Anyone can fall for a scam - it’s no reflection on your intelligence. But, if you know what to look out for, you’re less likely to be taken in. If you have been a victim, don’t keep quiet. There is action you can take to protect yourself and others.
What is a scam?
Scams are crimes. They are a dishonest way to make money by tricking people. Scammers target millions of people every year. There are many different types of scam.
You may be approached:
- in person
- by email or on social media
- by post
- by phone or text.
Scammers will find information about you before they make contact. They use lots of techniques to do this, like trickery, flattery and emotional manipulation. Older people may be more vulnerable because scammers often target people who:
- live alone, so may feel lonely and want to talk
- are at home during the day
- have money or valuables.
How to spot a scam
Some scams can be hard to spot. Things to look out for include:
- offers that come out of the blue
- someone asking you to share your bank account details, or verify a password or a PIN
- prizes that need you to send money up-front to claim your winnings
- time-limited offers that ask you to act quickly
- companies with vague contact details. Look out for things like a PO Box or mobile number, or a premium rate number usually beginning 090
- companies that call you over and over again, and stay on the phone a long time
- offers that you're told not to tell family or friends about.
As a general rule, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
How to protect yourself
Scammers are clever and ruthless, and they'll do anything to get hold of your personal details. But there are ways you can protect yourself.
Be very careful about who you give your personal details to.
Never send money to someone you don’t know or trust. And remember - your bank or the police will never ask for your PIN or password or ask you to transfer funds for fraud reasons.
- If anyone comes to your door, make sure you check their ID. Don’t let anyone in if you don’t want to.
- Put up a ‘no cold callers’ sign. Genuine sellers or charity workers will know not to come to your door. This way, you know to be suspicious about anyone who does come to your door.
- If you're interested in what they're offering, don’t agree to buy anything there and then. Take your time and check if they’re genuine.
- If they're offering a service, get a written quote and quotes from two or three other businesses as well.
- Install legitimate anti-virus and firewall software and make sure you keep it up to date.
- Don’t click on links or attachments in an unexpected email, even to unsubscribe. Delete the email and go to the organisation’s own website.
- Don’t reply to scam emails even to say no – this lets the scammer know the account is active.
- Do not click on any pop-ups that you don’t recognise.
- Use strong passwords. Stringing together three random words, and including numbers and letters, can create a strong but memorable password – eg Car2Dog3Iris4&.
- Don't use public WiFi to make any financial transactions, like online banking or shopping.
For more advice, see our staying safe online page.
On social media
- Check your privacy settings regularly to make sure they're up to date.
- If you receive a message from someone you know asking for money, double-check with that person another way, like calling them.
- Don't share personal information, or information that could help a scammer. This could be things like as your pet’s name, your maiden name or your date of birth. This could give scammers a clue to your passwords or PIN. Also be careful when telling people when you're on holiday, as this tells them when your home will be empty.
- If you're not sure whether an account is real, contact that person another way to check.
On the phone
- Hang up on cold callers and ignore cold texts. Do not worry about seeming rude.
- Register with the Telephone Preference Service. This is a free service that lets you opt out of marketing calls. That way you know that anyone who is cold calling you is likely to be a scammer. However, if a cold caller contacts you asking you to pay to register, this is a scam.
- Ask for the name of the person who is calling you and who they represent. Check the information by calling the company’s head office.
- Wait for at least 20 minutes before you call an organisation or company that has called you unexpectedly. You could also use a different phone line in case the caller has kept the line open.
- Make sure that you destroy or shred any receipts or post with your credit card or personal details on. Tear up any envelopes or labels with your name and address on.
- You can register with the Mailing Preference Service to stop direct marketing mail addressed to you. You could also consider registering with the Fundraising Preference Service if you’re receiving unwanted post from charities. You can choose to stop post, email, telephone, and/or text messages from a selected charity or charities
- Put a ‘no junk mail’ sign on your door.
If you’re concerned about someone who may be vulnerable to financial abuse, contact your local council’s adult social care service or safeguarding team. You’ll find their contact details at gov.uk/find-your-local-council.
Also of interest
Also in this section
The Metropolitan Police has produced a guide TheLittle Book of Big Scams, which you can download from their website.
You can also contact Ofcom for more advice on dealing with nuisance calls or telephone scams.
Call our free Helpline on 0800 319 6789
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