Five scams to watch out for in 2016

February 11, 2016

During 2015 we received over 300 calls and emails to our consumer helpline relating to scams including, fake lottery scams, work-from-home scams and rental scams. You can fall victim to a scam by email, text, letter, phone, online, social media sites and at your front door. A good way to protect yourself is by knowing about current scams and to remember that there are always new variations of existing scams appearing. Check out five scams to watch out for in 2016:

1.  PC scam

27% of calls relating to scams received by our consumer helpline in 2015 related to PC scams. This scam involves the scammer calling you claiming to be from a well-known IT company, such as Microsoft. They ring to say that your PC has a virus or has been hacked. They then instruct you to download a file from a website so that they can gain access to your computer remotely to resolve the issue. This gives them a chance to access your personal details including financial information such as your bank account and credit card numbers. They may even ask for your credit card details to pay for their “service”. This type of scam is known as “phishing”. Phishing scams normally happen through email, websites, instant messaging apps, social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter or over the phone. If they manage to trick you into handing over these details, they will then try to steal from you.

2.  Holiday rental scam

If you are planning a holiday and have started researching your accommodation, watch out for potential rental accommodation scams. This is where scammers go to an online marketplace for property owners offering places for rent; copy the photos, addresses and other information from various listings and then use this to put up a fake listing of their own. This scam is designed to get you to pay the full rental price or at least a sizeable security deposit upfront. Always make sure a listing is genuine before you make a booking. Take time to do research on the person/company offering the rental property or even asking someone you can trust to make inquiries. If there is an estate agent in the area they may be able to verify if the property is a genuine rental one. Always use a reputable website and make sure to check user ratings and reviews before you commit to a rental property. When paying always use a secure method of payment, such as a credit card or Paypal and check with the site that the booking is confirmed. Never send cash or use a money-wiring service because you’ll have no recourse if something goes wrong.

3.  Lottery and premium rate scams

There are a number of letters and emails currently circulating which are addressed to Irish citizens telling them they have won overseas lotteries. To claim the prize, you are asked to send on your bank details and the money will be deposited into your bank account. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to win the lotto if you haven’t bought a ticket so if you receive a letter like this one ignore it. Even if you did happen to purchase a lottery ticket while abroad, ask yourself how they could have gotten your contact details. Premium rate scams are also common. These scams can start with a letter, text message or a scratch card in a magazine too. The person receives a message telling them to ring or text a telephone number to claim a prize. This number will be charged at an expensive premium rate. In most cases they discover that there isn’t really a prize, the prize ends up working out less than the price of the call or they receive a holiday voucher with a number of restrictions attached. It’s important to be aware that all Irish premium rate telephone numbers begin with 15.

4.  Work-from-home scams

You may have seen “Work-from-home” adverts displayed, perhaps in your local supermarket or in a newspaper. These adverts sound great in theory, especially if you are unemployed, restricted to your home, or you simply need more income. You should be careful as many of these offers are scams. Often there are hidden costs that you yourself will have to pay, such as money up front for materials, stamps, envelopes, photocopies or placing adverts – then you wait for weeks and hear nothing. Another twist is where the company makes you pay for an expensive “instruction manual” or “tutorial” software. Also, be aware that some “Work-from-home” schemes may also be a type of Pyramid scheme. Pyramid schemes promise you quick and easy money in return for a cash sum. They normally involve the sale of a product, for instance, a beauty product. You are promised the chance of making quick and easy money in return for a cash sum. This is a scam and is designed to con you into investing significant amounts of money which can never be recovered. Pyramid schemes are illegal, and you could face prosecution for participating in one.

5.  Online scams

Sites where you can buy and sell goods and social media platforms are now popular places for scammers to trick people. A popular scam taking place on these type of sites is a scam that targets consumers who are selling goods to other consumers. For example, you may be selling an expensive pair of shoes online. Someone contacts you to say that they are interested in buying them. You agree to sell the shoes and later receive an online confirmation email from a well-known money transfer payment facility advising that you have received payment for the shoes. Everything appears legitimate so you post the shoes to the buyer only to discover later that the payment authorisation email was fake. When selling or buying something valuable online make sure you use a secure method of payment, such as a credit card or Paypal. Never send cash or use a money-wiring service because you’ll have no recourse if something goes wrong. Also, be careful when buying goods through social media sites. The ads may look legitimate and lead to websites that look like real ones but they may not be, putting you at risk of being scammed. Always research the site; its policies, look for reviews by other customers and be aware of the risk of doing business with a stranger.

Do you know what to do if you come across a scam?

If you have been scammed out of money you should contact your local Garda station immediately. If you handed over money by card and you think you have been scammed, you should also contact your bank or credit card company and tell them what happened. The quicker you do this the better. Your bank can put a stop to your account, cancel your credit or debit card or prevent a transaction from going through.

You can also let us know and we can help spread the word so other consumers aren’t affected. You can contact us through our Consumer helpline on Lo-call 1890 432 432, on (01) 402 5500 or share your experience on our Facebook page. Building awareness about scams helps to put a stop to them.

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