Impersonation scams have become one of the most common ways in which fraudsters now target their victims, according to Barclays.
Almost a third of all money lost to fraudsters last year came as a result of these vicious copycats.
Scammers often attempt to mimic someone’s family member, friend, the police, a bank, business, or public figure.
And more than a quarter of Britons have now either been targeted by a scammer pretending to be a celebrity or know someone that has, according to Barclays. Those who fall victim lose £4,330 on average.
Philip, 27, a software engineer from London, recently became one such victim.
Fake persona: New data shows that over a third of all money lost to scammers is through impersonation scams
The fraudster pretended to be a famous yard-sale thrifter that Philip had been following for some time on Twitter.
Philip had replied to one of their twitter posts asking if a vintage jacket was for sale, which the scammer then spotted.
‘I received a reply from someone that appeared to be the famous thrifter, said Philip, ‘but little did I know this was actually a scammer impersonating them.
‘I checked their profile but failed to look for the blue check-mark on their profile that would have indicated they were the real deal.
‘Thinking it was the famous yard sale thrifter, I had not taken steps to ensure the profile was genuine.’
The scammer then took Philip to private messages, where they re-used pictures of the vintage jackets as proof that they had the jacket in their possession.
‘Given that the famous yard sale thrifter was based in the US, I did not then question the scammer when they instructed me to pay in the form of a $50 gift card to ship the vintage jacket.
‘I immediately bought the gift card and sent the code to the scammer and waited for the jacket.’
It didn’t take Philip long though to realise he had been duped.
‘After the excitement of buying the jacket had worn off, I immediately realised that I sent the scammer funds in an untraceable and unidentifiable manner over the internet,’ he says.
‘I went back to check the scammer’s profile, only to realise that the profile didn’t belong to the legitimate thrifter.
‘The scammer had created a username that was changed so subtly – with the addition of an underscore – which I hadn’t noticed when I initially checked the profile.’
Philip was scammed whilst trying to buy a vintage jacket from an influencer over twitter (stock image, posed by models)
As many as four in ten of those who have been targeted claim to have received a message via social media appearing to be from a celebrity or influencer.
According to Barclays data, 77 per cent of all scams take place on tech platforms such as social media. This has increased from 41 per cent since the beginning of 2021.
‘I felt very embarrassed,’ adds Philip, ‘given the fact I was a software engineer and had learnt at university how social engineering can be used to scam or defraud people.’
However, it’s not just celebrities and influencers that scammers are impersonating, according to Barclays.
Almost half of all money lost to impersonation scams involve scammers pretending to be the police or someone’s bank.
Online fraud: Some 77% of all scams take place on tech platforms such as social media, which has increased from 41% since the beginning of 2021
Grace, 24, was a victim of a bank impersonation scam and lost £10,000 in the process.
She says: ‘I received a call one afternoon from a number that matched the number my bank provided on its website, telling me that my account had been compromised and I needed to act fast.
‘They knew personal information, and said I needed to transfer all my funds, plus a £5,000 overdraft into a new bank account they’d created in my name.
‘I was on the phone for two and half hours, and they asked how I was feeling on multiple occasions, reassuring me and not being too pushy.
‘They also guided me through the steps online, convincing me that they knew the system like the back of their hand.’
24-year-old Grace was scammed out of £10k by someone pretending to be from their bank.
One resounding feeling shared by the victims of impersonation scams is one of embarrassment.
Grace says: ‘I knew I had been scammed when they hung up the phone as soon as I’d made the final transfer. I then called my bank who confirmed that the call was not from them.
‘I felt so embarrassed and ashamed that I had fallen for a scam, and it felt like a huge invasion of my privacy.’
Both Philip and Grace are determined to stop others from following in their footsteps.
‘My advice to others would be that your bank will never call you asking you to transfer money,’ says Grace.
‘Even if the number looks genuine don’t believe it, as scammers can mask phone numbers.’
Philip adds: ‘Always check the profile twice to ensure the profile you are trying to message is the genuine profile.
‘Do not send money or anything of value without verifying the receiver is genuine or identifiable.’
Names have been changed to protect the victims’ identity.
How to stay safe from impersonation scams
Ross Martin, head of digital safety at Barclays, gives the following advice:
1) Be wary of unexpected calls or messages
Scammers will often make calls or messages look like they’re coming from someone you know, or a well-known organisation such as a bank or the police. If you’re ever unsure, you should immediately end the call and ring them back on a number you trust. Never give remote access to your computer or device to someone who has called you unexpectedly.
2) Never click on links in messages you’re unsure about
Scammers can make their messages look like they’re coming from a person or organisation you know. Never click on a link in a message without asking yourself whether you were expecting that message, as this can be a way for them to steal your personal information. If you are unsure, call the person or company directly (using a number you trust) to confirm if they do need to get hold of you.
3) Don’t be convinced into transferring your money into a ‘safe account’
A trusted organisation or bank will never tell you that your funds are at risk, or that you need to send them to a ‘safe account’. If this happens, it’s a scam – immediately end the conversation.
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