Citizens Advice Scotland Chief Executive Derek Mitchell on the launch of our Scams Awareness Month.
(This column first appeared in the Sunday Herald online on 03 June 2018)
If somebody came up to you in the street and stole £100 from your pocket, you wouldn’t just let them walk away with it. You’d be outraged, and you’d call the police. So why do so many of us let people get away with it when their theft is perpetrated online, or over the phone, or even on our own doorstep?
Because that’s what a scam is. It is an attempt to steal money from you by deception. In other words, it is fraud. Or to put it simpler still – it is theft. And it needs to be treated as such.
The aim of our Scams Awareness Month is not just to tell people to be vigilant and avoid scams, it also stresses the importance of reporting them when they do happen.
Because reporting a scam not only allows the authorities to try and get your money back, it should also help them stop that scammer from doing the same thing to someone else.
When we at Citizens Advice Scotland first ran this campaign in 2012, our research showed that 50% of Scots had been targeted by a scam but only 5% were inclined to report it. Today the figure for reporting scams is now up to nearer 15%. Last year saw a 24% increase in the reporting of scams across the Scottish CAB network.
So the good news is that the message is getting through to people. But we can’t be complacent. We need that figure to be much higher. And crucially, we need to convince people that reporting scams will lead to action.
With scammers becoming ever more sophisticated, the fight against them must be a broad front involving consumer groups like CAS and Trading Standards, as well as the police, industry regulators and even governments. We are already working together but we need to make sure we do so even more closely.
After all, scammers themselves are always upping their game, using more and more channels and even sharing information with each other. So those of us who want to stop them need to do the same.
Scams don’t just cause financial harm and emotional distress to individuals. They also cost the UK economy an estimated £190bn a year - equal to around £10,000 per family. So this is a national problem that needs national action.
Imagine a public that is energised to spot and report scams, and a network of authorities working together with a dedicated action plan to defeat them: that’s the scammer’s worst nightmare.
And that’s the place we need to get to. So it’s time for all of us to step up. We at CAS are up for that. We hope others are too.