Criminal scams – online and offline – to watch out for in France in 2021

Criminal scams - online and offline - to watch out for in France in 2021
Photo: Issouf Sanogo | AFP
Online scams have been commonplace for a while - the government said that in 2017 and 2018 internet fraud accounted for more than half of attempted scams reported in France.

People aged 14 to 29 were most likely to fall victim to online scams – because they were most likely to use online services, a study published in September 2020 by the Institut des hautes études du ministère de l’Intérieur (IHEMI) found.

It also said that those aged 75 or over were more likely to fall for the less common but more lucrative ‘trick’ scams – those that hint at lottery wins, for example – which account for 13 percent of recorded online scams, but cost the victim more than €500 in some 26 percent of cases.

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Here are some of the most common scams doing the rounds in France this year.

Fake delivery service emails 

The pandemic has prompted an increase in online shopping and scammers have been taking advantage by posing as delivery operators. 

People may receive fake emails or text messages informing them how to track their ‘orders’, or claiming there is a problem with delivery. The emails contain a link that takes victims to a fake website designed to steal personal and financial data. 

A notable scam: Criminals send you an order confirmation pretending to be from Amazon. When you click on the link, you are taken to a fake page asking for your log-in details. If you enter them, scammers may be able to access and buy things on your account, as well as stealing personal details.

Fake emails from the French tax agency or other official bodies

Tax season always brings a raft of scams. There are usually several variations on the theme, but in general cybercriminals pretend to be from the Direction générale des Finances publiques (DGFiP).

A common one informs the recipient they are in line for a ‘refund’, if they confirm their bank details via a fake web page.

Some include attachments that install malware when downloaded.

Holiday scams 

Beware of holiday home rental offers that look too good to be true. They very probably are. An entire villa for the same price as a relatively small studio is an offer that is likely to be a scam – even if it says ‘last-minute promotion’, or something similar. 

Watch out for deposit amounts, too. The average is around 30 percent of the total cost of the holiday home. Any higher amounts – or requests you pay by unprotected bank transfers – should set alarm bells ringing.

Cryptocurrency scams

Cryptocurrency scams are on the rise, as ordinary people try to profit from a boom that has lasted since the start of the year.

Scams often take the form of platforms that do not exist. It usually starts with an advertising banner and phishing, on social networks or by email. The most common contain an image of a well-known person.

READ ALSO France uncovers ‘massive fraud’ of coronavirus wage payouts

The objective is to get the Internet user to fill out a questionnaire for which he must provide personal information, notably a telephone number which allows con artists to pressure their victims into sending money.

Another classic scam is that of fake discount codes from popular companies. These spread quickly because cybercriminals often say that if you share the codes you will get a greater discount. Clicking on any link, however, leads to a page requesting personal and financial details.

Phone company scams 

Earlier this year, Orange subscribers in France found themselves facing large telephone bills after following the instructions of a fake technician who had contacted them by telephone.

The ‘technician’ had persuaded their victims to telephone a certain number as part of a ‘test’ of their phone line. But the caller was directed to ring a premium-rate phone number overseas set up for the sole purpose of scamming victims. The longer the victim waited on the phone, the higher their bill. One woman was charged €400, according to consumer association UFC-Que Choisir.

Fake Covid-19 phone calls

Unfortunately, there will always be someone ready to profit from the fears of others. Numerous websites have been set up claiming to sell ‘cures’ for Covid-19, or pretending to be official bodies sending notifications about border restrictions, vaccines or aid for companies. 

The messages either redirect you to a fake page to steal your details or send you an attachment to download, installing malware on your device. This could be through email or messaging services such as WhatsApp.

Phishing from streaming platforms

Earlier this year, cybersecurity company Proofpoint said that some 70,000 Netflix users in France were among those targeted by a global scam involving the streaming platform. Victims were targeted by one of two fake emails – one claiming their account had been suspended, the other seeking confirmation that a subscription was to be cancelled. 

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Both scams required users to click a link leading to a fake web page, from where criminals hoped to mine personal details.

Fake Linky visitors

Not all scams are online. Some criminals have been going door-to-door, claiming to work for electricity network operator Enerdis, and gaining entry to victims’ houses to ‘update’ their smart electricity meters. 

They then either steal property, or – unknown to the victim – use information easily obtained from the meter to change suppliers, without the property owners’ consent.

How you can avoid falling victim to these scams

In most cases, cybercriminals pretend to represent official companies to try and steal your details. 

Basically, if you receive a message from a company and it looks suspicious or it says you’ve ordered something that you have not, then check the address the message has come from to find out if it is an official source. Be careful: sometimes the fake address is obvious. Sometimes it is less clear.

If links send you to other websites, always check these addresses to ensure they are the official web addresses of these companies.

If you spot a phishing or other type of online scam, you can report it to the government’s cybermalveillance.gouv.fr platform.

What you can do if you are the victim of a scam

All may not be lost. Under certain conditions, banks are obliged to refund money paid for goods and services that are not provided. Full details of the chargeback – or rétrofacturation – scheme are available here.

France also operates a free Info Escroqueries telephone service on 0 805 805 817 (Monday-Friday 9am – 6.30pm) to allow people to report this sort of crime.

Consumer associations can also offer help and advice. You can find the offices of one near you via this link from the Institut national de la consommation (National Consumers’ Institute).


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