Scams can be defined as schemes that aim to con you out of your money, mainly by post, phone or email.
Scammers are defined as a person or people who carry out a scam. The aim of a scammer is to convince you to part with your money.
- 48% of people in the UK have been targeted by a scam.
- 3.2 million people fall victim every year.
- Over £5 billion is lost to scammers every year.
Scammers are clever, and all kinds of people from all walks of life get duped. If you let your guard down you too could become a victim.
- If it sounds too good to be true, it almost always is. Beware of hype and extravagant promises.
- You are contacted out of the blue: You may get a phone call, email or letter from someone you’ve never heard of.
- You have to make a quick decision: Scammers don’t like to give you time to think. They will try to pressure you into making a decision by saying things like ‘If you don’t act now, you’ll miss out.’
- You have to give away bank account details: Trustworthy firms will never contact you to ask for this information.
If you see any of the warning signs in a letter, phone call, text message or email, it could well be a scam.
- First of all, don’t reply.
- Then bin it, delete it or hang up.
If you, a family member, or friend believe you are the victim of a scam, contact Advice Line on 08454 040506.
For up to date advice on fraud and scams provided by Metropolitan Police:
Use our Scam Checklist document (PDF, 554 KB, 3 pages) to help protect yourself from scams.
Types of Scams
The following list provides information on the typical scams encountered by the Trading Standards services:
Consumers browsing the internet should be aware of pop-up advertising, which is intended to attract web users or capture email addresses. A pop-up will usually appear in a new web browser window containing an advertisement for goods or services. Some pop-ups will include a link to less scrupulous sites including:
- certain types of downloaded content, such as images or free music
- software installation
- access to pornographic sites
- gambling sites.
The Trading Standards Service has received complaints where consumers have clicked on a pop-up in the belief they were going to receive goods as part of a free trial. However, once the consumer has entered their personal details, including a debit or credit card number, extra payments may be taken.
Consumers are advised not to click on any pop-up advert that may appear whilst browsing the internet. They should also check their internet settings to ensure the pop-up blocker is activated and that genuine anti-virus software is installed.
For further help or advice, contact Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 03454 040506.
Psychic or clairvoyant scams approach you by sending you a letter. The letters can either:
- be aggressive - saying something terrible will happen to you if you do not pay them
- predict wonderful things happening in your future and request money for a full report.
People have lost thousands of pounds paying for these fake reports. Clairvoyants and psychic scams are one of the most common scams sent by post. Identical letters are sent to thousands of other people to trick them if you get one of these letters, throw it away or send it to us at Trading Standards.
Prize draws, sweepstakes and foreign lottery scams say you have won a prize – all you need to do is pay a 'processing' or 'administration' fee. But you will end up with nothing or a cheap item that's worth less than the fee. The scam may also ask you to:
- call a premium-rate phone number (beginning 090) – you will hear a message that tricks you into staying on the phone for a long time
- provide personal or financial information for 'identification' – they will use this to steal your money.
If you get an offer for a lottery or competition you have not entered, always ignore it.
If you think you have been targeted by a premium-rate scam, complain to PhonepayPlus on 020 7940 7474. It has the power to fine companies and stop them offering premium rate numbers.
In dating scams, the person you have met online says they live overseas and need money to help them come to the UK. You send the money but the person disappears, along with your money. Protect yourself from online dating scams by:
- never sending money to someone you meet online
- asking lots of questions in your emails – if they are not answered, it is likely to be a standard email that has been sent to thousands of people
- reporting any suspicions to the dating website you have registered with.
Financial scams usually promise you something for nothing. For example, 'advance fee' scams offer a huge fee in exchange for 'helping' someone transfer money out of a country. Other scams get you to:
- invest in shares or high-value items like fine wine that turn out to be worthless
- pay upfront fees to access loans or deals you will not get
- bank a cheque for more than the asking price of something you are selling and then transfer the difference to the scammer.
The reality is these scams are used to get hold of your bank details and steal money from you. Never give out bank details to people you do not know. Before you invest or pay any money:
- do an online search for the company or individual
- get independent financial advice on the offer
- take the paperwork away to read – never sign up to anything immediately.
Only buy or sell shares with a company that is on the Financial Services Authority (FSA) register of authorised firms.
There are two common health scams:
- miracle cure scams – unproven claims are made for products to treat illnesses like arthritis, diabetes and cancer
- slimming scams – companies sell products they say will result in dramatic weight loss, e.g. a pill or cream.
To make these claims sound realistic they:
- use phrases like 'scientific breakthrough' and 'ancient remedy'
- offer 'no-risk, money-back guarantees'
- use quotes they say are from satisfied customers or doctors ('testimonials').
Job scams promise an exciting new career if you pay an upfront fee for training, study aids or materials for your new job. Examples of careers offered include:
- Mystery shopper.
Once you pay the fee, you will not get what you need to start your new career. Before you pay any money, do an online search of the organisation and check any contract to understand what you will get for the fee.
Junk Mail and Telephone Calls
Personally addressed junk mail can be reduced by contacting:
The Mailing Preference Service
70 Margaret Street
Telephone: 0207 291 3310
Alternatively, you can register online with the Mailing Preference service, MPS Online.
You may not see a significant reduction in the amount of mail you receive for about four months after registering.
To reduce the amount of unsolicited telephone calls contact:
The Telephone Preference Service
70 Margaret Street
Telephone: 0845 070 0707
Alternatively, you can register online with the Telephone Preference service, Telephone Preference Service (tpsonline.org.uk).
Please be aware that if Wightfibre, Sky or BT are your phone provider you can get free call blocking services:
You can purchase phones that have call blocking technology built into them. These range in price and can be found at many major retailers. The technology prevents the majority of scam calls from even making your phone ring so you know that when you pick up your phone it will be someone you want to speak to.
You can now choose to stop email, telephone, addressed post, and/or text messages from a selected charity online or by calling 0300 303 3517.
You can also submit an FPS request on behalf of a relative or someone you care for. You will be asked to confirm that you have authority to act on behalf of the individual concerned and details of your relationship with the person you are acting on behalf of.
Once the FPS request has been made, the charity or charities selected will be informed of their obligation to remove your personal details from their communications databases within 28 days. Personal information will be needed ,to submit an FPS request so that charities are able to identify individuals on their database. This personal information will be sent securely to the named charity and will only be used by them for the purposes of matching you against their database.
Further information can be found on the Fundraising Preference Service website.
It can take up to 28 days to reduce the number of calls. If particular companies are still making unsolicited calls to your home, send a recorded delivery letter to them requesting that they stop telephoning you. Advise the company that if they continue, then you will report them to the Office of Communications (OFCOM).
You could also change your phone number, this is not difficult to do and can be arranged by your service provider
If you have written to a company asking them to stop calling you and they continue to do so, contact OFCOM:
- Telephone: 020 7981 3040
- Textphone for deaf or speech impaired: 020 7981 3043
- Ofcom website.
If you receive a lot of unwanted calls you can install a call blocker such as True Call.
With the help of the National Trading Standards eCrime team Which? we will be keeping you up to date with the latest scams and how to avoid them.
For up to date advice on staying safe online visit Get Safe Online.