How to spot a fraudster – stay safe while you shop

Fraudsters are getting ever more cunning, and it can be difficult to spot a scam, so you need to keep your wits about you…

When you’re out shopping, it’s important to be on your guard against criminals trying to rip you off or steal your personal information.

While a lot has been written about keeping protected from online shopping scams, we’re turning our attentions to the high street to highlight some of the different types of fraud you can be susceptible to while you’re out and about.

Spotting a fraudster

Cash machine fraud

According to Financial Fraud Action UK, fraud at ATMs rose to £43.1 million in 2016.

There are three main ways fraudsters target cash machines:

  • Skimming. A device is attached to the ATM’s card entry slot to copy the magnetic strip details of your card as you insert it into the machine, or a tiny camera is used to observe people as they put their PIN in.
  • Card trapping. A device is temporarily inserted into the cash machine’s card entry slot to trap your card in the machine, which the criminal retrieves once you’ve left.
  • Shoulder surfing. Criminals watch you entering your PIN, then steal your card using distraction techniques.

How to stay safe: The best way to reduce your chances of falling victim to ATM fraud is to shield the keypad when you enter your PIN. Be aware of others around you. If someone close to the cash machine is behaving suspiciously, or getting too close, go to another machine instead. It’s also worth taking a good look at the ATM machine before you use it. If it looks like it’s been tampered with, or any different to usual, find another one.

Counterfeit goods fraud

Designer clothes and cosmetics, DVDs and computer games and electricals from well-known brands are often sold at knockdown prices on market stalls, but they’re not always the genuine article.

Counterfeit goods are often poor quality and unsafe. Fake electrical goods aren’t put through the same rigorous safety checks as real ones, while fake cosmetics and fragrances may contain toxic levels of chemicals.

How to stay safe: Check the quality of the labels first. Fakes often have spelling mistakes or other unusual marks. Ask the trader if they provide a warranty or guarantee. Most rogue traders don’t.

Charity fraud

Beware of fake charity collectors preying on your good nature by asking you to donate to a worthy cause. Some bogus charities will use topical events, such as an earthquake in Asia, to make it look like they’ve only just been established.

How to stay safe: Check the collector’s ID and licence, which is a requirement to collect in a public place, and ask to see the charity’s registration number. Ignore collectors who are aggressive or intimidating.

Contactless payment fraud

If you use a contactless debit or credit card to buy goods, a scammer could use a card reader to steal your personal information. If someone finds out the 16-digit number, expiry date and security code on the back of your card, they can use the information to buy goods in your name.

Contactless payment fraud soared to almost £7 million in the UK last year compared with £2.8 million in 2015.

How to stay safe: Keep your cards with you everywhere you go, and never hand over a card if you’re paying using a contactless card machine. Ask for a receipt to make sure a transaction is genuine. For further protection, put contactless cards in a foil-lined wallet or metal card holder to prevent them being read by fraudsters. You can literally ‘foil’ the criminals.