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Fraud risk
17 November 2022

Avoiding cost-of-living scams

Fraud and cyber attacks on the rise

Fraud is on the rise in the UK, with a 25% increase from pre-pandemic levels in the year to March 2022, according to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). During the pandemic, fraudsters seized the opportunity to take advantage of widespread behavioural changes, such as accelerated growth in online shopping. For instance, ONS data reported a 900% rise in advance-fee fraud — where victims paid upfront for goods or services that later failed to appear.

More recently, fraudsters have been adapting their tactics to exploit the rising cost of living. For instance, in the two weeks to 5th August 2022, more than 1,500 scam emails were reported to the suspicious emails reporting service (SERS) related to fraudulent energy rebate offerings.

Helping your beneficiaries, staff, volunteers and trustees identify and avoid such scams/attacks will help you protect them individually and your charity if you are using your organisation’s equipment or accounts from potential fraud or cyber-attacks.

Smartdesc — charity IT specialists speaking to Civil Society Media Ltd and at Charity Finance Group, stated that charities are particularly susceptible to cyber attacks due to the sensitivity of the data collected and stored by charities.

Identifying cost-of-living scams

Phishing attacks are one of the most common scam types to be aware of. Traditionally sent via email or text message, phishing attacks involve fraudsters posing as legitimate organisations to trick victims into clicking on bad links or revealing personal information. For instance, common scams include fraudsters posing as utility providers offering deals on energy bills or competitions to win fuel vouchers.

It’s wise to be cautious; consider these “red flags” that might indicate a cost-of-living scam:

  • Urgency — Scammers often pressure victims into making quick decisions before fully analysing the facts. For example, a scam message might offer recipients a cost-of-living payment, but only if they provide bank details immediately. In contrast, a genuine company will usually give ample time for responses and won’t ask for personal details via email.
  • Authority — Scammers may claim to be someone official. Therefore, it’s important to carefully check the sender’s details on all messages received. Often, scam messages will be sent from a public email domain rather than an official business address, though scammers may be able to mask their email domain, which your email service provider may flag for you. If in doubt, cross-reference the sender’s details against those displayed on the official company website.

Avoiding cost-of-living scams

During financial crises, it’s crucial to protect yourself from related scams. Consider these tips:

  • Take your time. Some scams adopt official company logos and colours to fool victims. As such, review any messages and offers carefully, even if they first appear genuine. Look out for spelling and grammatical errors, sloppy layouts or informal greetings; these are all tell-tale signs of a scam.
  • Conduct due diligence. Never send money to anyone you don’t know or aren’t entirely sure of. Instead, check the Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA) website for a list of authorised companies. Remember, if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Bolster your protection. Clicking on fraudulent links in messages could release malware onto your device. Think before you click to avoid downloading files and attachments from suspicious sources. Additionally, make sure your antivirus software is up to date and run a scan before opening suspicious links.
  • Check that websites are genuine. For additional protection, always check that weblinks are secure — look for “https” and a padlock symbol in the domain bar.

Moreover, you can always hang up a phone call or ignore an email, then contact the organisation that supposedly got in touch with you. For instance, if you suspect a bank employee calling you is a fraud, hang up and call the bank using the phone number listed on their official website to enquire about the situation’s legitimacy.

Should you fall victim to a scam, it’s vital to act swiftly; contact your bank or financial provider without delay. Additionally, notify relevant authorities, including Action Fraud, the police, the FCA and Ofgem.

If you are looking to protect your charity from cyber risks, take a look at our Cyber Risk Fundamentals guide.

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