08 Aug 2022

Building of a scam: Rogue traders and email hack scams the perfect partners in crime

  • More than half of people have had a knock on their door offering to do work on their homes
  • 18% received an email invoice for work but 35% don’t know fraudsters can intercept messages
  • One in five have had email hacked, while nearly a quarter (24%) have been victim of email hacks
  • 21% have authorised a payment that has been flagged as suspicious by bank or building society
  • Nationwide’s Scam Checker Service allows members to check a payment before making it

Rogue traders and fake email invoices are giving Brits every reason to be on their guard when having work done on their home, a new poll1 from Nationwide Building Society shows.

The two crimes – one old and one new – form two sides of the same coin when it comes to conning people out of their hard-earned money for work that is either shoddy or not done at all. Even if the work goes well you can still get caught out when making the payment.

Rogue traders:

According to Nationwide’s poll of more than 3,000 people across the UK, more than half (54%) have had someone knock on their door uninvited saying they could help with work on their home.

When doing research to find a tradesperson, nearly two thirds (65%) ask family or friends for a recommendation, with women (75%) more likely to do so than men (55%). Nearly half (46%) would try and find someone via websites providing a directory of tradespeople and 43 per cent would read reviews online or via social media to find someone. However, nearly one in ten (9%) would choose a tradesperson based on the cheapest price.

However, more than two in five (44%) have or know someone who has had work done on their property to such a poor standard that it required fixing or redoing to bring it up to the required standard. While nearly a third (32%) of those got someone else to remedy the work, 12 per cent did it themselves.

The Nationwide poll reveals poor work on the kitchen is likely to cost the most on average to put right (£4,514). When it comes to paying for the remedial work, nearly half (49%) used cash, while a quarter (25%) made an online bank transfer and 19 per cent used their debit card.

When asked what was done following the poor-quality work, nearly a third (31%) confronted the tradesperson, with 28 per cent leaving bad reviews online and more than a quarter (26%) posted about it on social media. Perhaps surprisingly, 15 per cent admitted that nothing was done.

Despite the poor-quality work, more than a third (37%) said the money paid wasn’t returned. Of the 48 per cent who did get some back, only one in five (20%) were fully refunded.

Receiving invoices and payment details:

While 30 per cent of people were handed the invoice or bank details in person for the work done, nearly one in five (18%) received the invoice and details via email and eight per cent by text.

Email hack scams:

Despite receiving payment details via email and text, more than a third (35%) of people admit they have not previously been aware that criminals can intercept genuine email and text exchanges. In addition, nearly two thirds (62%) of people say they have not checked an email address to see whether it has been compromised.

Having emails hacked can lead to others potentially being scammed. In fact, according to Nationwide’s poll, 24 per cent of people surveyed have been the victim of an email hack scam – where a fraudster intercepts an email from an actual trader and modifies the payment details. Nine per cent have been a victim more than once. These are called invoice or mandate scams and, according to Nationwide’s internal data for April 2021 to March 2022, the number of these scams fell 33 per cent2, although the average loss to these scams was around £8,500 during those 12 months.

More than four in ten (44%) 16 to 24-year-olds and a third (33%) of those aged 25-34 have been a victim of email scams. This compares to just 17 per cent of 45 to 54-year-olds and 15 per cent of those aged 55 and over. Men are also more likely to have been a victim of an email scam (29% versus 19% of women).

However, the majority of respondents are vigilant when making payments of this nature, but some will still carry on regardless. For example:

  • When receiving an email from a tradesperson or company with their bank details asking for payment, one in ten (10%) would make a payment as instructed, with 18 per cent emailing back to check the details and then making the payment after receiving a reply. However, more than a third (36%) would call them first to check the details and then make the payment, while 20 per cent would contact their bank or building society and ask for advice.
  • If an email was received from a company or tradesperson saying that the invoice details are out of date and payment needs to go into a personal account in another name, more than half (52%) would ring the company or tradesperson on a trusted number first to check it was genuine. Nearly a quarter (24%) would check with their bank or building society. Worryingly, however, seven per cent of respondents admitted they would make the payment.

Authorising suspicious payments:

More than one in five (21%) admit to having authorised payments even though their bank or building society has flagged them as suspicious. Men are more likely to have done this (29%) compared to women (14%). The same goes for younger people, with more than a third (36%) of 16 to 24-year-olds and 37 per cent of 25-34s having authorised a payment that has been flagged as suspicious, whereas only nine per cent of those aged 55 and over have done the same thing. Authorising those payments has left more than a third (34%) of respondents out of pocket.

Nationwide Scam Checker Service:

The ability to help people make payments safely was a key reason why Nationwide launched a Scam Checker Service in September last year. The service enables the Society’s members to check an electronic payment they are worried about either in branch or by calling a 24/7 freephone number (0800 030 4057). If the payment goes ahead and the member is subsequently scammed, unless Nationwide told the member not to proceed, they will be fully reimbursed.

Ed Fisher, Head of Fraud Policy at Nationwide Building Society, said: “When choosing a tradesperson or company to do work on your home, it’s important to get multiple quotes and check reviews and previous work before making a decision. A recommendation from a friend or family member or a directory site is usually a good starting point. While it might be tempting to go for the cheapest quote, it could end up costing you more further down the line if you have to redo or fix the original work. And don’t pay the full amount up front – reputable tradespeople don’t require full payment until the work has been completed and will not pressure you into a payment.

“When it comes to paying for the work it’s always important to make sure that any emails you receive are genuine. Email scams can happen at any time, whether the work has been done properly or not. It’s important to be careful when receiving requests for payment over text or email as fraudsters have the capability to intercept these and make subtle changes to account details which will divert the payment to them. Ring the tradesperson on a number you know is theirs and double check the account details. If anything in the email header looks odd, don’t send the money. If you are a Nationwide member you can use our Scam Checker Service before making the payment. We can check the details and give you advice that could save you from being scammed.”

Example case study

A Nationwide member was having some building work done on their property. The company had already completed some of the work and the member had written a cheque. The member was waiting for an email from the builder with instructions of how to make the outstanding payment of £15,000 plus VAT. They then received an email and made the payment without checking any of the information contained in the email. The builder called the member and informed them that their email account had been compromised. However, Nationwide was able to block the payment and prevent the member from losing around £18,000. The Society spoke to the member as well to educate them about these types of scams to try and prevent them falling victim again.

Scams education event with Nationwide Building Society

Nationwide’s Fraud Education team hosts a quarterly webinar to help members learn more about the different types of scams and provide advice and tips on how they can stay safe and prevent themselves from being scammed. The next event takes place on Tuesday 23 August at 10.30am and lasts 40 minutes. People can sign up to the next event here: Recognising scams with Nationwide (office.com)

Things to look out for and tips to avoid becoming a victim of a rogue trader or email hack scam:

Rogue Traders

Red Flags

  1. They refuse to give you a written quote
  2. They pressure you into an urgent decision
  3. They don’t have a website or any online presence
  4. They say they are doing some work locally, but you cannot go round and see their work
  5. They tell you to go to your branch and take out cash while they set up
  6. Traders turning up at the door or cold calls with pressure to agree to work quickly.

What to do to protect yourself

  1. Always get several quotes in writing, so you can compare, and only proceed with an agreed written cost.
  2. Never be pressured in the moment – calmly repeat the message that you can’t commit or pay now and want to get other quotes.  A reputable trader will understand.
  3. Look for reviews – most traders have an online ‘footprint’ / site / social media presence as well as reviews on trusted sites. Read advice sites; check a trade, citizens advice etc.
  4. Ask friends, family, neighbours for advice if you can.  Often someone you know has had similar work done or knows a good tradesperson they can recommend.
  5. Never pay in full in advance. Sometimes a deposit for materials may be asked for, but this should only be a minority of the cost and make sure you receive details of what it covers.

Email hack / invoice scams

Red Flags

  1. You receive an emailed invoice for work done but the sender says their bank details have recently changed, or there is a problem at the bank and to use new or substituted details.
  2. You are told to ignore any issues or warnings about the account details not matching the account name.
  3. The email or invoice is worded badly or is unprofessional, or the email headers show an odd email address – it might have been sent or edited by a scammer intercepting emails.

What to do to protect yourself

  1. Remember, just because you had the work done and expect an invoice, a scammer can still intercept emails. Some firms are starting to password protect invoices within emails to combat this.
  2. To check emails have not been tampered with, ring the trader on a number you know is correct or speak to them in person and check the account details. 
  3. If you are a Nationwide member, you can take advantage of our free our Scam Checker Service – we can give you additional advice and protection (Ts&Cs apply).