Scams and fraud: what are they and how can you protect yourself

Your identity and personal information are valuable to criminals.  Even celebrities such as Beyonce and Britney Spears have had their private details stolen and posted online. If it can happen to them, could it happen to you?

According to a recent report, ID fraud is increasing 500% year on year and it is estimated that ID fraud costs the UK £3.3 billion a year with the average cost to the individual over £1,000!  More than £1.6 million worth of credit card fraud occurs on plastic cards every day and a fraudulent transaction takes place every 8 seconds.

So, how can you protect yourself?

There are actually hundreds of types of fraud ranging from cash point fraud to bogus tradesmen, pyramid scheme fraud through to corporate fraud and even online dating scams.  However, some are more common than others…..

ID theft

  • Identity theft is when your personal details are stolen.  This can be anything from being impersonated online on sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, right through to having money stolen from your bank account, which is identity fraud. 
  • Most fraud is designed to leave you out of pocket before you have chance to notice.  The majority of people don’t realise they have been a victim UNTIL they get turned down for credit
  • The big tell tale signs are that new accounts might appear on your credit report, there could be unexplained withdrawals and charges on your statements, you might not have received your bills, statements or other important mail in a long time or you might even have got calls from debt collection agencies for accounts or products you know nothing about.

How to protect yourself from ID theft

  • Get a shredder - Everybody should have a shredder at home (these usually cost around £20) for destroying important documents containing personal details. There are people who go through bins looking for personal documents so don’t give them the chance!
  • Make sure your phone or tablet has a pin passcode to lock it
  • Check your bank statements regularly and if you see something weird, speak to your bank
  • If your paper statements also stop suddenly, contact the bank immediately as your post may have been redirected without you knowing
  • Although you don’t need a new password for EVERY site you visit, it is worth having a different one for accessing your emails, a separate one for your online banking and a different one for your social media accounts like Facebook and twitter so that if one gets hacked, the others don’t have to follow!


  • Phishing is when an identity thief manages to get hold of personal details like your username, password or even worse bank details and pin numbers, by creating a fake website that looks just like a big site you probably already use like your bank, social networking site or a shopping site like eBay or Amazon
  • A big one recently was a fake email from HMRC – it worked because no-one wants to ignore the taxman! 
  • You usually get directed to the site by what looks like an innocent email that pings into your inbox.  You click on the link and are usually asked to input your details into an online form. They will probably use logos, colours and fonts that look familiar to the brand so you genuinely believe that everything is legitimate.  However, what really happens is that you are handing over personal details to a fraudster………

How to avoid a phishing email

  • Many phishing emails use general greetings rather than your name. If it says Dear PayPal member or Dear Customer, do not click on any of the links. Most companies would personalise the email with your name
  • Watch out for emails that are trying to get you to ACT NOW! Phishing emails try to convince you that your account could be in trouble unless you update your details NOW. 
  • Banks and large companies would NEVER send an email asking you to click on a link and confirm your bank details. If you are not sure, call the bank and ask.
  • Luckily, most phishing emails usually end up in your Spam or Junk folder. If you have a firewall installed on your computer or anti-virus software, you should receive some level of protection


  • Vishing is also known as the ''courier'' scam or the ''no hang up'' scam and is a new type of fraud. You receive a call from someone pretending to be either your bank or the police, telling you that your card has been compromised or there is a problem with your account.
  • You are then told to call your bank but the fraudster actually stays on the line and then pretends to be a bank representative, persuading you to transfer funds, withdraw money or reveal security information.
  • With the ''courier'' version, a fraudster comes to pick up the ‘compromised’ card from your home, sometimes providing a fake replacement.

How to protect yourself from vishing

  • Never hand over your card details to anyone – your bank will never ask for them
  • If you are contacted by your bank informing you that you have been the victim of fraud, hang up the phone and call the bank yourself, from another line if at all possible

Bogus Royal Mail emails

  • Royal Mail has received thousands of complaints from victims of fake emails.
  • Spammers have been sending out emails from a spoof address called "Royal Mail Group" about a lost or missing package to trick victims into downloading malware on to their computers.

How to protect yourself

  • If you receive one of these emails you should delete it immediately and don't download the zipped attachment.

Missed Call scam

  • One telephone scam to watch out for is the ‘missed call’ scam.
  • Victims receive a missed call from a number beginning 070 or 076. These numbers are used as they appear to be calls from a mobile phone number.
  • However, when the victim tries to call the number back, the call is immediately dropped or an engaged tone is played and the victim is charged 50p for making the call.

How to stop yourself falling victim to a missed call scam

  • If you receive a missed call from a number beginning 070 or 076 that you do not recognise, do not call it back.
  • Instead, make a note of the number and complain to the premium rate regulator, PhonepayPlus (0800 500 212)

Charity scams

  • Charity donation fraud is when you donate to a charity that either turns out to be fake or whose name is being misused by a fraudster. They then pocket your money
  • If you donate through a website, the fraudsters may record your credit or bank account details and use them to make purchases through your account
  • If you’re asked to call a phone number, it could be a premium rate number. This means the fraudsters will pocket even more of your money on top of your donation.
  • If you’re asked to donate clothing or household items, the fraudsters will sell them on and keep the money rather than giving them to people in need and if you simply put money in an envelope collected at your door or into a cash tin being rattled in the street….well you can guess the rest

How to protect yourself from charity fraud

  • The hardest part about charity scams is that the methods used are what genuine charities use and so it can be hard to tell the real from the fake
  • However, genuine charities are registered with the Charity Commission and print their registration details on all documentation, collection bags, envelopes etc. Check these details exist and also contact the Charity Commission to confirm they are authentic. You can call them on their helpline 0845 300 0218 or by visiting, where they have an online charity register.
  • As well as identity documents, people collecting money for a genuine charity must carry documents from the charity confirming they are collecting legitimately. Ask to see these documents and check the details.
  • If you are really unsure then send your donation to the charity directly

Ticket scams

  • When you are DESPERATE for a ticket to a show, you can sometimes end up the victim of an online ticketing scam.
  • Ticket agency Viagogo says that in the last 12 months, a MASSIVE £50 million was lost to ticket fraud with 4.7 million people falling victim to a ticket scam

How to protect yourself from fake ticket scams

  • Before you buy through an online site, google it and check for any negative reviews and check for any negative articles in the press
  • If you are using an auction site, DO NOT buy through a seller who has negative feedback
  • Make sure the site you use has an official guarantee if anything goes wrong
  • Only use a site that is clear about its terms and conditions, offers details about any refunds and explains your rights. If the site isn’t giving much information (especially about legal issues or how to complain) then steer clear!
  • Look for a site that offers a 100% guarantee that you will get your tickets BEFORE you send the money
  • If you have bought tickets through eBay, there is a clear complaints procedure, especially if you have completed the transaction through paypal
  • If you have sent electronic payments for tickets and think you may have been scammed, contact your bank straight away and ask them to cancel the transfer
  • Finally, if the ticket price looks too good to be true then it probably is so exercise caution!
  • NB Until 29th September, rugby fans can register and apply for tickets for next year’s RWC in England.  However, organisers have urged fans not to buy from touts or unauthorised ticket agencies.  If they do, there is no guarantee that the tickets are genuine and fans will NOT be admitted into matches

Text Scam

  • Fraudsters are now using software to manipulate sender ID in text messages to make it appear as if they have come from legitimate sources, such as your bank. This means the text will be included in a thread of texts previously received by you bank, making it look like it's the real deal.
  • The message reportedly comes in three formats. One may tell you to deal with an urgent issue by calling a number or visiting a website which are controlled by fraudsters who will then persuade you to part with your details.
  • Another may tell you you are about to receive a call from your banks fraud department but is actually from the fraudsters themselves and will again try to make you part with details.
  • The third makes the received text look like it has come from a landline number and it will urge you to call your bank, the hope being you will just call the number that texted you as opposed to finding the correct one online. 

How to protect yourself from text scams 

  • Always be wary if you receive a text out of the blue from your bank which asks for any details. 
  • If you're unsure whether it is a genuine text or not, find your banks number online and give them a call. Never use any numbers of websites outlined in the text.
  • Financial Fraud Action UK recommends treating any text which asks for sensitive information as a scam
  • Remember your bank will never phone you to ask for your PIN number or your online banking password and will never ask you to update your details in a text message

Cash Transfer scam

  • An estimated £23.6 million has been lost to this scam
  • Victims receive a phone call from someone claiming to be from their bank stating that their account has been hit by fraud
  • They are encouraged to move all their funds to a 'safe account' which is then accessed and cleaned out by the fraudsters
  • As with text scams, the fraudster manipulates the caller ID to make it appear as if they are calling from the victims bank

How to protect yourself from cash transfer scams

  • Always be suspicious of contact from your bank that comes from out of the blue
  • As with any scam, contact your bank before you follow the instructions given to you
  • If you believe you are the victim of a scam, contact your bank immediately  
  • UK banks, building societies and card issuers have published a joint declaration which states what information they will never ask for over the phone


Last updated: Tuesday, 8 September 2015


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