Scams no longer target just the easily-duped. They still come in letters, texts and calls, but more crooks are looking online for the chance to get their hands on your hard-earned cash.
This guide explains what to look out for, how to protect yourself, and what to do if you're a victim of a scam.
Scams no longer target just the easily-duped. They still come in letters, texts and calls. But as day-to-day activities shift online, ever-greater numbers of crooks are looking for opportunities to get their hands on your hard-earned cash.
This guide explains what scams are, what to look out for, how to protect yourself, and what to do if you've been scammed, with top tips to avoid scams and shop safely.
What are scams?
Scams are fraudulent schemes which dupe people into parting with their personal details and/or cash. They've been around for as long as we can remember, but they're no longer confined to shady door-to-door salesmen or dodgy second-hand car dealers.
How to spot a scam
Scammers continue to find more creative ways to get your cash. Of course, this guide can never be completely comprehensive but we aim to help you to learn what to look out for. The stories around the scams may change, but what you should do to spot and avoid them doesn't.
What to do if you've been scammed
Below is a need-to-know checklist of what you should do.
If you've already responded to a scam, end all further communication immediately.
Call your bank and cancel any recurring payments.
Limit the amount of personal information you publish on social networks.
Report the scam to the police through Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040, or report a scam anonymously on its website.
Speak to the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 0845 404 0506 or the Financial Conduct Authority's helpline on 0800 111 6768.
How do I know if I've been scammed?
You've got unexplained transactions made to your bank account.
Additional financial products pop up on your credit report that you don't remember taking out.
Bank statements meant for your address aren't delivered - this could be a sign of ID fraud.
You're rejected for credit when you've got a good credit history. It's worth checking your credit reference file on a monthly basis to see if someone is making false applications for credit in your name. See the Credit Rating guide for full info.
10 tips on how to spot and steer clear of scams
The best way to prevent scammers from getting their hands on your hard-earned cash is to know how to protect yourself in the first place. Here are our top tips on how to avoid scams.
Fake tax refunds, and other scams to watch out for
Every year, millions of people fall for scams sent through the post, by email, phone, text, in person or, increasingly, online. Don't be fooled by professional-looking websites and marketing materials.
Get free antivirus software
Web viruses don't just ruin your computer. They can help steal money or even use PCs to commit crime. Some even lie dormant, waiting to be activated - as was the plan with 2014's GameoverZeus virus. To help prevent viruses keep your web browser up-to-date and your PC backed up with free anti-virus software. See our guide on Free Antivirus Software.
When is bbc.co.uk not bbc.co.uk?
Not all links are genuine. By 'hyperlinking' text you can make the link say anything. For example, where does this link - www.bbc.co.uk - go? To the BBC, right? Hover your mouse over it and read what it says at the bottom of the screen – though sometimes even that's foolable. For more, see Martin's Spam Spotter Rules blog.
Call 'em back if they want personal info
If anyone calls claiming to be from a bank, insurer, utility provider, etc, NEVER give your personal or password details (for example, your mother's maiden name or place of birth). Say you'll call them back, but find the number independently.
Beware phishy links asking for your password
Phishing is a type of spam email where scammers try to reel you in with the hope that you've got a connection to the company they're pretending to be from.
Reputable search engines won't necessarily return reputable sites
Bogus websites are often set up to cash in on popular products, such as Ugg boots (see our tips on When Is An Ugg Not A Ugg?) or payday loans, so be wary if it's an unfamiliar site.
Shred everything and protect bank details
Never give your bank account details or PIN to someone you don't know. It's also wise not to have an easily guessable PIN - so don't pick 0000 or 1234!
Be social media savvy
Social media and online banking means you'll probably have multiple passwords on the go. You should try to change your passwords regularly, and make sure they're complex enough so they're difficult to guess.
Don't text away your fortune
Legitimate marketing messages should identify themselves in the text or in the sent-from number. If not, they're breaking regulations and can be considered spam. Spam texts usually message you from a random 11-digit number and will ask for you to reply - DON'T!
Help if you care for an elderly person
Anyone can fall for a scam, but the elderly are often hit hardest as they can be over-trusting or afflicted by illnesses such as dementia. Many can lose their life savings, get into debt or have health problems.
15 safer shopping tips
The best way to protect yourself from anything going wrong is to research before you buy. This is easier said than done, but a few quick, pre-emptive strikes can make all the difference:
Check the company's registered
All companies are listed on the official Companies House site, the Government's register of UK companies. Be wary if its records show a PO Box address or just an email.
Stop junk calls, texts and cold callers
While they aren't always scams, junk mail, calls and emails offering miracle diet pills can be annoying. So can 'get rich quick' schemes. It is best to remove temptation and research companies you want to approach for goods or services.
You can stop legal junk mail in minutes. But occasionally, it'll contain a cracking offer, so stopping it may not be MoneySaving.
Always read terms and conditions
Even if you don't read the legalese, always at least read the standard terms and conditions before you sign. Plus, always ask questions beforehand if there's anything you don't understand, in writing or by email if possible.
Check delivery dates and prices
Always get a price breakdown in writing and ensure it includes VAT. If the delivery date is important, check it, and all costs, before going ahead with a purchase. It's useful to take a copy of online orders. If you've had a late delivery, see our Delivery Fightback guide to see what to do.
Is it a trade association member?
If a company is a member of a trade association, it probably has to stick to a code of practice. It may be able to help if things go pear-shaped. See more in the Who's Who section of the How to Complain guide.
Google for complaints
The internet's a powerful tool to find other consumers' experiences. Easiest of all, do a quick Google search for the company name next to the word ‘complaints' or 'reviews' for example, "Delboy Ltd complaints".
Grab customer references
If you're dubious about handing over your dosh to a firm, ask for references from happy customers and preferably speak to them in person. Many kosher companies will be happy to do this.
Pay by credit card
Pay by credit card for something costing over £100 such as flights, kitchens, or sofas, and Section 75 laws super-charge your consumer rights. Unlike debit cards, cheques and cash, pay in full or part (even just £1) on a credit card and by law the lender's jointly liable with the retailer. Though watch out for fees.
Protect purchases under £100
Section 75 doesn't apply to purchases under £100, but there's still an option which can help. It's not a legal protection but it's a good secondary back-up.
Spend on Visa, Mastercard and Amex credit cards (under £100) and most debit and charge cards (any amount) and if the goods don't appear within 120 days, or are faulty, you can ask your bank whether they can reclaim the cash from the seller's bank.
Tips for buying abroad
If you're clicking for bargains from abroad, scour delivery times and costs. An easy rule of thumb is that the charges for delivery, customs and VAT can add about 30% to the list price, so unless it's over 30% cheaper it may be best to stick with the UK. Read the Cheapest UK Online Shopping article for a full how-to.
Know when you have cancellation rights
Buy in a store and you're unlikely to have cancellation rights. But many people are surprised to learn you've more rights buying at home, online or by telephone/catalogue from an EU-based business.
Make sure your payment's secure
When you pay for a purchase, always check the site is secure. Although it doesn't guarantee the site isn't a scam, any data you enter is encrypted so it's harder for others to intercept.
What happens if a company goes bust?
Quite simply, its customers are immediately transformed into creditors. This hits hardest if you've ordered goods or tickets, and not had delivery, as then you're simply one of a line of people trying to get your money back out of the company's assets, and you usually get back much less than you paid. Even if you've had delivery, if the company you bought from goes under and there's a problem with the goods, it can mean you've no comeback.
Sometimes there's no protection
Ultimately, there's always a risk that something can go wrong, and you've no protection. If the above routes don't apply, you have to make a decision about whether you're willing to take the risk of parting with your cash. Don't be overly scared of this. Every day we all make transactions based on trust, and this is part of that, but do balance the amount you're spending against the risk.
Test your knowledge
Now that you know all about scams, try this quick quiz to see how you'd fare if you received scam emails. It gives you examples of what phishing emails looks like, and tests how good you are at spotting them.Still feeling unsure? Cyberstreetwise is a Government-funded scheme which provides an A-Z interactive map of online safety for parents, teachers, kids and small businesses.