Scams are most people’s worst nightmare, and there’s nothing worse than knowing there may have been more you could’ve done to prevent yourself from being scammed, defrauded, or tricked out of your hard-earned money.
This article includes tips to spot five common types of scam, but before we get started, here’s some general advice, including useful reminders of ways to stay protected.
How to protect yourself against scams
Stop scams before they get started
- Make sure to never give away your security details to anyone else, things like your PIN, password and answers to your secret questions are just that – yours. And they’re there as your security to help prevent unauthorised access to your account.
- Always think twice about the person you’re speaking to, whether it’s on the telephone or even through Facebook Messenger – you’re right to question them as they may not always be who they say they are.
Stay alert and always be on the lookout for scams
- If something doesn’t seem right, it usually isn’t. Consider leaving the situation until you’ve had time to reflect on it properly.
- Take your time and pause for thought if you find yourself in a situation that you’re uncomfortable with. A reputable organisation will always allow you the time you need to ask any questions so that you can be confident they are who they say they are.
Keep yourself secure from scams
- Be aware of your surroundings, general advice is to not write things down, however you should also be mindful of the things you’re putting in the bin. Is it information that could be used by scammers? Consider investing in a good quality shredder if you don’t have one already.
- Craft a secure password by being creative. Spend time thinking about terms that mean something to you and then try using the first letters from each word to create a new word, include the numbers from a meaningful date, and your password will be sure to mean something only to you.
Different types of scams
With scammers becoming more sophisticated every day, here’s an explanation of five known types of fraud to help make you and your family aware of some of the things to look out for and help you stay safe.
Unfortunately, fraudsters will try to take advantage of any situation they can, and they can be extremely convincing, especially when using our worries or fears against us. For example, the coronavirus pandemic has meant that people are spending more time at home, providing scammers with greater opportunity to operate.
Here are some of the things to look out for and avoid, to help ensure you’re doing as much as you can to stay safe from this type of scam:
- Telephone scams
With more people at home, fraudsters may try and contact you by phone. Stay vigilant and remember to never give out any security details over the phone.
- Faulty or counterfeit goods
Only buy goods or equipment from a reputable source. Don’t be tempted to purchase them from unknown suppliers or from a caller at the door, as they could be unsafe.
- Donation scams
Fraudsters may take advantage of efforts to provide aid, reduce poverty or improve healthcare. Only give money to charities or health organisations you recognise, and go to the charity’s website directly to make a donation.
- Refund scams
Seek refunds directly with the person or organisation booked with, and don’t be tempted to use companies offering to obtain refunds for you. They could be fake, and it could be a scam.
- Text and Email scams
Fraudsters may pretend to be from official organisations such as HMRC or the World Health Organisation. Check whether the sender looks and sounds legitimate, and don’t click on any links or open attachments if you’re not sure who the message is from.
A knock at the door could come for many reasons and it’s usually nothing to worry about. But it could also be a scam, so if you do receive a caller at the door unexpectedly, think carefully before letting them into your home.
A common doorstep scam is when a fraudster poses as a genuine tradesperson, claiming you need work or repairs you were previously unaware of. You may be asked to pay for work upfront, but then the tradesperson isn’t seen again, overcharges you, or doesn’t complete the job once you’ve parted with your money.
Here are some important things to remember to help keep your home safe from doorstep scammers:
- Don’t let unexpected visitors into your home
It sounds simple, however some scammers gain your trust through a seemingly genuine and innocent request, such as using your telephone or the toilet, and so remember that if you do receive a call at the door, you don’t have to let them in.
- Always ask for ID
A reputable caller will always carry ID, and they shouldn’t be offended if you ask to see it. If they do get offended, or they can’t produce it, you should politely decline their services.
If a caller has made you feel uncomfortable, or won’t leave when you’ve asked them to, contact someone you trust for help or alternatively, call the police.
- Take your time
A genuine tradesperson shouldn’t rush or pressure you to make a decision – take time before committing and seek advice from a trusted friend or relative.
- Request the proper paperwork
If you do agree to any work or repairs, always get a contract, invoice or written confirmation of the job. Remember, if a deal or the price for the work seems too good to be true, question it.
- Do your research
Search the details of the tradesperson independently through a reputable source and take a look for customer reviews online. Trustpilot is a good place to start.
- Don’t give out personal information
Never give out important personal information to a caller at the door, such as your bank security details or personal passwords.
- Keep your home secure
Take care to keep windows and your doors locked, even if you’re at home.
Investment and Pension scams
Investment and Pension scams can be tricky to spot, as scammers do all they can to persuade their victims that they’re genuine.
They might come in the form of property or timeshares, investment in pensions or the purchase of Bond Certificates and may be accompanied by convincing literature or websites to assure you that they’re the real deal.
Unfortunately, victims of this scenario typically part with their cash but never see the return they were promised or even lose their money entirely.
To help you spot them, here are some of the techniques commonly used in investment and pension fraud:
- Unexpected phone calls
Unexpected contact or nuisance calls from companies offering you new investment opportunities.
Beware of people who get in touch offering you ways to better your return, or to obtain more from your pension savings.
- Special offers
Offers of preferential return rates, ‘special deals’ if you sign up today or offers to help you gain access to your returns early.
Documentation that uses lots of legal jargon or complicated language, is misleading or that downplays the risks involved to your money.
Avoid being rushed into making any decisions, seek advice before investing and check the Financial Conduct Authority’s Scamsmart Warning List. For more information and to check the Warning List or check a person against the FCA register, visit www.fca.org.uk.
Money Mule scams
Money muling is a form of money laundering, it attracts victims through the promise of easy money for little effort.
These often come in the form of ‘make money from the comfort of your own home’ advertisements which are often seen online as well as on social media.
A fraudster will ask their victims to receive money into their own bank account, then withdraw it and take it to someone else for a ‘cut’ of the cash.
Unknowingly, the victim has cleaned the funds on behalf of the fraudster and implicated themselves in a serious crime.
If someone approaches you and asks you to receive money in a way like this, don’t hesitate - report it to the police or Action Fraud straight away.
This type of activity involves a fraudster deceiving their victim by using a fake profile (known as ‘catfishing’), or by otherwise establishing a false relationship for personal gain.
Here are some of the telltale warning signs of a romance scam:
- Don’t give out too much personal information
Never give out your passwords and avoid sharing information you’ve used to create security information, such as where you grew up, the school you went to or your favourite pet’s name.
- Be wary of new relationships
It’s not unusual for a relationship to develop quickly, but unfortunately this can be a warning sign for a romance scam, it’s easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment, but it’s always sensible to make sure you remain suspicious at the beginning of any new relationship.
- Do your research
If you’re in a relationship with somebody new and what they tell you doesn’t always make sense, you’re at risk of being scammed. It’s possible that the person you think you know is involved in many relationships, or even not who they say they are. Look out for obvious signs such as claiming to be well educated but often using poor grammar or spelling.
- Don’t give away money
A common trait in this type of activity is asking for your help to pay bills, buy food or pay for medical supplies. Look out for requests to send money to accounts that don’t match the name you know them by – your money could be funding something you’re unaware of.
Who to contact if you’re a victim of a scam
It’s important to know where to go to if you need to report a scam or if you become a victim of fraud. Should you need to, you can contact:
- The police
Dial 101 from your telephone (or 999 if you’re in immediate danger) or contact the police through their website for more information.
- Action Fraud
Dial 0300 123 2040 from your telephone, Monday to Friday between 8am and 8pm or report a fraud online 24 hours a day.
- Financial Conduct Authority
Through the Financial Conduct Authority, you can report an unauthorised firm or individual who may have tried to defraud you through a financial service, such as your pension or by taking out an investment.
For more information about keeping your finances free from fraud, take a look out our guide to keeping your savings safe and secure.