The growing popularity of the phoney research scam


The growing popularity of the phoney research scam

There must be a "scam community" out there, sharing tips and techniques. That is my conclusion as a result of an epidemic of recent cold calling purporting to be "research".

The latest popular scam consists of boiler rooms pretending to be serious organisations conducting "a survey among investors to gauge confidence" or some such nonsense. Back in the summer, I wrote about how I had been apparently contacted by a researcher at the University of Luxembourg who was interested in my views on the stock market.

The university is real but the researcher is a phoney, and, needless to say, the project is just a way of finding out more about potential victims; how much cash they have, their attitude to risky investments, and, crucially, whether an appeal to greed would work.

The scam is spreading
The method is now spreading fast. Earlier this month, a reader had a phone call which was eerily similar to my one. But instead of a small university in one of the tiniest countries in Europe, the so-called researcher – unusually a woman – claimed to be ringing from Germany in connection with "a survey sponsored by the German and UK Governments". Big stuff.

Governments do not sponsor surveys in this way. And why should the British and the Germans co-operate? The European Union does sometimes look at public attitudes – as do individual
Governments – but they use the correct channel of an opinion poll company which starts off the call identifying itself, explaining options and where to find out more.

Our reader was sceptical but played along. It started with general questioning, looking at their attitude on the direction the economy was taking, before becoming more specific, such as whether the economy would be positive or negative in 2014 and which sectors would grow or shrink.

Callers look for positives here so if you favour "telecoms" or "motor vehicles" or "software" they
will adapt their product and what they say to match those thoughts.

After that, the scammer narrowed the questions down again, seeking to find out what investments were already owned, the feelings induced, the degree to which they had been successful and – more overtly this time – areas of interest.

At this point, our reader (also called Tony) said he did not wish to discuss his affairs and terminated the conversation.

Hanging up won't get rid of them
That never puts these people off. Once you engage past a shouted no and a slamming down of the phone, they believe they have you in their power.

So the woman, who said she was called Caroline, phoned back two or three days later. Her excuse was to say that there had been a problem on the line so she wanted to start the conversation again. The idea is this will make the prospective victim feel guilty about putting the phone down.

But despite Tony saying he wanted nothing to do with this, an hour later he had another call, this time from a man.

"Well, Mr. Tony," he said, "How is the weather this morning?" Then he said he was calling from Germany and wanted to do a survey. Tony said he did not want to answer his questions, almost certainly designed to get information on which scamsters could base an "investment" proposal.

But the caller, who failed to identify himself, became quite aggressive, and said that if he did not get an answer he would call tomorrow and the next day and so on. But if he received an answer he would remove the details from the database.

No genuine market researcher, Government or private, would act like that. Real opinion pollsters know that they may need to make at least ten calls before finding someone willing to participate.

The use of threats is illegal.

Revealed: The 10 most common scams

Revealed: The 10 most common scams