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The current cost of living crisis is proving fertile ground for financial fraudsters – with loan, energy rebate and investment scams on the rise as people focus on managing their money.

That was just one of the key messages shared with NatWest Premier customers at a recent event on fraud.

Panellist Paul Maskell, Fraud and Cybercrime Manager, UK Finance, said it was important to “stop, take a breather and be mindful” when receiving a text, email or phone call asking you to do something.

He told the audience: “Fraudsters play on our emotions, and they’re very, very good at providing the right context. We saw it during Covid, with scams around the NHS and business loans. And now, with the cost of living crisis, we’re seeing it again, with scams directed at people trying to get more from their money.

“They often tell you something you really want or need to hear, at the exact time you need to hear it.”

He stressed that, although almost 90% of all fraud is now online or through a phone call, it’s still not about technology, it’s about feelings.

“You take messages you receive in a certain way depending on how you feel in that moment,” he said. “Have you ever taken a text message the wrong way from a partner? Or an email the wrong way from a colleague? Fraudsters play on that, looking to use your hope, excitement, panic or fear to make you act in a certain way.”

Paul added: “It’s always worth taking a step back and thinking ‘what’s my emotional reaction to this?’. We’re not always very good at that. Pause, reflect and ask yourself if it could be a scam.”

We’re all vulnerable

There’s a common misconception that only some people could fall victim to fraud. But the panel stressed this wasn’t true.

Dylan Williams, Head of Affluent, NatWest – and event host – said: “So many of us believe it will be someone else who is scammed, but we could all potentially be vulnerable at certain points of our lives, with people from all walks of life being caught out.”

Panellist Vicki Ashworth, from NatWest’s Behavioural Science team, added: “There are certain circumstances where some people may be more vulnerable than others. But as humans, we’re all susceptible. Everyone will experience vulnerability at some point in their lives, and most likely at some point in their day as well.”

There are certain circumstances where some people may be more vulnerable than others. But as humans, we’re all susceptible. Everyone will experience vulnerability at some point in their lives, and most likely at some point in their day as well.

Vicki Ashworth
Behavioural Science Team, NatWest

While many worry about how their elderly relatives might tackle fraud, Paul said it was a risk for all ages.

“There is a different flavour of fraud for everyone,” he said. “The older generation can be targeted by things like romance scams as loneliness can be a factor, while younger people might see holiday or tax rebate scams."

“But no matter how old you are, if you’ve got financial anxiety and you receive an email offering you money, you may well focus on the money rather than any red flags.”

How often should you change your password?

Questions were submitted by the audience around the hassle of remembering multiple passwords, and how often they should be changed.

Paul said you didn’t necessarily need to change a password often, but recommended having a unique one for everything you do.

“If one company you deal with has a data breach and your email and password become public, criminals could use them. So if you use them for anything else, that’s at risk too.

“Using things like password manager is very important because it takes the guess work out of trying to remember your passwords. And then you only really need to change one if you think it’s been compromised.”

Five fraudster tricks

Paul talked through five key tactics used by scammers:

  • Context – such as the Covid or cost of living crisis
  • Authority – they’ll say they’re from your bank, the police or similar organisation as, instinctively, we trust authority
  • Urgency – they’ll apply pressure by saying you have to do something fast
  • Scarcity – you may hear talk of a ‘limited time offer’ that’s ‘just for you'
  • Emotion – feeding on how we feel when we see their message.

Read our guide to reporting fraud

Your questions answered

Staying safe

General

This material is published by NatWest Group plc (“NatWest Group”), for information purposes only and should not be regarded as providing any specific advice. Recipients should make their own independent evaluation of this information and no action should be taken, solely relying on it. This material should not be reproduced or disclosed without our consent. It is not intended for distribution in any jurisdiction in which this would be prohibited. Whilst this information is believed to be reliable, it has not been independently verified by NatWest Group and NatWest Group makes no representation or warranty (express or implied) of any kind, as regards the accuracy or completeness of this information, nor does it accept any responsibility or liability for any loss or damage arising in any way from any use made of or reliance placed on, this information. Unless otherwise stated, any views, forecasts, or estimates are solely those of the NatWest Group Economics Department, as of this date and are subject to change without notice.

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