I’ve never written about a money scam; about people being defrauded of thousands of pound and the scum who do it. Today’s post is all about how to spot a money scam and what to do about it. Because we had a brush up with the ‘bailiff scam’ and I’m still reeling.
Do you know what is on the photograph?
Yep, it is a one-pound coin; a new one. It is not simply a one-pound coin, though; it is THE pound I won from John in a bet that a telephone call he received is a scam. But let me start from the beginning.
About 10.30 am John came off his business telephone line and said:
‘I was just told that we owe £3,600 (£4,300 with the VAT) and this debt has been through the courts. I have no idea what this is about, have not had any correspondence from Manchester County Court, but he’ll phone me in ten minute with more information.”
I started getting concerned; my first thought was that money seems to flow out much faster than I can make it these days. And I have not been exactly slacking in the ‘money making’ department.
Ten minutes later, John came downstairs, his whole being exuding concern and worry.
‘He is saying that he’ll be her in 30 minutes with the documentation but if we don’t pay immediately £2,800 we’ll get a County Court Judgement (CCJ) and ruin our credit score.’
At this point alarm bells started ringing in my head.
‘Are you sure you are not getting scammed?’ – I asked.
‘We are not paying anything before we see the documents and know what this is about. I don’t care about CCJ and my credit score. I also bet you £1 that no one will come.’
As you already know, I was correct. Nobody came to serve us with the documents though the scumbag with convincing voice, did phone to ask my husband whether he has transferred the money claiming he is in a traffic jam (a second push, you see).
Meanwhile, my husband phoned the Court and they couldn’t find any action against him. He checked on the Company House records and there was not a trace of a company with the name given him.
To cut a long story short, scamming scum tried it with us today and we didn’t fall for it (though, admittedly John was very shaken; you would be as well were this done to you). It also turns out, after a bit more focused internet research, that this scam is well know in the South: it is called the ‘bailiff scam’ and it is described on different bailiff sites (legitimate ones).
Why am I telling you about it?
Because, I believe, it is important to know how to spot a money scam and what to do after that; who knows, tomorrow they may try it on you.
Also, here is my disclaimer: we managed to spot the money scam only because we didn’t care about getting a CCJ. Hence, the test was whether someone would come with documentation or not. This worked but it is not the best way to spot a money scam.
How do money scams work?
You can check the script of the bailiff scam on the web. You can also find descriptions of other money scams. (Okay, usually you are given some BS for legitimacy after which you are asked for money or private information.)
What I found interesting, and what I’d like to share with you, is that the whole thing was very well done. It used several cognitive biases and psychological blind spots.
Here are some of these.
#1. Build strong emotion
The success of the scam depends on the ability of the scammer to tap into a strong, usually negative, emotion. Typically, money scams use fear and greed, but they can also use our love for family members (e.g. your son is in big trouble with us, he owes us money and if you don’t pay immnediately…).
The ‘bailiff scam’ depends on the fear of getting a CCJ and having company property forcefully removed.
The Nigerian scams that circulate, the ones asking you for your bank details to transfer money and make you a millionaire, depend on greed.
One problem with strong emotion is that it inevitably clouds our judgement; it seems our brains cannot cope, at the same time, with strong emotion and reason.
#2. Create a sense of urgency
Once the scammers have brought to the fore your strong emotions, they need to create a sense of urgency. The scam won’t work if you have time to calm down and think rationally.
Hence, you’d be asked to transfer money immediately. They’ll make you believe that a great disaster would occur if you don’t (in the case of the bailiff scam, if you don’t pay £2,800 immediately, you’ll have to pay £4,300; and they’ll take your stuff away).
How do I know about all this? Yeah, I’ve known many gypsies in my life; heck, I was partly raised by gypsies. Some of them scammed people and this was their favourite trick. (It also worked with gullible people.)
#3. Use anchoring like a pro
Anchoring is all about one piece of information dominating your decision-making process. Usually, this is something important, something you hold in high regard.
Enter CCJ and credit score.
The bailiff scam is anchored in people’s concerns for their credit score. A different scam may use something else though I’d think that getting a CCJ and credit score would be favourites – how many people can say that they don’t care about their credit score?
#4. Rely on ignorance of procedure
Even John getting a phone call should have been enough to raise suspicion.
Still, we didn’t know two important things:
- Courts, and court officials, never approach people by phone (I owe this nugget of information to Helen Dewdney, The Complaining Cow consumer rights campaigner and author).
- According to the regulation, bailiffs are not allowed to contact you on the phone first. They ought to send you a letter.
#5. Rely on people having too much debt
If the scamming scum had phoned seven years ago, when we had a lot of debt to many creditors, we may have felt confused; and scared.
We’ve lived debt free for five years now so convincing us that we have an outstanding debt that has been through the courts was a bit hard. If somebody turned up with the relevant documentation it would have meant we were scammed to get this debt.
How to spot a money scam?
These are the characteristics that all money scams share:
- Creating fear;
- Pushing you to do things fast;
- Vague on the nature of debt or benefaction;
- Telling you that you’ll see the documents after you pay;
- Specific on a bank account;
- If you don’t pay immediately, expect another call within 20 minutes; this will escalate the pressure;
- There are veiled or direct threats;
- Using communication medium that can’t be traced (phoning and withholding the number).
Don’t fall for it.
What to do next?
It is your duty to inform the police, more specifically Action Fraud.
It is also your duty to disseminate the information about the scam as widely as possible – it is easier to fall for it than you think.
This post will help you easily spot a money scam instead of falling for it. And yes, becoming a victim of scammers is easier than you think – once your big brain has been taken over by money fears there is no space for rational thought.