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How to spot a scam

Every day, scamsters and fraudsters are coming up with new and inventive ways to obtain money They may contact you online, by phone, post or in person so they can obtain your personal details to get money from you or steal your details so they can pretend to be you. 

Some scams are easier to spot than others, but you should be careful of anyone:

  • Asking you to make upfront payments, especially if it’s to release funds for a loan or prize money.
  • You’ve never heard of or had dealings with in the past. For example, you’ve won a competition you don’t remember entering or you owe money to a company you haven’t heard of.
  • Asking for personal information - like your bank details, passwords or PIN numbers, legitimate companies would never ask for this type of information.
  • Pressuring you into a sale.
  • Asking you to make a payment using gift vouchers, wire or bank transfer, where there is less protection if something goes wrong.
  • Offering a free service or trial, then asking for payment details to complete the order.
  • Offering investment opportunities with guaranteed returns. You should also check that any company is registered with the Financial Conduct Authority before you give them your money.

As a general rule if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is and it’s always worth exercising extra caution just to be sure.

If you’ve been contacted by someone and you’re concerned they may be trying to scam you, don’t:

  • Send them any money or buy anything, you should always do your homework before agreeing to anything. For example, checking online reviews of the company.
  • Give them any personal information, bank details, passwords or PIN numbers. If you’ve given out this type of information, you should change all passwords and pins and notify your bank.
  • Download any attachments or files in emails or click on any links. If you have then you should check that your devices security is up to date and run a virus scan.
  • Ring any numbers you’ve received in an email or letter, especially if it’s a premium rate number. If you’re unsure about the cost of dialling a particular number, contact your service provider for advice.
  • Let them into your house. If you’re concerned about someone that you have allowed into your house and is refusing to leave or someone knocking on doors in your area call the police.


Some common scams are listed below:

Tax scam

Posing as a government dept such as HMRC, you will usually receive a pre-recorded message advising that you owe unpaid tax and if not paid you will be taken to court. If you choose the option to speak with someone you may be asked to buy gift vouchers to the value of the debt owed and provide them with the numbers.

Push Payment

In some occasions you may be due a payment to genuine company and receive an invoice with bank details (usually by email) which you pay only to discover that this invoice was not from the company but in fact scammers who have hacked the email trail and the company have not received your payment.

Investment scam

You see an advert usually on social media offering investment opportunities, you enter your details asking for more information and they call you almost immediately guaranteeing a return on any money you invest. They talk you into making a small invest which they immediately tell you has increased and talk you into investing more and more.  Sometimes these payments can amount to thousands of pounds. If you ask to withdraw any funds from your account, you are told that you have to pay a fee first.  You never receive any money back and if you refuse to pay more money they disappear.

Copycat websites

You looking to renew your passport, European Health Card or apply for an Esta or Visa and you come across what appears to be the genuine government website only for you to later discover that it was not the official site and you were charged more than you would have been had you used the official site for your application.

Timeshares recovery

You have previously taken a timeshare with a company abroad and you are contacted by a solicitor or claims company (usually based abroad) stating the company has been investigated for fraud and as a victim you are due compensation. You are then asked to make a payment usually to cover legal fees in order to have the funds released to you but the scammer pockets the cash and you get nothing.

Last updated: 11 December 2019

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