OPINION: Be vigilant against the rise of the horrible online scammers

A Healthwatch Havering review of GP websites in the borough found a significant number "lack key inf

Helen warns you to be wary against online scammers purporting to be from the Post Office or the HMRC - Credit: PA

As life hasn’t been tough enough over the past months we’ve seen something very nasty emerging during the pandemic and that’s the increase in “phishing” scams.

So cunning have the criminals become that they are adept now at impersonating banks or government bodies luring their victims to hand over sensitive financial details.

I know how clever they can be at impersonation because I was targeted not so long ago.

Someone, “calling from my bank” told me there’d been fraudulent activity on my account and that it “needed to be addressed immediately”.

What he proposed doing was getting me to go online so that he could look at my account and get it sorted.

For a split second I almost believed him he was so charming and plausible. Then the penny dropped.

When I questioned him and said I didn’t believe he could be from the bank he still tried to get me to let him into my accounts. He was absolutely adamant that he was legit. I put the phone down.

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Well, blow me if he didn’t try again the next day! This time I put the receiver down straight away. Fortunately, that did the trick and the phone calls ceased.

Of course, I reported the affair to my bank and checked my account but what unnerved me was how I nearly fell for his slimy trick.

Time and time again we’re being warned about scams like this, but the criminals keep coming up with new tricks and get so good at inventing scams and playing the role of “expert” that they could audition for the National Theatre.

A recent wheeze is to send a text purporting to come from the Post Office. It tells you that an additional payment is needed for a letter before the post can send it on. The amount they want is relatively small, about £2.00, so it doesn’t seem suspicious.

But should you be taken in by this and click on the link to “pay” you’re actually passing on your bank details and letting the scammers into your account.

Another scam that’s surfaced lately involves a phone call to the victim claiming that they’ve been fined by the government but if they pay a fee, often in the low thousands, they can avoid court action.

According to Which? nearly £480 million was lost last year to bank transfer scams. The advice is always the same: IGNORE, IGNORE, IGNORE.

But why in spite of warnings and advice do we carry on falling for it?

From my own experience, if you see the words Post Office or the letters HMRC you’re inclined to believe them. Certainly the letters HMRC can start you worrying.

We’re told that these bodies would never text us but the combination of those letters and the words “court action” doesn’t do much for your nerves.

Being the victim of fraud is a horrible experience; it makes you feel such a fool.

I once had my credit card cloned when we were filming in the Midlands. I stupidly left my card with the receptionist at our hotel, somebody cloned it and went on a spending spree to the tune of over £3,000 – money I didn’t have.

The fraud people got involved and eventually I got my money back. It was a salutary lesson and the moral was that you should always cling to your cards.

I heard on the radio a middle-aged woman talking about how she fell for a common fraud and how she felt ashamed to own up to it.

She’d handed over all her money to some rat who charmed her on social media.

She was lonely, he was kind and attentive. He wined and dined her, and made her feel special in her autumn years.

And then he took her money. She lost it all, and her self-esteem. I know what I’d do if I got my hands on this greasy Lothario and many more like him.

I do know there are calls for the government to crack down harder on scams in forthcoming Duty of Care legislation.

It couldn’t come too soon.

Meanwhile, trust nobody who asks for personal information and keep reminding yourself – as I do – that there’s no fool like an old fool.