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Types of scam

Scams can come in many different disguises. So it’s important to know the warning signs to look out for and what to do if you have, or think, you’ve been targeted


This is an email scam where you appear to get a message from a legitimate source, such as your bank, HMRC, PayPal, Apple or Amazon.

The message will encourage you to click a link and log into your account, normally by telling you your account has been locked or there’s a large transfer of money.

In reality, the link in the email goes to a fake website which collects your information.

Another version of this scam involves an email attachment – perhaps a coupon or form you need to fill in – which is in fact a computer virus.

How to spot it

There are two main ways to spot a phishing scam:

  1. Look at how you’re addressed in the email. Scammers will use a general greeting such as Dear Sir, Dear Madam or Dear Customer. Legitimate emails will use your name.
  2. The email address the message has been sent from. Open the email and expand the pane at the top of the message and look at the email it was sent from. If it’s a real message, it will come from a recognisable address – such as ‘noreply @’. Scammers won’t be able to send messages from a real domain name. So the email addresses will be filled in with random letters or numbers, such as ‘noreply @’, or have deliberate spelling mistakes.

What to do

Never click the links in a suspicious email. If you think there might be a legitimate problem with an account, go to the website directly and log in. This way, you’ll never be caught out by a fake website.

Some organisations, such as HMRC, have an email address you can forward these emails on to, which helps them combat scams.


This is phone call where the scammers pretend to be from your bank, building society or even a government agency.

During the phone call, the fraudsters will attempt to get you to reveal your personal details.

How to spot it

It’s very difficult to spot. The big tip-off is that the caller will be desperately trying to get you to reveal your information, which no legitimate caller would ask you to do.

What to do

If you’re sure the call is fraudulent, just hang up the phone.

If you’re not sure, hang up the phone and call your bank/building society on the number on your debit or credit card.

This means you can be sure you’re going to the right people. And if there is a problem, they can tell you about it.

But be careful. Scammers can hijack your phone line. So when you hang up, wait a few minutes before calling your bank or building society.

Investment scams

This is generally a phone-based scam. Although you might be targeted in other ways, such as email or people coming to your house.

Although investment scams vary, the principle remains the same. You’re encouraged to hand over money to invest in a company or product, which doesn’t exist.

How to spot it

It can be quite difficult. Many of the companies the scammers are calling from or trying to get you to invest in can look legitimate – with websites, social media profiles and testimonials.

See if the investor is regulated by checking the register on the FCA website

To see if what they’re getting you to invest in exists, check them on the Companies House website

It’s unlikely a company will contact you out of the blue about an investment opportunity. So if you get an unexpected phone call, it’s best to ignore it.

A big warning sign should be if you’re told an investment offers a high rate of return with little risk.

What to do

Report scams on the FCA website.

Or, if you’ve lost money to suspected investment fraud, report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040, or visit Action Fraud

Pension scams

Since the pension freedoms were introduced in 2015, retirees are able to access large sums of money from pension pots.

An unfortunate side-effect has been that this group is now being targeted by scammers because they can potentially access large amounts of cash.

Pension scams will usually follow a similar path to investment scams, with contact normally being made by telephone.

How to spot it

Warning signs are similar to those for investment scams.

Unsolicited phone calls, or any unrequested contact, should be treated as suspicious. Anything involving high returns with low risk should ring alarm bells.

If you want to be sure, check the FCA register and the Companies House website

What to do

Report scams on the FCA website.

Or, if you’ve lost money to suspected investment fraud, report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040, or visit Action Fraud

Advance-fee fraud

This is another kind of email scam, and probably the most well-known. You get an email from ex-ministers or the royal family, often from a country in Africa.

They’ll usually ask to use your bank account to deposit a large sum of money so they can get out of the country and offer to pay you a fee.

You’ll be asked for your bank details. But of course there’s no money and the scammers will use the details you send to clear out your bank account.

Similar schemes exist with wills and claiming an inheritance from a long-lost relative.

How to spot it

As with many of the scams we’ve mentioned so far – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Again, it’s worth checking the email – as the name the message is from and the email won’t match. Bad spelling and grammar can also be a give-away.

What to do

Ignore the email and never send payment details or personal information.

Authorised push payment fraud

The goal of this scam is to get you to voluntarily send, or authorise, a payment to the scammers. They do this by posing as a legitimate business, often by intercepting or hacking your email account.

This often occurs when you’re in the process of buying a house, having building work done on your home or booking a holiday.

How to spot it

Spotting push payment fraud can be very difficult as it normally occurs at a time when you’re expecting to be asked for payment. Don’t assume all emails are genuine.

What to do

Check the company you expect to be paying sent you the email, and that the bank details match.

If you do fall victim, new rules introduced by the FCA mean you can now make a complaint to your bank and the bank receiving the payment.

Most high street banks area signed up to this new code of practice.

Safe account scams

You’ll be contacted, usually on the phone by someone claiming to be from your bank. They’ll say your account has been compromised in some way and encourage you to transfer all your money from your bank to a ‘safe account’.

How to spot it

It can be very difficult as the scammers play on your fears about people illegally accessing your money.

But the easiest thing to remember is banks will never ask you to transfer money into a ‘safe account.

If your account has been hacked, your bank will be able to stop money coming out of it very quickly and there would be no point in transferring your money to a different bank account.

What to do

If you’ve been contacted on the phone, just hang up. And if you’re worried about your account security, call your bank directly.

If you’re a victim of this kind of fraud, contact your bank.

Loan fee fraud

If you’re searching for loans online, you might be contacted by fraudsters offering you a loan directly.

You’ll be asked to pay an upfront fee to receive the loan, but the money will never be sent to you.

How to spot it

You should never be asked to pay a fee in advance for a loan.

Scammers might also ask you to pay the fee in unusual ways, such as by iTunes vouchers or a money transfer service

What to do

Make sure you’re using a legitimate loan provider, by checking the FCA website


This is similar to phishing, but instead of sending you an email directly, the scammers target the website you’re visiting.

You type in the correct website address, but you then get directed to a fake version, where you inadvertently put in your login details and secure information.

How to spot it

You need to be very observant. As you’ve entered the correct web address, you would naturally assume you’ve gone to the real website.

Scammers have also designed these fake websites to look just like the real thing.

Look at the website address. It won’t show up as you’re expecting, but as a selection of numbers. Or perhaps something similar to the real name, but with letters switched around or a different spelling.

What to do

Be observant when you’re logging into websites and look out for suspicious website addresses.

It’s also important to keep your operating system and anti-virus software up to date.


These are text message-based scam.

Scammers will contact you claiming to be from your bank, saying you need to update your personal details  or that there’s an issue.

The text might contain a link, like a phishing scam, or a phone number to call. The phone number is fake and when you call the fraudsters will attempt to get you to reveal your details.

How to spot it

It’s difficult to spot, so if you get a message like this – be suspicious.

One giveaway might be the phone number in the text is not the same as the one on your credit or debit card.

What to do

If in doubt, call the number on your card and find out if they have tried to contact you.

Don’t click any links in text messages. Always go directly to the website and log in as normal.

Computer software fraud

This is where scammers pretending to be from Apple or Microsoft contact you by phone or email. They say they need your payment details to fix, update or validate your software

How to spot it

It’s very unlikely computer companies would make a phone call about these kind of issues if you haven’t asked for one.

So it’s best to treat the calls with the same suspicion as you would treat any other unexpected call or email.

What to do

If in doubt, contact your computer or software supplier and never give out your payment details.

Door-to-door scams

These can take many forms, but instead of relying on the anonymity of online communications, they simply knock on your door.

While they can be investment and pension scammers as well, they can also try and scam you in a more practical way – like selling you a product or service.

A common example is a person claiming to be a builder who happened to notice some damage to your roof when they were passing. Fake charity collectors and salespeople are other examples.

A scammer might even claim to be from government agencies, including the Money and Pensions Service.

The Money and Pensions Service has never, and will never, turn up to your home or contact you out of the blue via phone, WhatsApp, email or text.

If there are people claiming to be us who call at your home, call 101 to report the scammers, or 999 if you feel unsafe.

How to spot it

Always be suspicious of anyone arriving unannounced at your door. In the age of digital communications, it’s unlikely any legitimate company will attempt to do business this way.

It’s also important not to be fooled just because someone has identification. It’s very easy to make a fake ID and it’s no guarantee of legitimacy.

What to do

Don’t engage with anyone who knocks on your door unannounced.

And report anyone you suspect of trying to scam you or your neighbours to the police.

Ticket scams

This is when you buy tickets for a concert or sporting event, for example – but the person, or website, you’re buying from either doesn’t send the tickets, or sends you fakes.

This is most common on ticket reselling or exchange sites, which makes get a refund very difficult.

To combat touts, many events issue tickets that can only be used by the person who bought them, so tickets on reselling sites won’t work

How to spot it

Spotting this scam can be difficult as you might not realise you’ve been scammed until the day of the event.

One way you might be able to spot it is by looking at the website.

If it’s one you’ve never heard of, doesn’t have proper contact details, or only lists a mobile phone number or PO box – avoid it.

What to do

Avoid buying tickets from social media or online auction sites where it might be difficult to trace the seller and get a refund.

Check the website you’re buying from is a member of the Society of Ticket Agents & Retailers (STAR).

Find out more on the STAR website

When paying, make sure the website address starts ‘https’, not just ‘http’, as this means the site is secure.

Other potential scams

There are plenty of other ways scammers might try to part you from your money.

They might steal information from your social media accounts, through public wi-fi connections, or through various types of insurance fraud.

Here are some common scams that are harder to spot and prevent.

Multi-level-marketing schemes (MLMs)

While not every MLM is a scam, if you join an MLM you’re still likely to lose more money than you put in.

Typically, an MLM will be a large organisation made up of hundreds of individuals selling merchandise and services. For example, beauty products, candles, cleaning products and books – from home or via ‘parties’.

MLMs have a similar structure to pyramid schemes. And in many MLMs, it’s much more lucrative to recruit others than it is to earn commission from sales.

Dating fraud

Some fraudsters will connect with you on a dating website using a fake profile. They’ll be up-front about living overseas and will email you, getting to know you over time and becoming affectionate and romantic.

When you’ve become involved, they’ll start asking for money for a sick relative or for a plane ticket to come and visit. They’ll take your money but never appear.

Crash for cash

Simply put, this is when someone has a deliberate crash so they can claim on the insurance. In reality, it’s a lot more complicated.

Groups, usually criminal gangs, will target people who they think will have good car insurance, or who are less likely to put up a fuss – for example, mothers with children.

The scammers’ car will be in front of you and suddenly slam on its brakes, or unexpectedly pull out of a junction – causing you to crash into them.

They will insist the crash was your fault, but be willing to hand over their insurance information.

A few weeks later your insurance company will tell you the details of the other driver’s claim. This will exaggerate the costs, such as for car hire or whiplash injuries.

Health scams

If you see an email or an advert for a ‘miracle cure’ for baldness, cancer, impotence, acne or weight loss – steer clear.

You could be offered something that appears to be a legitimate alternative medicine but doesn’t actually work.

Or you might think you’re getting drugs and medicines very cheaply or without a prescription, but they might not be the real thing – if they even turn up at all.

In some cases, these fake medicines can actually damage your health.

Job scams

There are a variety of job scams. These range from promises of a new career, where you’re asked to pay upfront for training or materials, to being offered non-existent jobs abroad, where you’re asked to pay a fee to organise visas and accommodation.

You might also get caught out by a ‘work at home scheme’. This is where you’re told you’ll make easy money – and you might have to pay a fee upfront to register.

However, the ‘leads’ or products turn out to be worthless and – worse still – your registration details might be sold on to other scammers

Money mules

Here you could unknowingly end up breaking the law and helping criminals. This is when you use your bank account to take delivery of, and then forward, stolen money – and be paid a commission for helping.

Falling for this scam would mean you’re breaking the law by money laundering.

Online auction scams

Con artists can pose as either fake buyers or fake sellers. If they buy from you, they appear to pay for the goods. But as soon as you’ve sent it to them, the payment is withdrawn.

Fake sellers get you to buy non-existent products and simply disappear with your money.

If you can, use tracked postage to send the item, and keep hold of your receipt. Don’t agree to let the buyer arrange for their own courier to come and pick up the item.

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