Are you being asked to act in a way that deviates from the normal 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 something out of the ordinary was requested, 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 huge amounts of money because a transaction required them to deviate from the normal way of doing things.
Being asked to pay up front fees, in order to receive something of greater value should obviously be met with scepticism. Winning a prize in an international lottery is just one example, and in order to receive the prize, people are asked to pay administration fees. Really? They have a £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 really obvious, and this is how the process would work with prizes.
Society has not evolved yet to a point where cash can be eliminated as it is still cost-prohibitive for small transactions. Consequently, for businesses where all transactions are small, cash is still a requirement. However, it is unusual these days for 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, especially if goods or services will be delivered 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 usually made with a bank card or credit card, being asked to pay cash 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 normal. Other payment options such as WorldPay and PayPal are established standards and also have their own fraud prevention measure in place. These payment services are designed to protect consumers and are well established, but far too often people are asked to deviate from this norm and transfer money directly to a bank account, only to never 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:
- Suggestion that there is a legal or official requirement for it to be different. For example, an alleged policy that a deposit on a holiday must be paid 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 normal practice is actually the normal practice that everyone uses.
- Time constraints such as a theatre ticket valid this week and that payment must be transferred immediately to get the ticket in time for the performance. Creating a sense of urgency to deviate from the norm.
- 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 normal ways of doing thing
This is all 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 normal way of doing this 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 being implemented along with greater awareness. This article is not a suggestion that every deviation from normal practices is an attempt to commit fraud against you, but rather encouraging you to be sceptical and make your own judgement whenever something does deviate from normal established practices.
Information security consultant with over 20 years’ extensive experience gained across a diverse range of private and public industry sectors including insurance, banking, telecommunications, health services, charities and more, both in the UK and internationally. Graduated in 1997 with a software engineering degree and specialising in cyber security, risk analysis, compliance reporting and access management.