sales. Don’t be caught out by convincing fake websites, always use the recommended payment method and never move communications away from auction site platforms.
Romance Fraud – Unfortunately, we see a spike in Romance Fraud around Christmas time. Stay on the dating or social media site and remember how easy it is to set up a fake profile. The bottom line is that no genuine relationship would involve you having to send money.
Take 5 and Tell 2
To stay safe from the various telephone and phishing scams out there, the national advice is to Take 5 and Tell 2.
Fraudsters purposely don’t give victims time to think and usually suggest some sort of time critical emergency to panic victims into handing over their money.
Take 5 minutes – Come off the phone (fraudsters don’t make this easy) or step away from the email or text and think about what is actually being asked of you. Make your own checks regarding the legitimacy of the call.
Tell 2 people – speak to family members and/or friends about it and get a second and third opinion.
If you think you’ve become a victim of fraud, notify your bank or credit card provider immediately and report it to Action Fraud at any time online or on 0300 123 2040, Monday to Friday 8am-8pm.