Protect yourself from scams
Don't let the scammers con you. Follow these tips to avoid getting tricked out of your money.
First and foremost, remember: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Don't be afraid to bin it, delete it or hang up.
Take your time
Resist pressure to make a decision right away. Consider asking a friend or family member for advice, or even an accountant or solicitor if big sums of money are involved. Read the small print and be sure you understand all the terms and conditions of an offer.
Know who you're dealing with
Check that the firm or organisation you want to deal with is legitimate and reputable:
- Ask for full contact details, including a street address. A company website should provide the full street address for the business, not just a Post Office or mail box number.
- Contact them using details from their official website or documents. Be wary of buying from anyone who only gives an email address or mobile phone number.
- Put the firm's name into an internet search engine to see what you can find out.
- Look them up on the Companies House website to check they're a registered company.
- If you've received a letter or other mailing, check whether it's come from a member of the Direct Marketing Association.
- If you're being offered financial services, find out if they're registered with the Financial Services Authority (FSA) using the FSA register.
- Don't be fooled by professional-looking websites and marketing materials. Scammers are good at making their scams look authentic.
Protect your financial information
- Never give your bank account details to someone you don't know.
- The Card Watch website has tips on protecting yourself against credit and debit card fraud.
Protect yourself online
- Follow basic advice for safe online shopping and banking. Read guidance from the Get Safe Online and Bank Safe Online websites.
- In particular, never email anyone your financial information - even if you do know them.
Use a credit card
Pay by credit card if you can. Under the Consumer Credit Act, you should be entitled to a refund from your card issuer of money lost through fraudulent activity - if the cash price of a single item is over £100.
Cut junk mail and calls
Take some simple steps to cut the number of unsolicited offers you receive.
Ask for advice and report it
If you suspect you've been had by a scam, don't let embarrassment or fear prevent you from seeking advice or reporting it. Millions of people are taken in every year. You can report scams to Action Fraud, the police or trading standards.
This content is subject to Crown Copyright
- Consumer Direct
Counterfeit goods include fake designer labelled clothes and perfumes, pirate DVDs and computer games. These days, technology means that it is easy for criminals to make sophisticated copies. If you think you've bought a fake item, you may be able to use your statutory rights against the seller.
You can take some simple steps to cut the number of unsolicited offers you receive by post, phone and email. Doing these things will make it harder for the scammers to reach you. And it will give you the confidence to treat offers you do receive with extra caution.
In a letter or email you might be offered a huge sum of money in return for your help to get money out of a foreign country. The scammers use the information you give them to empty your bank account, or to convince you to send them money upfront.
This scam tempts you with an opportunity to launch an exciting new career - all you have to do to guarantee success is to pay an upfront fee for training, study aids or materials, or call a premium-rate phone number (beginning 090) to get an interview or further information. Unfortunately, you get little or nothing in return.
You receive an unexpected letter or email with a list of names. After being asked to send £10 to the person at the top of the list, you are then invited to put your own name on the list, photocopy the letter, send it out to, say, 200 people. According to the letter, you will be guaranteed a return of £400,000 for your £10 initial investment. In reality, only a very small number of people involved make any money - and never as much as is promised. The schemes inevitably collapse, leaving you and many others out of pocket.
Cheque overpayment scams could be a response to your ad or online auction posting, offering to pay with a cheque. At the last minute, the buyer comes up with a reason for writing the cheque for more than the purchase price, and asks you to transfer back the difference after you deposit the cheque.
A letter from a so-called psychic or clairvoyant promises to make predictions that will change the course of your life forever - but first you have to pay a fee. Sometimes these mailings are aggressive, saying something terrible will happen to you if you don't pay up. Or the scammer says they have seen wonderful things in your future, and requests money for a full report. If you send money, you will get little or nothing back.
You get a phone call at home or you're approached while on holiday and handed a scratch card. You're told you've won a 'free' holiday. All you need to do is go to a presentation to collect your prize and learn more about a new holiday venture - the holiday club. This could be a scam.
In this scam, you get a phone call or email from someone you've never heard of offering you the chance to invest in supposedly high-value items such as fine wine, art or gemstones. The promise is that these will rocket in value. In reality, what you are being offered is often over-priced, very risky and difficult to sell on. In some cases, the goods may not even exist.
You get a phone call, see an ad or come across an exhibition stand offering you a great 'investment opportunity' - a small plot of farmland. The plot will probably be in an area where house prices are high, perhaps near a town or city. The pitch is that, once planning permission is granted, you'll be able to sell your land to a housing developer and make a hefty profit. This activity is often referred to as 'landbanking'. Be warned though: the promises of unscrupulous landbanking operators can turn out to be false.
Great news! You receive a letter, phone call, text message or email telling you that you've won a huge sum of money in a lottery - without even having entered. You just have to telephone an agent to make arrangements to receive your winnings. Once you contact the agent, you're told that, to claim your winnings, you just need to send money to cover 'processing' or 'administration' costs or taxes. This is a scam.
You see an ad or website or you get a letter or email claiming that a product is a 'miracle cure', 'scientific breakthrough' or 'ancient remedy' that will cure a health problem such as arthritis, diabetes, cancer, memory loss or insomnia. The seller will usually say there is only limited availability, and offer a 'no-risk, money-back guarantee'. Quotes from apparently satisfied customers or doctors are usually used. These claims are often exaggerated to con you out of your money. It is unlikely that the medicines being offered will deliver the quick or miracle cure promised. They may even be harmful.
You sign up to an online dating agency and meet someone who is also looking for love. You write to each other for a few months until the person, who happens to live overseas, decides that they want to come to the UK. But they need help with money for the flight. You pay up to help your new friend - but he or she disappears, along with your cash.
A company claims that you have 'pre-qualified' for a low-interest loan or credit card and are guaranteed to get it - even if you have a bad credit history. To take advantage of the offer, you just have to pay a processing fee. This fee is non-refundable and may amount to several hundred pounds. But you may think it is worthwhile because you are sure you are getting the loan or credit card you need. In reality, a pre-qualified offer only means you've been selected to apply. You still have to complete an application, and you can still be turned down. If so, you will lose your money and will be left with no loan or credit card.
You get an email or see a pop-up message on a website that claims to be from an organisation you may deal with - for example, a bank or online payment service. The message may ask you to 'update', 'validate', or 'confirm' your account information. It will probably direct you to a website that looks just like the real thing. It is all designed to trick you into revealing your personal information and confidential passwords so the scammers can steal your identity and run up bills or commit financial crimes in your name. This scam is called phishing.
A letter, email, phone call or text message promises you an exciting prize or reward. To claim it, all you have to do is phone a premium-rate number (beginning 090). However, the automated message you hear when you call tricks you into staying on the line for a long time. The longer you stay on the line, the more money the scammers make from you. And of course your prize or reward is unlikely ever to turn up. Or you end up with a cheap item worth much less than the cost of the call.
You receive a notification by post, email, phone call or text message telling you that you've won a 'guaranteed' prize in a prize draw or sweepstake - without even having entered. You just have to pay a 'processing' or 'administration' fee, or order a product, to get your prize or collect your winnings. This is a scam. In most cases, you're only being offered the opportunity to enter a prize draw or sweepstake with a very limited chance of winning.
You're searching for a flat or house to rent, and see an ad that seems promising. You view the property, and it looks great - probably far better than you thought you'd get for the money. Before checking your references or agreeing to rent you the property, the landlord asks you to provide a deposit - usually a month's rent - and sign a short contract. The contract states that, if the references are unsatisfactory, the deposit will be paid back - but less a fee and expenses for checking the references. You may end up losing hundreds of pounds.
You hear from a friend about a great new money-making venture. Once you've paid a joining fee, you can earn large amounts by recruiting new members to the scheme. This is a pyramid-selling scheme. In reality, only a tiny minority of those involved make money.
A professional-looking letter arrives promising you a series of horseracing tips guaranteed to make you a fortune. All you have to do is pay a fee, follow the tips and watch your winnings roll in. However, after handing over your cash, you'll find that the tips are poor or non-existent. And when you try to use your money-back guarantee to claim a refund, you'll find that the pundit's name is made up and their address is just a PO box. A similar scam might offer you the chance to become part of a horse-owning syndicate. This will prove to be completely false.
A stranger rings you out of the blue offering shares in a company you've probably never heard of. If you buy them, you may be left with worthless shares. You may also have no rights to complain or claim compensation from relevant UK schemes as most of these scams are run from overseas.
An email arrives promising a revolutionary pill, patch, cream or other product that will result in weight loss without diet or exercise. It directs you to look at a website that seems very convincing. Some products claim to block the absorption of fat, carbohydrates or calories. Many guarantee permanent weight loss and some suggest you'll lose lots of weight very quickly. There are inevitably testimonials from satisfied customers. This is a scam.
You visit a website that guarantees you tickets to popular sports and music events - even when they have already sold out or tickets haven't yet gone on sale. If you pay, you'll never see the tickets. Your calls and emails will either go unanswered, or you'll be told a representative will meet you at the venue - but nobody will turn up. You'll be left out of pocket and unable to attend the event. Similar scams operate on eBay and on social networking websites.
You want to sell your car and place an ad for it. Someone calls you claiming to have an immediate buyer. They may ask for an upfront fee of up to £100 for 'matching' you with the buyer. They say the fee is refundable if your car isn't sold. If you pay, in most cases the promised buyer never turns up, and neither does the promised refund. Thousands of people are caught by this scam every year.
You see an ad in a local newspaper, shop window or on a lamppost. It is offering paid work from home, with the promise of fast cash for minimal effort. The ads might say the work is envelope-stuffing or craft assembly. The catch is that you have to pay an upfront fee to the organiser - for example, for materials to do the job or for them to reveal their 'secrets'. This is a scam.
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