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30 Dec 2019

The five strangest scams of 2019

Criminals have concocted some truly bizarre tales in order to part victims from their cash over the past year

Which? helps hundreds of scams victims every year, and many of their stories are familiar to us because scammers use the same persuasive techniques repeatedly.

But every so often, we see the fraudsters resort to more eyebrow-raising methods or phrases.

Make no mistake: fraud is the fastest-growing crime type in the UK, does serious damage to the economy and has a devastating effect on many victims.

However, we're sharing some of the more baffling and amusing examples to help you stay one step ahead of the con artists.

Read on to find out how to keep your money and personal details safe.

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'Clock is clacking'

This oddly worded variation on 2019's prolific sextortion scam sees the scammer instead threaten to 'splash sourness in your face' - presumably a reference to acid - unless you pay a bitcoin ransom.

The recipient is given 24 hours to comply and warned, somewhat poetically, that the 'clock is clacking'.

Acid attacks are an appalling crime, but there's no need to be alarmed if you receive this email as it's not targeted at you specifically and there's no threat. Many people have received versions of it.

'Supercharge weight lose [sic]'


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Hoping to lose a few pounds in the festive season? With 'Keto Pure' diet pills, your wallet gets thinner, too.

We have found evidence that customers were being targeted with fake celebrity endorsements on Facebook, before being intentionally overcharged and then refused a refund.

So it's best to find another method of supercharging your 'weight lose [sic]'.

'Awesome and cheap products'

Message received:

I have very bad news for you, if you do not buy my products, I will start building a lot of spam backlinks to kill your website off. I think it is worth just purchasing one of my awesome and cheap products and then you can live with no problems and enjoy revenue from your website.I just need to survive and I hope you understand, it is not easy for anyone today.

I will wait your purchase. If you want to buy with bitcoin, I send you wallet address. Bitcoin will be better.

Thank you!

This gem, received by none other than our social media team, threatened to destroy the Which? website unless we purchased one of the scammer's 'awesome and cheap products'. As the scammer states, they are just trying to 'survive' as 'it's not easy for anyone today'.

Luckily our team knew that you shouldn't click on links or respond to such emails, so we still don't know that 'awesome and cheap products' we missed out on. We hope the sender was able to survive and has now found an honest form of employment.

'I'm Mr Warren E Buffett. Google me.'

Message recieved:

My name is Mr. Warren E. Buffett an American business magnate, investor and philanthropist. am the most successful investor in the world.

I believe strongly in 'giving while living' I had one idea that never changed in my mind? that you should use your wealth to help people and i have decided to give ($2,500,000.00) Two Million Five Hundred Thousand United Dollars, to randomly selected individuals worldwide.On receipt of this email, you should count yourself as the lucky individual. Your email address was chosen online when searching at random. Kindly get back to me at your earliest convenience , so I know your email address is valid. ( warrenbuff02@aol.com ) Email me

Thank you for accepting our offer, we are indeed grateful You Can Google my name for more information: Warren Buffett .God bless you.

The world's fourth-richest man has personally scoured the internet for email addresses and just happened to have found yours. And his email name is 'warrenbuff02'. Seems legit.

This is a variation of the classic 'Nigerian prince' scam, which has plagued millions of inboxes over the decades. Reply, and you may be tricked into making an upfront payment to 'release' your windfall, in what's known as an advanced-fee fraud. At the very least, you could end up on a so-called 'suckers list' of people the scammers consider easy prey, meaning you're bombarded with spam and scams.

Kate Winslet's investment terror

We don't know what Kate Winslet has invested in to create this much fear - possibly a death star?

In all seriousness, this is a fake celebrity investment endorsement mocked up to look like a BBC news article. The logos of other outlets such as The Sun and The Guardian are also being used fraudulently.

We have highlighted the prolific use of celebrities to front Bitcoin scams, but phony endorsements are also being used on binary options and foreign exchange (forex) scams.

Staying safe

Follow these tips to stay safe online, on your phone and on your doorstep:

  • If you receive unsolicited contact from someone trying to get your money, banking or personal details, never assume it's genuine. Calmly walk away or put the phone down, take five minutes and think about how to verify what you've been told using trusted contact details.
  • If you're investing for the first time, consult an FCA-authorised financial adviser. Consider traditional investments before more exotic ones and only invest as much as you are willing to lose. If it sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is.
  • Never purchase goods, services or investments on the strength of a cold call or other unsolicted contact. Always do your research and if in doubt, walk away.
  • Avoid paying by bank transfer wherever possible. For more expensive purchases, credit cards offer you best protection. But debit cards and PayPal also offer some protection.

Report scams to fraud and cybercrime reporting centre Action Fraud. Frustratingly, they're unlikely to be investigated or the criminals punished, but victim reports help police take down rogue sites and phone numbers, as well as build a national picture.