What is a scam?

Millions of people are targeted by scammers every year. A scam is a dishonest way to make money by deceiving people. There are many different types of scam.

You may be approached:

  • in person
  • online
  • on social media
  • by post
  • by phone or text.

Scammers do their homework and find information about you before they make contact. They use a variety of techniques, including flattery and emotional manipulation, to draw you in. Older people may be more vulnerable because scammers often target people who:

  • live alone
  • are at home during the day
  • have money or valuables
  • may feel lonely and want to talk.

How to spot a scam

Some scams are very clever and they can be hard to spot. Things to look out for include:

  • offers that come out of the blue
  • requests to share your bank account details or verify a password or PIN
  • prizes that ask you to send money up front to claim your winnings
  • time-limited offers that ask you to act quickly
  • companies with vague contact details, such as a PO Box or mobile number, or a premium rate number usually beginning 090
  • companies that call you repeatedly and stay on the phone a long time
  • confidential offers that you are 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 will do anything to get hold of your personal details. 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.

In person

  • If anyone comes to your door, make sure you check their ID. Don’t let anyone in if you don’t want to.
  • If you are interested in what they are offering, don’t agree to buy anything there and then. Take your time and check their credentials.
  • If they are offering a service, get quotes from two or three other businesses as well.

Online

  • Install anti-virus and firewall software and make sure you keep it up to date.
  • Don’t click on links or attachments in an unsolicited email, even to unsubscribe.  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.
  • Don't do any financial transactions - eg online banking or shopping - over public WiFi.
  • There is more advice on 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 who know asking for money, double-check with that person through another medium, such as by calling them.
  • Don't share personal information, or information that could help a criminal, such as when you're on holiday and your home will be empty.
  • If you're not sure whether an account is genuine, contact that person through another medium to check.

On the phone

  • Be wary of cold callers. Hang up if you think they could be a scammer.
  • Register with the Telephone Preference Service . This is a free service that enables you to opt out of marketing calls. If a cold-caller contacts you and asks 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 or use a different phone line in case the caller has kept the line open.

Post

  • Make sure that you destroy or shred any receipts or post with your credit card or personal details 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 communications 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 are concerned about someone who may be vulnerable to financial abuse you can contact your local council’s adult social care service or safeguarding team. You will find their contact details at gov.uk/find-your-local-council.

Next steps

The Metropolitan Police has produced a guide The Little 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.

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