Avoiding phone/email scams

How to avoid being scammed

We recently reported in our Health News about a phone scam targeting Counsellors and Psychotherapists (read our telephone scam report here). In light of this, and the threat of any future scams targeting therapists, GoToSee would like to offer you some advice on avoiding scams.

Scammers can target you through a number of ways but the most popular are currently via email or over the telephone. Although door-to-door scams still continue the most lucrative ones now involve gaining personal information and bank details from unsuspecting victims over the phone or on the internet. Scammers are getting creative and finding very convincing, but devious ways to get you to part with your cash.

Recognising a scam

There are too many scams to mention in one article but you’re probably familiar with foreign lottery scams, work from home scams and premium rate phone line scams. For therapists, the main threat is from phishing scams. Phishing is a bogus telephone call or email from someone purporting to be from a reputable company or bank and requesting details from you, typically bank account details or personal information.

Email phishing

Email phishing scams are commonplace and involve a representation from someone via email asking you to reply directly or through a link that you click on to access a website. Many of the popular phishing email scams appear to be from genuine banks claiming that your account has been suspended and requires your verification. The email, to all intents and purposes, will look genuine and will request your account number and access codes in order to re-activate the account.

There will usually be a link somewhere within the email to the bank’s website. If you visit the site it will appear to be genuine and have somewhere where you can input your secure information. Should you do this you will of course have played right into the scammer’s hands.

Many people are now wise to this approach and can recognise a fake email. You should know that a genuine bank or company will never ask you to verify or pass on sensitive information directly in an email reply or by clicking on a link to through to their website. You should always type the website address of your bank or building society directly into your browser – never follow a link supplied in an email.

Other email scams will request help or a service by using a bogus story. They are aimed at extracting money from you and therefore you should never reply, no matter how legitimate or heart-felt the appeal. An example of one of these emails can be seen below:

Dear in Christ,

I am Mrs. LINDA MOMORH from Kuwait ; I am married to Mr. ROBIN MOMORH, who worked with Kuwait embassy in Ivory Coast for nine years before he died in the year 2002. We were married for eleven years without a child, before he died after a brief illness that lasted for only four days. Before his death we were both born again Christian, since his death I decided not to re-marry or get a child outside my matrimonial home which the Bible is against, when my late husband was alive etc. etc.

Telephone phishing

The telephone phishing scam has become a more popular approach as direct contact can often catch people unaware. It is often combined with an email to make the request for information look even more genuine. The email may not request information via a fake website but it will contain a telephone number for you to call whereupon you’ll be greeted by an automated message which then transfers you to an agent – this agent will then extract the required information from you.

The reason these scams work so well is because we’ve become accustomed to entering account numbers and answering security questions over the phone.

Therapist scam techniques and methods

As a therapist you will probably advertise your practice with a directory (such as GoToSee) and as such your contact information is readily available to others. This is obviously your intention as you want to generate business but you can also be approached by people trying to get your business too. Sometimes referred to as ‘cold calling’ it is a tried and tested way for companies to generate income from the public or from businesses such as yours.

As a therapist, you’ll probably be approached with offers of advertising space or to buy certain products. The majority of approaches you get will be genuine but you should always be wary of a potential scam.

Scam techniques typically involve:

– Direct contact by phone or email (usually without permission from you and therefore catching you unaware).
– A pleasant but overly friendly approach.
– Overly persuasive and persistent.
– Pushing you into a decision there and then.
– Requesting money or bank details before you’ve received anything.

A professional scammer will sound very convincing and may try to offer you something for nothing in order to get your details. They may say you’ve won a prize even though you didn’t enter any competitions or they may give you favourable or exclusive discounts if you hand over your bank details there and then.

If someone is genuine and wants to gain your business they’ll be prepared to wait for you to make a decision and any discounts or favourable terms should still be available to you even if you get back to the company at a later date

N.B. Some opening offers may only run for a specified period but the caller should inform you of these timescales.

A scammer may also use references such as organisations or associations within your industry. By claiming they have contacted you via a professional association, their pitch for business will sound even more convincing. Once they’ve given their pitch and have got you hooked they’ll make an immediate request for one or more of the following:

Money – this may be explained away as an upfront administration fee or set-up cost.
Bank/credit card details – account numbers, passwords etc. NEVER give this information unless sure you’re dealing with a reputable company. If you’re still unsure about doing this on the phone ask if you can use their secure payment system online.
Personal details – Date of birth, address, National Insurance number etc. Again, NEVER give this information unless you are positive it isn’t a bogus call.

Should they still not get what they want, the scammer may provide you with further bogus information to convince you. This may come in the form of a website in which to view their company’s profile. When viewed, the website will, on the surface, look entirely professional and genuine. It is very simple to set up a website so here are a few things to check to see if it’s real:

What does the website look and feel like?
A professional look and feel should be the first thing to look for but as we’ve mentioned this can be achieved by a scammer. However, browse around the site and you’ll often find a few unprofessional touches such as incomplete or vague information. Take your time and get a feel for the site. Read the ‘about us’ section and check to see if the site has a history (perhaps they have an archive of articles you can view or hundreds of pages within the site).

Check the contact information
A scammer may be able to hide behind a professional looking site but the contact details are often a give-away. Many companies use contact forms as a way for you to communicate with them which is fine but you should also look for an actual email address, location address and phone number so you can check them out before making contact.

The location address should ideally be a physical one and not a P.O. box number while the phone number should have an area code rather than a free phone number or standard-rate number. While a free-phone number or standard-rate can be genuine, scammers can have calls redirected to another location. Cross-reference the address with the phone number to make sure they match (Google is a useful tool for this).

Also check the company’s email address. Genuine companies will not use free mail services such as Yahoo or Gmail for their primary means of email contact. Free email addresses can be easily disposed of so look for something like this admin@gotosee.co.uk where the website name is included rather than something like this gotoseeadmin@hotmail.com which is a free-service email address.

Google them
Google is a great tool for checking the credentials of a company. Names, addresses, websites and contact details are all available information you can check on Google. Instead of following the URL given to you by the company for their website try typing the company name into the search box and see if their website appears. You can also check the phone number. Type it into the search box and see if it’s listed elsewhere (perhaps other directories such as Yell or GumTree).

How do they process transactions?
A trusted company will use a secure payment system when asking for your credit or debit card details online. When you access this system you’ll be taken to a secure area on the website which is noticeable by a padlock appearing in the bottom right-hand corner of your screen and the URL changing from http:// to https:// (this means that the information you send is encrypted). You can double-click on the padlock symbol and you’ll see information about who owns the secure certificate.

If you don’t see the padlock or a change in URL from http:// to https:// then the site is fake and you should not enter any information.

If in doubt, don’t do it

Remember that some of the scamming techniques we’ve mentioned are actually tried and tested business methods that have been used for many years. This is why scams work so well because we’re used to being approached in this way.

Genuine companies may approach you directly over the phone and you may decide to do business with them during the initial call. Just be sure you’re not being scammed and if you have any niggling doubts about the person or company you’re dealing with end the conversation or delete the email.

A genuine company will go to great lengths to get your business, protect your sensitive information and have a professional and secure process for handling transactions. If during the initial phone call you’re in doubt ask if you can call them back or if they can call you back in an hour or so. Use this time to find out more about the company.

If you’d like to find out more about GoToSee’s therapist directory service give our marketing team a call on 0208 446 2224.

Internet marketing expertsAbout The Author GoToSee is a UK based complementary therapy and alternative medicine directory and resource.

We can help drive targeted traffic and potential clients to your business with our wealth of knowledge in the CAM sector and a mix of PR, search engine optimisation skills and online/offline marketing.

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