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Published: 14/12/2021

It’s never been more important to be on your guard when it comes to potential scams. Fraudsters are getting ever-more sophisticated in their methods and it can be increasingly difficult to spot when you’re being targeted, so here we look at how to protect yourself from scams to keep your money safe.

What is an online scam?

Online scams can come in many different forms, from fake online shops that you input your card details into, to phishing emails that collect personal information, and others that ask you to send money to a separate bank account. Anything that involves the internet can be classed as an online scam, with their purpose to capture your credit card details and personal information, access your login and password details, or simply steal your money outright.

What are the types of financial scams?

Financial scams can include:

  • Phishing scams, where fraudsters send emails containing a link to a fake website, often designed to look like your bank, where you’re asked to input personal information that is then stolen. When this is done via SMS, it’s known as smishing.
  • Investment or pension scams, where you’ll be contacted and told about an investment opportunity that’s “too good to pass up”, or about ways to access your pension fund early and how to invest it instead. Once you’ve transferred your cash, you’ll likely never hear from the fraudster again (unless it’s to ask you to invest more).
  • Romance scams involve someone trying to strike up a relationship with you online, often via entirely legitimate dating websites, with the aim being to get money from you.
  • Money transfer scams involve someone contacting you, usually via email, to tell you that you’re the recipient of a large sum of money, and you’re required to wire them a smaller amount first as a “test” before they send the rest to you. Or, someone may be posing in financial difficulty and ask for your assistance.
  • Holiday or ticket fraud, where you buy a holiday or tickets to an event from a fake website, only to find that they never materialise.
  • Invoice scams are when someone pretending to be from an organisation you usually deal with emails you with an invoice asking to be paid to a new account.
  • Copycat websites posing as official bodies (such as HMRC) that charge a fee for processing documents such as driving licences or passports.
  • Safe account scams, where someone contacts you telling you that your bank account has been compromised and you need to transfer your funds to a “safe” account while they investigate.
  • Homebuying fraud, where a scammer contacts you right before you’re due to transfer a house deposit to your solicitor and tells you the bank account details have changed.
  • Social media scams, where you’re encouraged to buy or invest via social media posts or messages from friends whose accounts have been hacked.

These are just a few of the most common types of financial scams you may come across, but there are many more besides, so it’s vital to be on your guard.

Who can be targeted by online fraudsters?

Anyone can be targeted by online fraudsters, which makes it difficult to prepare for. It’s typically thought that older people are more regularly targeted and therefore fall victim to scams more often, but this isn’t necessarily the case – the rise of online scams means that all ages can become targets, and many younger people have fallen victim, too.

Indeed, research from Citizens Advice found that while the over-55s are more likely to be targeted, the under-35s are nearly five times more likely to fall prey to scammers’ tactics, so the assumption that younger consumers are often savvier doesn’t always hold true.

How to recognise a scam

The general rule of thumb is if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. But there are other things you can look out for as well, such as if you’re being pressured into sending money to someone or need to “act now” to make the most of a deal, or if you’re being asked for personal information such as bank account details or pin numbers. Check that you’re dealing with a legitimate company by looking for a postal address and reviews online, and if you’ve received a suspicious email or text message, see where the communication is coming from and check the content for errors (there are often grammatical or spelling mistakes, branding issues or incorrect contact details, or it may have come from an email address that doesn’t seem official). If you still have any suspicions about a communication, never click an any links and never respond to it.

Never pay for anything by bank transfer (credit and debit cards can offer additional protection if something goes wrong; read more on the Consumer Credit Act), and equally never transfer money to an account that’s supposedly safe on the say-so of someone else. Always make sure to speak to your bank in person – by calling the number given on the bank’s website, not the number that you’ve been told elsewhere – and if you suspect that something isn’t quite right, always report it to the relevant authorities. The financial industry regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, has some useful information about avoiding scams on the Scamsmart pages of its website.

Find out what to do if you’re scammed by reading our guide.


Disclaimer: This information is intended solely to provide guidance and is not financial advice. Moneyfacts will not be liable for any loss arising from your use or reliance on this information. If you are in any doubt, Moneyfacts recommends you obtain independent financial advice.

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