30+ ways to stop scams

Scams can trick even the most savvy – so WATCH OUT

Scams are rife and you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone in the UK who hasn't been targeted. They can come from any angle, whether by text, call, email, letter or online. And they're becoming more sophisticated all the time – continuing to deprive people of often life-changing amounts of money. This guide explains what to look out for, how to protect yourself and what to do if you're a victim of a scam.

Have you come across 'Martin Lewis' scam ads?

Fake scam adverts featuring the face of Martin Lewis are rife on the web. We've got a whole guide dedicated to rooting out these particular scammers – don't let yourself be duped. See Martin Lewis scam ads.

What are scams?

Scams are fraudulent schemes that dupe people into parting with their personal details and/or cash. They've been around for as long as we can remember, but gone are the days when they were confined to shady door-to-door salesmen or dodgy second-hand car dealers.

These days scammers target people through emails, online banking systems, text messages, online transactions and other means. Yet while fraud is always becoming more sophisticated, people still get caught out by traditional scam letters and phone calls.

Some scams are obvious. Ever received the email explaining that a distant relative has died, and there's no one but you to inherit their $100 million fortune – all you need to do is pay £500 upfront to release the funds? 

But some scams are a lot less obvious, and a lot more intelligent. Of particular concern, artificial intelligence is now being use to create computer-generated videos of MoneySavingExpert.com founder 'Martin Lewis' in a bid to deprive people of their money.

Don't blithely dismiss scams as something that only affects the gullible. Fraud – of which scams make up a significant part – happens to be the most common crime in the UK. It results in people losing a staggering £7 billion a year.

What to do if you've been scammed

Below is a need-to-know checklist of what you should do:

  1. If you've already responded to a scam, end all further communication immediately.

  2. Call your bank directly and cancel any payments that haven't yet been made. For speed and ease, you can call the 159 hotline instead – this will connect you directly with your bank. 

  3. Report the scam via the Action Fraud website or call it on 0300 123 2040 (England, Wales or Northern Ireland). If you're in Scotland, report a scam via the Consumeradvice website or call it on 0808 164 6000. You can also report scams to Police Scotland on 101.

  4. Another option (UK-wide), if it's an online scam, is to report it to the Advertising Standards Authority. Do this in addition to reporting it to Action Fraud / Consumeradvice.

  5. To seek further help, contact Citizens Advice (England and Wales), Citizens Advice Scotland, or NIdirect (Northern Ireland). Alternatively, call the Financial Conduct Authority's helpline on 0800 111 6768 (UK-wide).

How do I know if I've been scammed?

If you've been engaging with what appears to be a legitimate company but now suspect that it's a scam, the following should ring alarm bells:

  • Items you thought you'd purchased don't arrive, or arrive but are nothing like the online description.

  • With financial services (such as supposed investments), no matter how hard you try, you aren't allowed to withdraw your money.

  • You transferred or paid some money, but now the company or person you were speaking to has gone quiet or can't be contacted.

Still unsure if you're engaging with a legitimate company or a scam? Try using Citizens Advice's online scams checker – it can give some helpful pointers.

And here are some tell-tale signs that you might've been scammed (or worse, had your identity stolen) without having even engaged directly with scammers:

  • You've had unexplained transactions on your bank account. Or maybe 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 our Check your credit report guide for more info on how to do this).

I've been scammed. Can I get my money back?

  • Contact your bank. Your first port of call is to contact the bank where your money was taken from (or the one from where you sent the funds) and explain what happened. While there's no guarantee your bank will reimburse you if you have been scammed, this is your best bet in the first instance. Banks should adopt a case-by-case approach.

    From October 2024, your bank will be more likely to reimburse you if you've transferred money to a scammer (known as 'authorised push payment' – APP – fraud) thanks to new fraud compensation rules being introduced by the Payment Systems Regulator.

  • Complain to the Ombudsman if you're not happy with your bank's response. Where there's a dispute with your bank about reimbursement – perhaps you disagree with its decision, or you're unhappy with the way it's handled your complaint – you'll normally be able to escalate your case to the free Financial Ombudsman, which upholds a majority of scam complaints in the customer's favour.

  • Use Section 75 if you've been scammed when paying on a credit card. Alternatively, if you bought something costing more than £100 on a credit card, you may be able to claim it back under Section 75 protection. Once you've paid using a credit card, the card provider and retailer are locked into a legally-binding contract, so if the retailer can't or won't refund you, you can raise the dispute with your card provider.

    You won't be covered under Section 75 if you used a debit card or spent exactly £100 or less on a credit card, but you could try to claim your money back under the chargeback scheme. It's a voluntary agreement by your debit or charge card provider to stand in your corner if anything goes wrong. It's not as effective as Section 75, and rules vary between providers.

Unfortunately, if you've transferred the money using sites such as Moneygram, Western Union or PayPal, you generally can't get your money back once you've handed it over.

30+ tips on how to spot, avoid and protect yourself against scams

Scammers continue to find more creative ways to get your cash. This guide can never be completely comprehensive with all the latest scams 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.

Have you ever heard of the email from a Nigerian prince wanting you to share his fortune? The person stranded overseas needing £1,000 to get home which they'll pay straight back? Or the lottery you've won in Spain – even though you don't live there, and have never entered a lottery there? What about the Royal Mail delivery to your address which needs extra money to cover the postage?

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 spot, avoid and protect yourself against scams. They aren't all fail-safes, but they can help you think before you act. 

  1. Beware LIAR Facebook, Bitcoin & other ads implying Martin or MSE recommends 'em

    Whether it's Martin's pic on PPI claims firm or boiler incentive ads, scam binary trading ads, energy door-knockers using our name, or Bitcoin pop-ups with an image of Martin encouraging you to invest – including 'endorsements' of trading platforms such as BitProfit – they are all an attempt to leech off the hard-earned trust people have in us. Don't touch the ads

    See Martin's video rant below.

    MoneySavingExpert.com founder Martin Lewis warns of LIAR Facebook and other ads that imply he or MSE recommend them
    Embedded YouTube Video
  2. Always remember the old saying... 'If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is'

    If a product is the cheapest you've ever seen, you're offered free advice or promised fast cash, we're sorry to say it's probably a scam. You should always independently seek proper financial guidance or advice before making changes to your pension or investing large amounts of money.

    If you're worried you're being scammed and need help, first contact your bank and cancel any recurring payments, then report the scam.

  3. Fake HMRC tax refunds, and other scams to watch out for

    An example of a fake 'Martin Lewis' advert on YouTube

    Every year, millions of people fall for scams sent through the post, by email, phone, text, in person or online. Don't be fooled by professional-looking websites and marketing materials.

    Scammers are good at making their scams look authentic. If you're asked to send money to someone you don't know or have won a competition you didn't even enter, stop!

    A perennial favourite is the email announcing you're due a tax rebate, or threatening you with arrest over 'unpaid' taxes. HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) will never email, WhatsApp message, or text you with this information, and have produced guidance on what's genuine HMRC communication, and what's fake.

    If you get a fake email, suspicious text or WhatsApp message, voicemail or phone call, either ignore it, or report it to HMRC.

    Watch out for scam text messages from the 'Post Office'

    Scams currently common in the UK

    There are 1,000s of ways scammers try to catch you out. Common methods include:

    • Bogus calls. Someone claiming to be from a Government department or representative (or even MSE), talking about Reclaiming bank charges.

    • Pension 'liberation'. More info in our Release pension cash guide.

    • Text messages claiming to be from Royal Mail, 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. More than 75,000 people reported receiving such messages from 'Evri' in the 12 months to April 2024 (a 175% rise on prior years).

    • Text messages saying you've missed a call and have been left a voicemail. To access the 'voicemail', you're prompted to click a dodgy link in the text.
    • Vishing. Where scammers tell you they're from your bank and there's been fraud on your account, asking you to call them back, but instead they wait on the line and then get you to hand over bank details.

    • Miracle cures or miracle weight-loss pills. Ketones are common, and appear on many people's Facebook page.

    • Fake bank or Apple emails. Saying you need to re-verify your account details.

    • Messages from 'Amazon'. Unexpected text messages or phone calls asking you to provide payment or personal information in relation to your Amazon account or Prime membership. Amazon will never ask you to provide sensitive information over the phone or via any website other than Amazon.co.uk.
    • Investment scams. The Financial Conduct Authority has a site helping you to spot investment scammers – ScamSmart, which includes a database of dodgy companies to avoid).

    • Deceptive prize draws and sweepstakes.

    • Get-rich-quick schemes.

    • Fake court summons emails. More on this at Action Fraud.

    • Job scams. The JobsAware site has advice for job-hunters, employees, employers, plus it lets you report suspected scams.

    • Computer-generated Martin Lewis videos. Watch out for these, as they're scarily convincing. We've seen them on various platforms, including YouTube. If you come across a suspicious video or channel on YouTube, it's best to take steps to report it.

    • Fake calls / emails pretending to be from the Financial Ombudsman Service or regulator the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) asking for personal financial details. Neither the ombudsman nor the regulator will ever call or message you out of the blue asking for such information – the ombudsman will only be in touch if you've got a case with it already. According to the FCA, in 2023 so far there have been more than 7,700 reports of scammers pretending to be from the FCA (this type of scam has doubled in two years). 

    You can find out more about financial scams on the website of the Financial Conduct Authority. Also check out the Take Five website for more on scams in general as well as the Citizens Advice website.

  4. Scammers are cruelly taking advantage of the cost of living crisis

    Criminals are trying to capitalise on the cost of living crisis with bogus offers of rebates, grants and support payments. But official Government support payments are usually automatic, so if you get a request for information out of the blue via text, email or phone call, be wary. 

    Full details in our Cost of living scams MSE News story, but in brief here are some of the things to be mindful of:

    • Beware texts asking you to claim or apply for cost of living help – payments are automatic. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) told us it had seen texts claiming to come from "Gov.org" and one that said it was from the DWP. It added that some people had received scam texts followed up by an email asking them to call a fake number to provide more info.

      But 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.
    • Councils will NEVER call to ask for your bank details. A number of councils have urged households not to give out their bank or card details over the phone if they get a call about council tax rebates. In most cases, such rebates are paid automatically to those who pay their council tax by direct debit.
    • Ofgem is NOT offering an energy rebate – so beware scammers telling you this. Energy regulator Ofgem has written to all domestic energy providers asking them to make customers aware of a scam text inviting people to apply for a bogus rebate. You will never be texted by Ofgem to sign up to anything to get money or a rebate – so if you get a text like this, don't respond to it or click any links.

  5. Suspicious about a call from your 'bank'? Hang up and call the 159 scams hotline

    Did you know there's a secure and easy-to-use telephone hotline which helps check if a suspicious call was genuine? The number is 159 and is operated by Stop Scams UK.

    So if you receive a suspicious call from someone claiming to be from your bank or asking you to transfer money and/or divulge personal details, hang up and dial 159. The hotline will connect you directly to your bank, which should then be able to advise whether the call was genuine or not. (If you struggle to connect to 159, contact your bank in the normal way).

    Be mindful that suspicious calls can take many forms. For instance, the Co-op Bank has reported a spike in the number of scammers pretending to be from its own anti-fraud department. So don't just assume that a call which appears to be from your 'bank' is legitimate – if unsure, hang up and dial 159.

    More than 550,000 calls have been made to 159 since its launch in 2021. Most major banks are connected to the 159 hotline, including:

    • Bank of Scotland
    • Barclays
    • Co-op Bank
    • First Direct
    • Halifax
    • HSBC
    • Lloyds
    • Metro Bank
    • Monzo
    • Nationwide
    • NatWest
    • Royal Bank of Scotland
    • Santander
    • Starling Bank
    • Tide
    • TSB
    • Ulster Bank
  6. Your bank will NEVER email or text you asking for your PIN or password

    If you get an email or text from your bank about fraud, ask yourself whether or not that's the usual way you receive contact from your bank. Think about whether it's sensible for the bank to make contact in that way.

    The British Bankers' Association's Know Fraud, No Fraud campaign highlights eight things your bank will never do, including calling or emailing to ask you for your full PIN or any passwords. Banks will also never send someone to your home to collect cash or bank cards.

    One warning sign that a message from a 'bank' is actually a scam is where the name of the message sender looks a bit fishy, for example 'H S B C' (spaces between letters) or 'tsb' (all lower case letters).

    If you're unsure, go and independently check your bank statement or card for your bank's real number, then call the real thing.

  7. Watch out for poor gram-mar or dodgy speelling

    Be vigilant if an email or text message from a 'retailer' or 'bank' is badly-worded or littered with spelling mistakes. Banks and retailers will spend time crafting any emails they do send, and they're likely to proof them too – so bad grammar, dodgy spelling and poor punctuation are likely to be picked up before any emails go out.

    But phishing emails and text messages aren't likely to go through such a rigorous process.

    Can you spot the signs which indicate the text message on the right from 'Evri' is bogus? Whilst it doesn't contain spelling mistakes, there are a number of letters that are incorrectly capitalised, such as in 'Sorry We Couldn't reach you!'.

  8. NEVER click links in suspicious texts or emails

    Similarly, don't call the phone numbers listed in the messages. If you're concerned the message may be genuine, go and independently research the phone number or website of the organisation and ask them yourself.

  9. 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 – and sometimes even that's foolable.

    Similarly, where do you think www.moneysavingexpert.1.com goes? Well, it's not to MoneySavingExpert.com. For web addresses, it's what's before the .com or .co.uk that counts – so this would go to 1.com (which doesn't exist). It's worth looking out for this in web addresses, as it's so easy not to notice extra characters in the web address. Always look where you're clicking.

    For more, see Martin's Spam spotter rules blog (again, another old blog, but still relevant).

  10. 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.

    To help prevent viruses keep your web browser up to date and your PC backed up with free antivirus software. See our guide on Free antivirus software.

  11. Get help choosing and storing passwords

    Scammers regularly steal password information and pass it around on the dark web, which is why picking a strong password is so important.

    The safest way to secure your accounts is to use unique passwords for all your online logins. If this sounds impossible to remember, try a password manager. These can generate randomised passwords for your various accounts, and store them all to be accessed with one master password – the only one you'll actually need to remember.

    If you prefer to create your own passwords, try to make sure they are as strong as possible so people cannot guess them. Passphrases are stronger and generally easier to remember than passwords. An easy way to set a passphrase is to use three random words, then join them together to create one long word. You can include special characters and numbers, but don't overcomplicate it, as you need to be able to remember it.

    Don't use the same password for multiple accounts – this decreases the chance of someone else being able to access several accounts belonging to you. Plus don't write passwords down.

    For more password help, see Martin's Password help blog (while it's from 2011, the advice is still relevant).

  12. 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. 'Smishing' – in other words, SMS-phishing – is the same thing when a text is used instead of an email.

    Many of us receive these each year, such as "your bank security is broken, click here" or "we need your help to retrieve funds", or "your subscription's about to run out".

    The emails (or texts) disguise attempts to steal your passwords, bank codes and money. Often they'll ask for bank or credit card details. Sometimes they'll ask you to download viruses on to your computer or laptop. There'll be some sort of link. It often looks real.

    When you click on it, it'll probably take you through to a professional-looking website – a mirror image of the real thing. You'll be invited to put your password in – at that stage, you'll be parting with your cash.

    Never, ever, ever, ever, EVER open an attachment unless you're 100% sure of its contents. EVER.

    A quick and easy way to report scam emails

    The National Cyber Security Centre (part of GCHQ – the Government's cyber and security agency) has launched a suspicious email reporting service to take phishing scams down – all you have to do is forward suspicious emails to its report@phishing.gov.uk email address.

    Once you've reported a suspicious email, the NCSC will analyse it and any websites it links to. If it believes it's malicious, NCSC may:

    • Seek to block the address the email came from, so it can no longer send emails.
    • Work with hosting companies to remove links to malicious websites.
    • Raise awareness of commonly reported suspicious emails and methods used.

    While the NCSC is unable to inform you of the outcome of its review, it has assured us that it acts upon every message received – as an example, within the first week, the new email service received over 25,000 reports and, as a direct result, it has already removed over 400 phishing campaigns.

    The NCSC has also an online tool where you can report suspicious websites.

    If you've received a scam text message, you can forward it to 7726 for free. This will report the message to your mobile phone provider.

  13. Stop 'vishing' scams. Call 'em back if they want personal info

    If anyone calls claiming to be from a bank, insurer or utility provider, 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.

    Don't rely on caller IDs, or anyone drawing attention to them. Scammers can clone numbers, so it may look like the number your bank uses to call you. Plus, if you can, use a different phone to the one you were called on – so if you're called on your landline, use your mobile.

    In one sophisticated scheme, the scammer will tell you that your account has been hacked, and will encourage you to phone your bank. The catch is that they don't hang up after the initial call. They stay on the line and play a dial tone, while you think you are calling and then speaking to a bank employee.

    You will then be told to type your PIN into your phone keypad, which allows them to make a record of it, and will be instructed to hand over your card to a 'bank courier' who will collect card. The scammers will now have both your bank card and PIN.

  14. Filter out fake deals in your social media feed

    The flood of online scams, cons, hoaxes and frauds which litter social media websites such as Facebook are a modern scourge.

    Scores of people are fooled every day by these bogus offers and competitions, where scammers tempt you to part with your personal information which they can then sell on to third parties – or even worse, use to steal your identity.

    While some of these spurious offers are convincing, there are simple ways of telling what's legit and what's fake. And if you do suspect something's a scam, you should do your best to avoid it and ideally report it to Facebook (or whichever social network you're using) and Citizens Advice's Scam Action.

    On Facebook, all UK users can flag ads they believe to be scams or misleading by clicking the three dots in the top right corner of every ad on Facebook, pressing 'Report ad', then choosing 'Misleading or scam ad' and then 'Send a detailed scam report'.

    Here are some common things to look out for when spotting a scam:

    • '£80 Lidl birthday voucher for everyone!' If it seems too good to be true – it often is

      Sometimes there are stonking deals out there and if we have included them on our site or in the weekly email, we will have thoroughly checked they are legit.

      But Lidl is giving away an £80 voucher to everyone for its birthday (image below), and 100 free flights with British Airways. They sound too good to be true… because they are.

      Of course there are genuine competitions on social media, but it's unlikely any company would give every single person who enters such an expensive prize. It just wouldn't be feasible.

    • Spelling & grammar mistakes are often a telltale sign something's not right

      Many of these scams are littered with spelling mistakes, which should act as an immediate red flag. If it was a genuine offer from a major corporation, quality checks and editing would prevent spelling mistakes.

      One Facebook page, supposedly giving away three Range Rovers in a competition, was titled "Rannge Rover".

      They're not always blatantly obvious, though – so do look out for quite subtle missing letters. One example we found on a British Airways scam said: "Congratulation! You have won 2 free British Airways Ticket!"

    • Look at the images for inaccuracies

      We've seen many people fall for an Easyjet hoax in which supposed round-trip tickets were up for grabs due to last-minute cancellations. It came with several images of luxurious business class seats – but the plane's paint job wasn't quite the Easyjet shade of orange, and in any case Easyjet doesn't even have a business class section! So we were able to work out it was a fake.

    • Look for small details to check if a page is legit

      When on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube, the social profiles of some companies (typically larger ones) and notable individuals will be 'verified'. This tends to be indicated by a blue tick on their profile (this is different for Twitter – more on this explained below).

      As a general rule, verified status means a company's or individual's social media account is legitimate because its identity has been confirmed by the respective social media platform. Yet there are plenty of companies and people that won't be verified online.

      If that's the case, look for other small details which might indicate whether or not a page is legitimate. For example, lots of 'likes' and followers on a social media page could indicate legitimacy. Spoof accounts, on the other hand, are unlikely to have as many likes or followers. If in doubt about a social media account's status, have a quick browse on the relevant company's website, as many tend to link directly to their official social media account from there (so you can determine whether what you're looking at is authentic).

      Do watch out. A few years back, one bogus 'Disneyland' page claiming to give away huge prizes was a pretty convincing fake. It had used the same logo, header and information as the REAL Disneyland page, but it wasn't verified. It also had only that one competition post on its entire Facebook timeline and the page had only 6,000 likes (the real Disneyland page has 14,000,000).

      Twitter verification

      On Twitter, working out whether an account is legitimate or not can be tricker....

      Government accounts tend to be verified by a grey tick. Gold ticks also indicate that an account is legitimate. 

      Yet blue ticks – which used to indicate that an account was legitimate – don't operate as they once did. That's because any Twitter user can now pay £7 a month for a blue verification tick, which means an account with a blue tick might not necessarily be as legitimate as you think. Plus, many legitimate accounts that used to have a blue tick no longer have one, as they don't want to pay the £7 fee.

      So, if you come across a Twitter account with a blue tick, it's always worth being extra-vigilant and double-checking the profile.

    • Carefully check links are going where you'd expect

      Often, when you click one of these scams you'll be taken away from social media to another website, and it's really important you check the URL (the website address) to ensure you're not being led into dodgy online territory.

      If Legoland was really giving out five free tickets, you'd most likely be taken to Legoland.com… but in the recent scam, you are taken to Legoland.com-everythingfree.com. When you notice the addition of "everything free" and the double ".com", the penny should drop that this might not be a genuine website.

      One Easyjet scam we saw even had "crook" in the URL... not something you would want to click on.

    • Posts asking you to share & message friends is a common tactic of scammers

      Scammers like nothing more than to have their spurious offers and competitions shared. So a common tactic is to ask you to share the page with your Facebook friends thanking the promoter for the chance to win.

      Lidl's £80 voucher scam asked you to share on your page saying: "Thank you for my voucher" and message 15 friends about the offer... unfortunately, that just spreads the scam even further.

    • Look for warnings on real company pages

      Major supermarkets such as Asda and Tesco have both had fake voucher giveaways circling the net, and the legitimate social media pages both posted out a warning saying they are fake. If you 'like' or 'follow' the real pages (the ones with the blue tick), you can often easily check whether there's a fake around that you should be wary of.

      This is something Lidl had to do with a scam promotion circulating:

    • Beware fake WhatsApp promos

      Companies are increasingly using messaging apps like WhatsApp and Messenger to send news and offers to customers who've signed up to receive them. But as a result scams have started to appear on these newer services too.

      WhatsApp users reported receiving a message offering five free Alton Towers passes to 500 families:

      Fortunately, both the message and the website it linked to, which asked users to answer some questions and send the link to 20 WhatsApp friends to receive the 'prize', were riddled with telltale signs that it was a scam, such as a slightly incorrect link and a lot of bad grammar, arousing people's suspicions. Alton Towers later confirmed the offer was a scam.

      Of course, MSE often features Alton Towers deals, but we check these thoroughly to make sure they're genuine.

      In the past, Ryanair has also warned of similar hoaxes. Scammers sent people a WhatsApp message, congratulating them on winning free tickets and asking them to enter personal details. Ryanair confirmed that it does not have a WhatsApp account.

  15. Be wary if you've been asked to pay upfront

    You should never have to pay to access prizes or funds due to you.

    Worse still, if you're sent a cheque and asked to wire money over as a stop-gap for fees and taxes, the cheque will most likely bounce and you'll be left out of pocket.

  16. This includes loans where you need to pay a 'fee' in order to access the money

    Be suspicious of any 'loan' offer where you're required to pay a fee before receiving the money. This could well be a case of loan fee fraud, where you pay the 'fee' but don't end up with the loan.

    Instances of this type of fraud picked up considerably in 2020, leaving people out of pocket by £274 on average, according to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). So be especially wary of any loan you're offered where there's:

    • A requirement to pay an upfront fee
    • Pressure to pay this fee quickly
    • A request to pay in an unusual manner, such as via vouchers or money transfer

    If in any doubt about a lender's authenticity, always check whether it's regulated by the FCA before proceeding any further (all genuine lenders are FCA-approved). To do this, search for the lender on the Financial Services Register (if the lender doesn't appear, alarm bells should ring).

  17. Reputable search engines won't necessarily return reputable sites

    Bogus websites are often set up to cash in on popular products, or payday loans, so be wary if it's an unfamiliar site.

    Don't think that because it appears on a reputable search engine, it's a reputable site. Always check first, especially with sponsored links as these pay to appear at the top of search engines' lists – on Google, a sponsored link normally appears at the top of a search page and will be clearly labelled as an 'Ad' to tell you it's paid for.

    One example a few years ago saw payday loan brokers appearing in search engines after people typed in 'credit union loans'. 

    Search engines might also return bogus or misleading websites where you're looking for free debt advice – for example, from charities such as StepChange and National Debtline. Don't be reeled in by impersonators masquerading on search engines under sneaky names like 'Step to Change' or 'Step Changing'. 

    Check where the link's going before you click. And if you've clicked, and it looks dodgy – just don't go any further.

  18. Be careful of urgent deadlines

    Nothing needs to be done immediately. Even if your account has been hacked, get in touch with your bank / provider via the appropriate channels.

    If you're being asked to hit a deadline, something dodgy is probably going on.

  19. Shred sensitive documents you don't intend to keep 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.

    If there's an unauthorised transaction on your account, contact your bank or provider straightaway. The Lending Standards Board offers guidance on how banks should help with credit card problems, though they don't have to help if there's proof you've been negligent.

    In addition, shred and dispose of all sensitive financial documents, including envelopes, as a branded letter from a bank shows you have a relationship that could be taken advantage of.

  20. Watch out for companies that address you as 'Dear Sir or Madam'

    Genuine companies should know who they are targeting with emails, text messages and letters. 'Dear Customer' may sound polite, but that or any variation of 'Dear Sir/Madam' or 'Dear Valued Customer' should set off alarm bells.

    Many banks will now put something on their emails to identify you – and to reassure you that they know something about you. You'll be addressed by name, and they may put the name of your account or your postcode on the email or letter – information scammers aren't likely to have.

  21. Be online- and social media-savvy

    If you've a social media account or are signed up to any forums where you can share messages, try your best to limit the amount of personal information you publish online.

    For example, don't put your address on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, and then announce to the world you're going on holiday for two weeks.

  22. 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.

    Spam texts are likely to be generic, citing that you're owed accident compensation, a PPI refund or a tax rebate. Some even trick you by asking you to text 'STOP' back to the number to be removed from the mailing list, but that's often just a ploy to see that you're a real person and not an unused mobile number.

    If you do get a spam text, forward the text to your network provider for free, simply by forwarding it to 7726, making sure it includes the sender's number. For full info on how to spot and stop scam texts, see Stop spam texts.

  23. QR codes can be hijacked by scammers – so verify before engaging with one

    QR codes can be hijacked by scammers - so watch out

    QR codes are everywhere these days, from pub and restaurant tables to train station platforms and flyers on the street.

    Yet whilst QRs codes are a common way of accessing websites or making payments, for example, scammers are known to piggyback off legitimate QR codes and create bogus ones.

    By engaging with a bogus or compromised QR code, you'll put yourself at risk of revealing personal and financial details to scammers. This happened to one woman at a train station in York, who ended up on a fake website after scanning what she thought was a genuine QR code (the original had had been plastered over with a fake) – something which resulted in her being scammed out of £13,000.

    So whilst the overwhelming majority of QR codes are legitimate and safe to engage with, you should still exercise caution. Here are some tips:

    • Check if the URL looks legitimate. When hovering over a QR code with your phone, check that the preview URL which appears doesn't contain any tell-tale signs of a scam like spelling mistakes. 

    • Look out for signs of tampering. For example, does the QR look like a sticker that's been placed on top of another QR code.
    • Beware of low-quality looking websites. If you follow a prompt from a QR code and land on a website, have a scan for common signs of bogus webpages such as low-quality images and typos.
    • Be cautious of unsolicited letters or emails containing QR codes. If in doubt, contact a company to check the message is legitimate.

    • Don't scan or open QR codes from strangers. It seems obvious, so avoid it.
  24. Be wary of numbers starting 084

    Since numbers starting with 084, 087 or 09 became premium (this just means calls to these numbers are charged at a higher rate) most reputable companies have stopped using them. In their place scammers have started using these numbers to trick people out of money.

    The most common scam leaves you with a missed call – in most cases the phone won't have rung long enough for you to answer – and when you call back you're charged a fortune. Even if you don't actually call back your bill could sometimes still show that you've made a call lasting anything up to 12 hours, also resulting in a massive charge.

    Another scam involves text messages. Scammers will pretend to be from your bank and warn you that a dodgy transaction is about to take place and you need to call an 084 number to stop it. Calls are usually held in a queue before cutting off but you'll still have to pay a hefty bill. So if you get a text that includes your "bank's" number, always find the number independently before you make a call.

    Unexpected charge on your phone bill?

    If you've noticed a charge on your phone bill but are unsure whether it's fair or something more sinister like a scam, you should take steps to clarify the situation.

    Where the charge looks like it's from a legitimate company, you can decide on the appropriate next step – such as claiming a refund if you think the charge is unfair. But if you believe the charge is the result of a scam, you should cease further communication with the scam (if you haven't already) and report it.

    If you need help identifying an unknown charge on your phone bill, the PhoneCharges.org website has some handy tips.

  25. Think you're being targeted? Use Citizens Advice's scams checker

    Fraudsters continue to evolve with time, and for this reason it can remain difficult to distinguish between what's legitimate and what's a scam – even if you're scam-savvy. Thankfully there are extra resources out there which can help you decide. 

    One of these resources is Citizens Advice's online scams checker tool.

    To use the tool, you simply need to answer a short set of questions, such as where you came across the 'scam' and what, if anything, it asked of you. Based on your answers, the tool will give some tailored advice, which'll hopefully make it clearer whether you have been targeted by a scam.

  26. If in doubt about a company, check it is registered

    All limited companies are listed on the official Companies House website, which is the government's register of UK companies.

    All limited companies are listed on the official Companies House site, the Government's register of UK companies (though this doesn't include sole traders). Be wary if its records show a PO box address or just an email.

    Get full contact details, including a street address, or fixing problems could be a nightmare. You can also find out who registered the website and when on the Whois database.

    If you're donating to a charity, then it should be registered. Check: England & WalesScotlandNorthern Ireland.

  27. Signing up for something? Make sure you read the terms & conditions

    Even if you don't read the legalese, always at least read the standard terms and conditions before you sign – if there aren't any terms and conditions then this should ring alarm bells.

    Plus always ask questions beforehand if there's anything you don't understand, in writing or by email if possible.

  28. Google for complaints and reviews

    The internet is a powerful tool to find other consumers' experiences. Easiest of all, do a quick Google search for a company name next to the word 'complaints' or 'reviews'. For example, 'Delboy Ltd complaints'.

    Always take one-off complaints with a pinch of salt. It could be a competitor, someone malicious or a customer with a grudge. But if there are reams of complaints or reviews are overwhelmingly negative, it could be a sign that something is amiss.

  29. Pay by credit card for added protection

    Pay by credit card for something costing over £100, 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.

    This means you have exactly the same rights with the credit card company as you do with the retailer, so if things go wrong, you can take your complaints there instead.

    Remember that it's important you ALWAYS REPAY IN FULL each month, so there's no interest cost. See the Section 75 guide for a full explanation.

  30. There's separate protection for purchases under £100

    Section 75 doesn't apply to purchases under £100, but there's still an option for added protection if your purchase costs less than this. It's called chargeback, and while not a legal protection, it's a good secondary backup to Section 75.

    So if you spend less than £100 on Visa, Mastercard and Amex credit cards – or any amount on most debit and charge cards – but the goods don't appear within 120 days or they're faulty, you can ask your bank whether they can reclaim the cash from the seller's bank. See full details in our Chargeback guide.

  31. Make sure any payment you make is 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.

    It's really easy to tell as the web address will start with 'https', rather than just 'http'. Look for a security padlock on your browser (usually next to the web address).

    You should also sign credit and debit cards up to Mastercard Identity Check and Verified by Visa schemes to add an extra layer of password protection.

  32. Be one step ahead in case your property is a target

    It might sound unlikely, but one homeowner had a nasty surprise after his property in Luton was sold by scammers without his knowledge (he was living elsewhere at the time). He only made the discovery when neighbours noticed movement inside the property, which turned out to be the new 'owners'.

    While such incidents aren't common, it's a warning of what could happen if you fall victim to identity fraud. Fortunately, if you live in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland, you can simply sign up to an alert service to mitigate the risk (sadly, we're not aware of a similar service that applies in Scotland):

    In England or Wales – sign up to HM Land Registry's property alert system

    You can choose up to 10 properties to monitor, and you'll be notified any time a search or application is received by HM Land Registry in relation to one of these properties. You don't need to be the owner of the property to monitor it (so you could do it to help out elderly friends or relatives who aren't online). Sign up on the HM Land Registry website.

    Please note you can only monitor properties that are registered with HM Land Registry – see how to register a property for the first time.

    Or alternatively...

    Homeowners in England and Wales can also prevent HM Land Registry from registering a sale or mortgage on their property without a certificate from a solicitor or conveyancer (again, the property must be on the register in the first place).

    To do this, a restriction needs to be added to the deeds of the property. This involves either you or a solicitor filling out an application form and sending it to HM Land Registry. Restriction applications cost a £40 fee if you live at the property, or they're free if you live elsewhere. Send the application along with any fees due (payable via cheque or postal order to 'HM Land Registry') to:

    - HM Land Registry, Citizen Centre, PO Box 74, Gloucester, GL14 9BB

    Download an application form from the Gov.uk website.

    Do be aware that if remortgaging or selling a property that has a restriction on it, solicitors and conveyancers could charge for the extra admin involved (some MoneySavers have been quoted upward of £150).

    • My property isn't registered with HM Land Registry – how do I rectify this?

      More than 85% of property and land in England and Wales is registered with HM Land Registry in fact, any property or land that's been bought or mortgaged (including remortgages) since the 1990s has been required to join the register.

      Unregistered properties are at an increased risk of property fraud, so for this reason alone, you should consider registering your property as soon as possible if it isn't already. Don't put off registering a property until you come to selling it, as this could hold up the sale, plus it makes registering more expensive.

      The process of registering a property for the first time can seem daunting, as there are a number of steps involved. If you're feeling brave you can do it yourself, though it might be wiser to pay a solicitor or conveyancer to do it for you.

      Full details of how to register a property can be found on the Gov.uk website, but in brief, the steps involve:

      1. Checking whether your property is already registered. Do this by punching your address into the online register (it's free to do this, though it costs £3 to access a property's actual details). If the register doesn't come back with any hits that resemble your address, this is a good indicator your property isn't registered.

      2. Checking whether there are any third-party interests in your property. This is done by applying for a search from the Land Charges Department, whose records go back to 1925. This involves a fee.

      3. Filling in an application for first registration. This form will need to be sent to HM Land Registry.

      4. Preparing a scale plan of the property. This is to show where the property is situated.

      5. Compiling a list of the documents you've filled out. You'll need to complete two copies of this list.

      6. Finding out the correct registration fee. This'll depend on the value of your property – expect to pay roughly between £200 and £500.

      7. Send everything off to HM Land Registry. This includes all the documents, application form and fees.

    In Northern Ireland – register an 'inhibition' on your property 

    This is very similar to adding a restriction to the deeds of a property in England and Wales. An inhibition prevents the Land Registry in Northern Ireland from either registering a sale or mortgage on a property without your consent, or from doing so without first giving you notice (you decide which). The inhibition can be cancelled in future if you want.

    You can apply for an inhibition directly yourself. To do this, you'll need to fill in an inhibition application form and an application for registration. Both of these, along with a £90 fee (payable via cheque or postal order to 'DoF General Account'), should then be sent to:

    - Land & Property Services, Land Registers, Lanyon Plaza, 7 Lanyon Place, Town Parks, Belfast, BT1 3LP

    Please note that to add an inhibition, your property must already be registered with the Land Registry in Northern Ireland. More information about inhibitions can be found on the NIdirect website.

  33. 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.

    If you care for an elderly person, look out for the warning signs. Are they receiving a lot of junk mail or phone calls from strangers, or have they become secretive when discussing finances?

    If you're concerned, visit ThinkJessica, a website which shows how some elderly people can become serious victims of scams.

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