In May this year, Tonight reporter Helen Skelton received an email. It appeared to be from TV Licensing, and said that it was her ‘last day to remain licensed’ but that her direct debit had bounced. It instructed her to pay an overdue balance of £11.95. Little did Helen know: when she clicked to pay that small fee, it would actually begin a chain of events which would allow criminals to steal an astonishing £70,000 from her bank account.
Helen was the victim of an impersonation scam - criminals had sent a fake TV Licensing email to get hold of her bank details, then followed it up with a call purporting to be a representative of her bank. Through this call, they were able to get enough information from Helen to bypass her banking security. But she’s not alone: since April 2018, Action Fraud has had over 900 reports of people falling victim to this particular TV Licence scam - they’ve lost around £800,000.
And that’s just one kind of con. Every minute, an average of seven of us are targeted by fraudsters. That’s a total of 3.8 million reported frauds a year. The number is growing - half a million more people were targeted last year than in 2017.
A key way that criminals con people is to claim to be representatives of brands we know and trust. Some of the most commonly mimicked brands and agencies are HMRC, TV Licensing, DVLA and the police. As Helen found out, they’ll also impersonate banks.
In Tonight’s programme: Fraud: The Public Threat, we hear from people who’ve been targeted by fraudsters - reporter Helen being one of them. Helen was defrauded online, and over the phone. But there are also cases where criminals get frighteningly close to their victims.
Mary* is 85, and lives in Kent. Over a number of years, she’d had some work done on her house - which she felt was very expensive, yet poorly done. Then a couple of months ago, she told Tonight that a man came to her door, claiming to be from the police.
According to Mary, the man said he was investigating the tradesmen who’d carried out this home improvement work. But, he needed ‘administration fees’ from her to support the investigation.
In total, Mary withdrew £15,000, which she says she gave away, believing she was helping the police.
Kent Police have an image of one of the men they want to talk to in connection with their investigation into Mary’s experience.
*Mary’s name has been changed to protect her identity
- Unsure if a TV Licensing email/call is genuine? Visit this website for advice
- Citizens’ Advice Scams Action - advice about online scams
- HMRC - examples of scams
- Action Fraud: how to report fraud
- Be scam aware
- Information about the new code to protect victims of authorised push payment fraud
- Friends Against Scams - National Trading Standards initiative, which aims to protect and prevent people from becoming victims.