By Jenny Campbell, regional manager for the Scottish Association of Young Farmers Clubs

DO YOU feel fully aware that you would know and could recognise a scam message … say one claiming to offer financial support during lockdown? You might answer yes but how many individuals in the rural community around you, your family, friends and neighbours could say the same? The figures provide a stark warning.

As we hurtle into new ways of living, with communication services playing a key role in people’s lives, new findings from The Communications Consumer Panel found fraud or ‘scams’ have cost the UK £190 billion a year! These crimes are closely connected with aspects of organised criminal activity and far too many personal lives, of all ages, are being invaded and individuals and businesses being conned.

It’s not just about the money. No matter the age of the victim, there’s a long lasting, significant emotional or psychological impact on anyone who has fallen victim to scammers.

Most alarmingly from the perspective of young rural scots, information within that report, published in December 2020, showed that younger age groups (aged 16 to 34) were the most susceptible to being scammed and accounted for more than half of all the scams experienced (52%). One in five (20%) of those aged 16 to 34 had been scammed in the past two years.

Looking at the figures in more detail:

  • 16- to 24-year-olds were susceptible to text message scams, accounting for 41% of these scams.
  • Of those 16- to 24-year-olds who lost money, just under two thirds (62%) lost up to £100.
  • 25- to 34-year-olds were the most likely of any age group to get scammed via telephone or online.
  • Of those 25- to 34-year-olds who lost money, nearly two thirds (61%) lost more than £100, and just under a third (30%) lost more than £500.

The evidence of how susceptible younger age groups are to scams is stark.

Those subject to scams were convinced that these criminals seemed legitimate and that their style of communication was trustworthy and researched. Those with low confidence in technology were being exploited with designs, images, logos and uniqueness of a fake business’s product looking ‘the real deal’, proving captivating and alluring.

From qualitative interviews conducted by the Consumer Panel, participants spoke of their embarrassment at being caught out and their subsequent loss of self-belief. Keeping safe online is everybody’s business. Nobody should be too embarrassed to talk to friends or family if they’ve been tricked by professional fraudsters.

With the shocking statistics around the way that the younger generation are being targeted, the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime (SPARC) together with NFU Scotland and SAYFC Young Farmers, through news releases, blogs, social media posts and infographics are warning Scottish farmers and crofters to be vigilant to these threats. We are also sharing links and guidance to help improve the security and resilience of agricultural businesses throughout the country against cyber threats.

Now is the time for young people in Scotland, particularly those working or living in rural Scotland, to recognise that this is an issue that is not confined to older or less digitally skilled people. Young Scots in agriculture need a helping hand from the organisations that surround them to understand how to look after their money and which payment methods are more secure than others.

To start the journey of becoming a more resilient individual, or for your business to gain a more secure stance, please check out the information available from organisations that are there to help.

If in doubt, ask and please forward any suspicious emails to: report@phishing.gov.uk Suspicious text messages should be forwarded to 7726.

As a good starting place, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) have published tailor-made cyber security advice for the farming community available at: NATIONAL CYBER SECURITY CENTRE’S ‘CYBER SECURITY FOR FARMERS’ GUIDANCE

We would also recommend the following links: