Be aware of scams and know how to protect yourself and others
Scams affect the lives of millions of people across the UK on a daily basis. The National Trading Standards Scams Team estimates that the detriment to UK consumers as a result of these scams is between £5 and 10 billion a year.
It is important you know how to recognise different types of scam
, how to protect yourself
and what to do if you or someone you know has been scammed
What is a scam?
A scam is a deception, trick or persuasion done to make a person part with something, usually money. Scams come in many forms including fake emails (phishing), romance scams, winning a fictitious lottery or fake prize, selling of fake music venue tickets, or someone knocking on the doorstep pretending to be a professional tradesperson or utility employee.
Anyone can be a target and scams affect the lives of millions of people across the UK every day.
If you know what to look out for, you’re less likely to be taken in.
- SPOT: If it sounds too good to be true – it probably is
- STOP: Take some time to stop and think before parting with your details or money – it could keep you safe.
- PREVENT: If you spot a scam or think you’ve fallen for a scam, report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 and get help
Types of scam?
Scams can come in many different disguises. These are some of the most common types:
Doorstep scams take place when someone comes to your door and tries to scam you out of your money or tries to gain access to your home. Doorstep scammers aren't always pushy and persuasive, they may seem polite or friendly. So if you're not expecting someone it's important to be vigilant when you answer the door, especially if you live on your own.
What are some common types of doorstep scams?
Protect yourself from doorstep scams
- Rogue traders - they may offer you a service you don’t really need or claim to have noticed something about your home that needs work. They'll offer to fix it for cash or an inflated price.
- Bogus officials – someone may knock the door claiming to be from your utility company as a way of accessing your home. Always ask to check their ID and if they're genuine they won't mind waiting while you check.
- Made-up consumer surveys - you may be asked to complete a survey so they can get hold of your personal details or use it as a cover for persuading you to buy something you don’t want or need.
- Fake charity collections - a fraudster may pretend they're from a charity and ask you to donate money, clothes or household goods. Always ask for the charity number of anyone knocking on your door.
- Hard luck stories: a scammer could come to your door and ask you to help them out with cash, ask to use your telephone or claim they're feeling unwell. The story is made up and they intend to con you out of your money or gain access to your home.
- Be aware that uniforms and ID can be copied/fake. If in doubt close the door and contact the company using a number off a bill or website.
- Do you have a pre-booked appointment? Utilities rarely turn up without one.
- If you don’t have an appointment call the company before allowing entry – they won’t mind waiting if they are legitimate.
- Do you have a doorstep password? Make sure they provide this.
- Stay safe – if you feel in immediate danger call 999.
Online scams are becoming increasingly sophisticated and many people are caught out, even those who are regular internet users. Every year in the UK, millions of people lose money to scammers or unknowingly share their personal information.
What are some common types of online scams?
- Email or phishing scams - Phishing emails often look professional and from a trustworthy source, such as your bank, utility provider or Government body. The email will try to trick you into entering your personal or financial details. They may direct you to a fake website, trick you into thinking you've won a lottery or prize. Phishing emails often have errors in the spelling or grammar, or an unusual style of writing and contain requests for personal information, such as your username, full password or bank details - genuine organisations will never ask this. They often contain threats that unless you act now, a deal will expire or your account closed.
- Fake websites - fraudsters create fake websites which look official and request you provide personal or financial information. For example, a fake bank website may be set up asking you to update your account or security information. Often, they will look very similar to the official website and only a few details may be different. There are also websites set up to look like a copy of a service offered by government websites. For example, websites which offer to help you apply for a passport renewal or a new driving licence. These websites charge you a fee if you use them, rather than going directly through the official government department where the service is free of charge.
- Computer viruses – are designed to affect your computer, laptop, tablet or mobile phone so it doesn’t work correctly. You may be sent an email with an attachment, which when you click on it will release a virus. Scammers use the virus to take control of your computer or scan it for personal information. It can also slow your computer down, send out spam email or delete files.
- Romance scams - scammers often use dating apps and websites, creating fake profiles and preying on people looking for a romantic partner. They attempt to gain your trust by providing written and verbal affection and sharing personal information. Once they’ve gained your trust they start to ask you to send them money, often for a personal emergency (such as needing money for personal treatment, a sick family member or suffering from financial hardship). Once you’ve sent them the money they will often come back and ask for more.
Protect yourself from phishing scams
- Check the email address is linked to the company the email is addressed from.
- Links to websites without explanation or detail should not be opened.
- Sense of urgency? Don’t feel pressured, a legitimate organisation will not pressure you.
- Informal end to an email usually indicates a scam i.e. Thanks.
- Check reference linked to email – is it your correct account number?
Telephone scams are a common way for scammers to con people out of money. They will call you unsolicited pretending they are from a trusted organisation, such as your bank or the police.
These scam calls may be from a real person or can be automated. They may ask you for your personal information like banking details or ask you to transfer money. It can be tricky to tell the difference between a scam and cold calling.
What are some common types of telephone scams?
Top tips to avoid telephone scams
- Bank scams – you may receive a call claiming to be from your bank telling you there’s a problem with your card or account. The caller will often sound professional and try to convince you that your card has been cloned or that your money is at risk. They are likely to ask for your account and card details, including your PIN number. They may also advise transferring your money to a ‘safe account’ to protect it. Your bank would never ask you to do this.
- Computer repair scams - A scammer may call you claiming to be from the helpdesk of a well-known IT firm, such as Microsoft. They’ll tell you that your computer has a virus and need to get access to it, including your personal details or will ask you to download ‘anti-virus software’. This turns out to be spyware, used to get your personal details. Legitimate IT companies don’t contact customers this way.
- Compensation calls – these come call from a company asking about a car accident you’ve supposedly had claiming you may be entitled to compensation. Some of these could be genuine companies looking for business, but others are scammers. Don’t engage in these calls. If you’ve had an accident, call your own insurance company on the phone number provided on your policy.
- HMRC scams - You may get a call from someone claiming to be from HMRC saying there is an issue with your tax refund or an unpaid tax bill. They may leave a message and ask you to call back. HMRC would never contact you this way and would never ask you to reveal personal financial information such as your bank account details.
- Number spoofing – here callers will mimic an official telephone number, so it comes up on your caller ID display (if you have one on your phone). This is to trick you into thinking the caller is from a legitimate organisation, such as a bank or utility company. If you’re in doubt, hang up and contact the organisation directly. If possible, call them from different phone as scammers can keep the phone line open, so that even if you hang up and call the organisation directly, the line may still be connected to the scammer. If it’s not possible to use another phone, then wait for at least 10 minutes before you call.
- Pensions and investment scams - this is a call attempting to lure you into transferring your pension(s) or savings to them with claims of guaranteed high returns and up-front payments. They may offer you an unmissable investment opportunity or offering you the opportunity to access your pension cash earlier.
- Call back if you are unsure – using a number on a bill or via a trusted website.
- Have you heard about call blocker technology to prevent calls from scammers?
- Don’t be pressured to make a decision on the spot.
- If it sounds too good to be true it probably is.
- Just because they are friendly doesn’t mean you can trust them. 6 Don’t provide your personal or account details.
Text or smishing scams
Smishing is a scam in which someone tries to get a user’s personal or financial information via SMS or instant messaging (on social networks) by pretending to be an entity such as a bank or a credit card company.
What are some common types of text scams?
- Cost of living - beware of texts asking you to claim or apply for cost of living help. These payments are automatic. You don’t need to apply or do anything else to claim cost of living payments. If you qualify, you'll automatically receive the money straight into your bank account.
- Energy rebate - a number of messages are currently being circulated claiming to offer discounts on energy bills. These are a scam. If you receive one of these do not provide personal information, bank details or make a payment upfront. Rebates will be applied automatically and you do not need to register!
- Delivery scams – scammers are sending text messages claiming to be from Royal Mail, the Post Office or other delivery services, such as Evri and DPD, asking you to click on a link and pay a small fee so that a parcel can be delivered.
Top tips to avoid text scams
- Check the sender – if it come from an 11-digit mobile number and the company isn't identified it is likely it is to be spam
- Don't reply to text messages - If you don't recognise the sender or the number, you should ignore any instructions and contact the company direct using a trusted number if you are concerned by the content.
- Block the sender - one of the easiest ways to stop any future messages is to block the number.
- Forward texts to 7726 - forwarding the message to 7726 (spam) will alert your mobile provider to investigate the number and potentially block it, if it’s found to be a nuisance.
- Don’t click on any suspicious links - clicking the link could install malware onto your phone or take you to spoof sites that look real but are designed to steal your information.
Postal scams are getting more sophisticated and it can be difficult to spot the difference between scam mail, junk mail and offers from legitimate companies.
What are some common postal scams?
- Lotteries and prize draws - You may receive a letter claiming that you’ve won a huge sum of money in a lottery or prize draw. To claim the money you may be asked to call a premium rate number or pay certain administrative or legal fees to unlock the winnings. You may also be asked to send personal details to verify your identity, such as copies of official documents. Don’t respond to these letters, even if they look genuine. A genuine lottery won’t ever ask you to pay a fee to collect your winnings.
- Psychics and clairvoyants - ‘Psychics’ may send a letter, they could also contact you via email or telephone, claiming that they can predict your future in return for payment. Often scammers claim that something bad will happen in your future and that the psychic can protect you from this if you continue to pay them.
- Don’t respond – although the letter may look as if you’ve been specially chosen, this type of letter is sent out to millions and is a scam
- Unclaimed inheritance - you may be receive a letter (or email or phone call) from someone posing as a lawyer or other official claiming that you’re entitled to claim the inheritance of a distant relative, or unrelated wealthy client who shares the same last name as you. They will advise that you’ll need to provide your personal details to verify your identity or pay administrative fees to access the inheritance. These letters can refer to real law firms and even have seemingly genuine email addresses, postal addresses, or websites.
How to protect yourself from scams
There are some simple steps people can take to help protect themselves from scams:
- Be cautious and listen to your instincts. Don’t be afraid to hang up, bin it, delete it or shut the door.
- Don’t be rushed into making any quick decisions. It’s okay to take your time.
- Protect your financial information, especially from people you don’t know. Never give money or personal details, like passwords or bank details, to anyone you don’t know, trust or have only met online. If someone pressures you for these, it’s most likely a scam
- Before you buy anything, check the company or website you’re using. Read reviews from different websites, search for the company’s details on Companies House, and take a look at their terms and conditions.
- Pay by debit or credit card. This gives you extra protection if things go wrong
- If someone claims to represent a charity, ask them for ID. Be suspicious of requests for money up front. If someone attempts you into accepting a service they are unlikely to be genuine. Check with family and friends before accepting offers of helps if you are unsure.
- If you are online, be aware of fake news and use trusted sources such as .gov.uk or NHS.uk websites. Make sure you type the addresses in and don’t click on links in emails.
- Only purchase goods from legitimate retailers and take a moment to think before parting with money or personal information. Check the company or website you’re using. Read reviews from different websites, search for the company’s details on Companies House, and take a look at their terms and conditions
- Know who you’re dealing with - if you need help, talk to someone you know or get in touch with your local Council.
What to do if you or someone you know has been scammed
If you have been a victim, don’t be embarrassed about reporting a scam – you could prevent it from happening to others.
If someone has been scammed, there are 3 steps they need to take:
1. Protect themselves from further risks.
There are things they can do to stop things getting worse. They should contact their bank immediately to let them know what’s happened. They should also change any relevant log-in details, and check for viruses if they were scammed on a computer.
2. Check if they can get their money back.
If they’ve lost money because of a scam, there might be ways they can get it back. Again, make sure they tell their bank what happened straight away. If they’ve paid for something by card, bank transfer, Direct Debit or PayPal, then depending on the circumstances they might be able to help them get their money back.
3. Report the scam.
Reporting scams helps authorities stop the criminals responsible, and protects others from being scammed. Anyone who’s been scammed should:
- Call the Citizens Advice consumer service on 0808 223 1133, We’ll pass on details of the scam to Trading Standards, and can offer further advice
- Report the scam to Action Fraud, the national reporting centre for fraud, on 0300 123 2040. They'll also give them a crime reference number, which can be helpful if you need to tell your bank you've been scammed
- If you are in immediate danger, contact the police on 999.
It’s also important for us to all talk about our experiences with family and friends. By letting them know what’s happened they can be prepared, and together we can put a stop to scams.
Friends Against Scams Online Learning
To learn more about different types of scams and how to protect yourself and others, visit FriendsAgainstScams (opens in new window) and complete the free online training.
You can check recent scams on Action Fraud’s website, and sign up for email alerts (opens in new window) to find out about scams in your area.
What is Utilities Against Scams?
We are working together with other utility companies and National Trading Standards to raise awareness around scams as it is a growing issue affecting people globally.
Utility companies interact with customers on a daily basis, whether this is face-to-face when carrying out work in a community or in a customer’s home, having a telephone conversation or communicating digitally.
With the digital age, it is becoming easier for criminals to pose as legitimate companies and scam people out of large sums of money. This not only impacts on customers both financially and emotionally, but also creates reputational risk for businesses and the wider industry.
We can play a crucial part in spotting signs that a customer could need support and alerting those organisations who can help.