Are you being asked to act in a way that deviates from the usual way of doing things? If you are, then you should exercise some scepticism. When things go wrong and result in financial loss, it is often the case that the vendor asked for something out of the ordinary, and at the time, it would have sounded plausible for whatever reason. There are many examples of this, yet there are far more examples of people losing vast sums of money because a transaction required them to deviate from the norm.
Being asked to pay upfront fees, to receive something of higher value should be met with scepticism. Winning a lottery prize is just one example. To obtain the winnings, the scammers ask people to pay administration fees. They have £100,000 to give you, but you must pay them a £350 fee. Putting the fact aside that if you never bought a ticket, you would not be a winner, then even if you had genuinely won the prize, receiving a net payment of £99,650 is obvious.
Society has not evolved yet to a point where it can operate without cash as it is often cost-prohibitive for small transactions. Consequently, for businesses where all transactions are small, cash payments are still a requirement. However, it is unusual these days for the cash to be mandatory for medium or large transactions. It could be something as simple as a means of reducing taxation, but it is worth asking questions and being aware of the risks, more so if the vendor will deliver goods or services at a later date. There are cases of businesses taking cash orders after they become aware that a bankruptcy declaration is imminent; high street travel agency being one example. Again, at a time when payments for goods and services are predominantly with a bank card or credit card, cash Only for whatever reason is a deviation from the norm.
Bank Transfers to people or businesses where no existing relationship exists is asking for trouble, but this still happens. Again, payment by bank card or credit card is a well-established practice. Other established payment options, such as WorldPay and PayPal, have fraud-prevention measure in place. These established payment services protect consumers, but far too often people are asked to deviate from this norm and transfer money directly to a bank account, only never to receive goods or services, and even worse, never be able to contact the recipient.
Reasons which sound plausible for needing to deviate from the norm include:
- The suggestion that there is a legal or official requirement for it to be different. For example, an alleged policy that consumers must pay a deposit on a holiday in cash. In practice, this circumvents all the protection offered by Visa or MasterCard if something goes wrong.
- ‘This is how we do it with all our customers, and you save money.’ An attempt to convince you that the ‘deviation from the norm’ is the usual practice that everyone uses.
- Time constraints such as a theatre ticket valid this week and you must transfer payment immediately to get the tickets in time for the performance; creating a sense of urgency to deviate from the norm.
- The card machine is not working today, and sadly this offer will not be available tomorrow. Creates the fear of loss while offering deviation from the norm as a viable solution.
- Discounts offered for bank transfers or cash payments because of card payment fees. Creates financial incentive to deviate from the norm.
- ‘We only have two left.’ Using scarcity as a means of pushing a deviation from the established ways of doing things.
These examples are very familiar to many readers, as stories keep resurfacing, but that is because the problem is far from being resolved. The suggestion here is to take a more holistic approach and be suspicious whenever a transaction deviates from the usual way of doing things in society.
It is easier to commit fraud against you if you are a willing participant. If you are complicit in making payments to fraudsters, financial institutions will use this as a means of denying any refund claims. However, the definition of ‘complicit’ is gradually changing in favour of consumers, and more safeguards are in place, along with greater awareness.
This article is not a suggestion that every deviation from everyday practices is an attempt to commit fraud against you, but rather encouraging you to be sceptical and make judgement whenever something does deviate.
Robert is an information security consultant with over 20 years of experience across a diverse range of organisations, both in the UK and internationally. Robert graduated in 1997 with an honours degree in software engineering for security and safety-critical systems. Robert is contactable directly through LinkedIn.