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How can I protect myself from being scammed?

A scam is any kind of fraudulent scheme used to get money or anything else of value. Whether it’s through a fake email, SMS or a phone call, the consequences of scams can be long-lasting.

Sadly, many people find themselves dealing with debt problems after being taken advantage of by a scammer.

Because scammers take care to be as convincing as possible, it can be difficult to know if you’re vulnerable to them. It’s important to learn:

  • How to recognise a scam – so you can tell when you’re at risk
  • What can happen if you get scammed
  • What steps to take if you think you’ve been targeted.  
  • How to report a scam

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How might a scammer try to take advantage of me?

When someone tries to scam you, they’ll often focus on winning your trust first. Once a scammer earns your trust, it becomes a lot easier for them to take advantage of you.

Simply handing over personal information can be enough for a scammer. They can then use this to access your online accounts etc. However, other scammers will try to make a long-term connection and build trust over hours, days, even months.

Scammers will often use pressure to push you into a quick decision. This is a common tactic that can catch you off guard.

Another tactic scammers use is to make grand promises of how they can help you if you go along with what they’re asking you to do. Examples of this include pension or investment scams, where the victim is guaranteed huge returns at a low risk.

Cold calling about pension schemes has been banned since January 2019, so be very cautious of anyone who contacts you unexpectedly and tries to sell you a pension or invest your pension funds. Remember: If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

What are some common types of scams I should look out for?

Scams come in many forms, but examples of common scams include:

Companies pretending to be StepChange

Some of our clients have told us they’ve been sent messages, or had phone calls, from companies pretending to be us. We call these 'clone firms'.

Scams aren't just restricted to 'phishing' emails nowadays. Dodgy companies may send you texts, instant messages or SMS’s that look like they're coming from a genuine organisation like StepChange.


  • We’ll only contact you in the ways you asked us to when you spoke to us. If you change your mind, you can update your preferences at any time
  • We never use WhatsApp or similar messaging apps to communicate with you. If you see a message claiming to be from us on a messaging app be very wary
  • If you do receive anything suspicious, get in touch with us and we’ll investigate

You can contact us using the information we've listed on our contact page so you know you’re talking with us. We’ll be able to verify if the correspondence is genuine. You can also find more information about clone firms pretending to be StepChange here.

Cold calls that seem to be from your bank

What’s the risk?

Giving away personal details can put a person at risk of scammers gaining access to their bank account, or any other accounts that are accessed using the same information.

How do I stay safe?

It’s easy to see how a person could be fooled by this kind of scam. However, your bank will NEVER ask you to:

  • Tell them your online banking password
  • Authorise a payment from your account
  • Move your money into another ‘safe’ account
  • Carry out a ‘test transaction’ on your account to ‘check that it’s working’

So you know there’s a risk if you’re asked to do any of these things.

What should I do if a scammer phones me?

If someone calls you with these requests, end the call immediately. To take money from a person in this way is classed as fraud, which is a serious criminal offence.

If you end a call with someone that you suspect is a scammer, always ensure that the line has been disconnected properly. Some scammers have a way of keeping the line open even though it appears disconnected. This means that if you phone the bank immediately on the same phone you may still get through to the scammers even though it may be a different person speaking.

One way to break any potential connection with the scammer is to phone a trusted number from the same phone (e.g. if you call your partner or parent, then you'll know for certain that the scammer has been disconnected once you hear your loved one's voice on the line.)

Get in touch with your bank and let them know what’s happened. Their fraud department can raise an enquiry for you and escalate to the Police if necessary.

If you check your bank account and notice that money has been taken following this phone call, please make the fraud team aware.

Email “phishing” scams

This is where a person receives an email message from what appears to be a trustworthy source, such as their bank.

What’s the risk?

As with the cold calls, giving away personal details puts a targeted person at risk of scammers gaining access to their bank account – or any other accounts that are accessed using the same information.

The email usually asks the target to click on a link and log in to their bank account, but they’re actually inputting their details into a fake website.

The email will often look like it’s come from a real organisation. It’ll often use the company’s logo and the same design and generally look convincing.

How do I stay safe?

Look out for poor spelling and grammar. Legitimate emails from your bank are often checked by different departments for errors, and then signed off. They wouldn’t send an email to customers if it contained mistakes.

You can also check the sender’s email address to see if it’s legitimate. Click on the ‘from’ name at the top of the message to see who sent the email. If it’s a scam, the ‘from’ email address will usually be filled in with random numbers, be misspelled, or not have the real company’s name.

Another way of checking if this is a phishing email is to look at the link it’s asking you to click on. You can do this on a desktop computer by hovering your mouse cursor over it. Do not click the link itself, as this may trigger another security risk, such as a computer virus.

Does the link point to the real company’s website? If there’s a strange website address underneath, then it’s very likely that you’re dealing with a phishing email.

What to do and how to report an email scam

You can report phishing emails to Action Fraud, who’ll then pass your concerns to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) to investigate. The NFIB are a sub-division of the Police, and specialise in tackling fraud in the UK.

You should only use this tool to report phishing campaigns if you haven’t exposed your personal details or had any money taken out of your account. If money has been taken from your account, get in touch with your bank to let the fraud team know as soon as possible.

‘Push payment’ email scams

This is a relatively new scam where criminals hack into a personal or business email account. They then search all incoming and outgoing messages for any mentions of pending payments or money that’s owed to the person they’ve hacked.

Once the scammer finds a target who owes money to the person or business that’s been hacked, they email the target posing as that person or business. The email contains the hacker’s bank account details so that the unsuspecting target can make a payment.

What’s the risk?

The person who receives the email usually doesn’t suspect anything, especially if they know they owe the money. The email is likely to look legitimate too, as it’s been sent from the correct email address.

Unless the payment is made by credit card or Direct Debit, the person’s money isn’t protected. This can make it very difficult to get the money back.

What should I do if this happens to me?

If an individual or company emails you their bank details, it’s worth exercising caution and calling them for the details instead.

If you don’t have their phone number, visit their website and search for the phone number rather than calling one that’s been included in the email.

If it turns out that the person didn’t send this email, urge them to update all of their passwords. If it’s a business, they should check their security measures to make sure there aren’t any weaknesses that hackers can abuse. It’s also worth making Action Fraud aware of what’s happened so they can investigate.

Pretending to be a loved one on social media

What’s the risk?

Scammers can target a person on social media, learn who their family and friends are, and set up a fake account pretending to be the target’s loved one.

The scammer then uses the fake account to contact a victim. They’ll often talk about how they’re in a bad situation and need the victim to give them some money. This could make the victim worry that someone they care about needs help, which can make the victim vulnerable to the scam. The scammer then provides bank details for the victim to make the payment.

How do I stay safe?

Don’t hand over money without checking this is really the person you think it is. The scammer will avoid giving you other contact details (such as a phone number).

If you have your loved one’s number, give them a call and check if they’re okay. If it’s obvious that you’ve been targeted by a scammer, let your loved one know so they can take steps to get the fake account closed down.

You could also check your loved one’s social media profiles for any recent updates. This can help you work out if the supposed loved one’s story ‘fits’ based on what you see on social media. However, be mindful that some scammers will tailor their scam based on recent social media updates from your loved one (e.g. the real person has gone to London for the weekend, so the scammer pretends to be stuck in London with no money).

When a person may be feeling more vulnerable than usual, such as after a divorce or due to health issues, they may find it more difficult to tell when someone’s trying to scam them.

What should I do if this happens to me?

The difficulty with scams such as this is that by making the payment, the scam victim has ‘agreed’ that this payment is authorised. This can make getting the money back a lengthy and difficult process.

If this has happened to you, please contact your bank’s fraud department for help and support.

Romance and dating scams

This is where scammers target people on social media and dating websites and pretend to pursue a relationship with them.

What’s the risk?

This can be a difficult scam to spot due to how the scammer talks to the victim. They’ll often want to know lots of information about the victim and use charm and early declarations of romantic feelings to encourage the victim to trust them. 

When a person is on a dating website, using flirtatious or romantic language is common. However, it crosses a line when one person: 

  • Asks the other person to give or lend them money 
  • Tries to guilt them into giving money due to their situation 
  • Promises that once their situation improves, they’ll pay the money back straight away 
  • Becomes rude, upset or aggressive when they don’t get what they want 

How do I stay safe?

Be very cautious if anyone online asks you to give them money. If they say they’re dealing with an emergency, let them know that emergency support to cover food costs or financial needs is available. If the person persists with requests for money or makes you feel uncomfortable, contact the support team of the website or social media platform for advice. They’ll have processes in place to protect members from scammers.

Check through your correspondence with the person. Have you given them any personal information, such as where you were born or your mother’s maiden name? This kind of information is often used to answer security questions for access into online accounts. If in doubt, update all of your passwords.

What should I do if this happens to me?

If you’ve already given money to the suspected scammer, please get in touch with your bank for advice.

It can be hurtful and embarrassing to feel like you’ve been tricked into an online relationship. However, you’re not alone. Romance scammers manage to con millions of pounds out of people in the UK each year. You can file a report to Action Fraud in confidence.

Money worries?

Find out how we can help you.

Get help now

How else can I prevent being scammed?

Being aware that there are scammers is a good first step. It’s also wise to:

  • Avoid any unexpected contact. Ignore any phone calls, emails, text messages or knocks on the door that you’re not expecting
  • Keep your computer’s virus protection software up to date. Scammers often target weaknesses in software in order to gain access to personal data on the computer
  • Don’t ignore software updates on your computer or mobile device. These often include ‘patches’ that help to protect your computer against viruses
  • Use a strong password on your online accounts.
  • Never use the same password for multiple websites and change them regularly.
  • Never write the passwords down. If someone untrustworthy finds the passwords, they could use them to access your accounts
  • Check the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) register of regulated companies to make sure the company you’re talking to is genuine. If they’re not on the register, there’s a high chance that you’re dealing with a scammer.
  • You can also use the government website to find out about the company’s background Make sure the website you’re visiting is secure. 
  • Check to see if the web address starts with HTTPS, not just HTTP. Nowadays, the address will also have a padlock icon in the address bar, so you can check it’s safe at a glance. Be aware though that scammers can also set up fake secure servers so that the HTTPS and padlocked icon will still be present. If in doubt, take a look at the URL. 
  • Sign-up for a call blocking service to stop cold-callers contacting you. The Telephone Preference Service (TPS) can stop cold-callers. This service can’t stop scammers, as they operate outside of proper telemarketing guidelines. However, if you sign up to TPS, you’ll then know that any cold-calling company that contacts you is likely to be a scammer.

Looking for more info on how to spot and avoid scams and fraud? 

Our blog, MoneyAware, is full of ideas on how to spot online scams and protect yourself against harmful situations, including:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Make sure to sign up to our MoneyAware newsletter for even more great tips sent straight to your inbox every month!

I think I’ve been scammed - how do I report a scammer?

If you think you’ve been scammed, then you must:

  1. Stop making further payments to the person or company that you believe is scamming you. If the payment has been set up as a Direct Debit, get in touch with your bank or log in to your online banking account and cancel it immediately.
  2. Report the scam. You can call Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040, use the Action Fraud online reporting tool, or visit the FCA ScamSmart website. If you live in Scotland, you should report a scam to Police Scotland by calling 101 or to Advice Direct Scotland on 0808 164 6000, or through their website at www.consumeradvice.scot
  3. Check your credit file for any credit that’s been taken out in your name fraudulently. You can check your credit file for free through one of the three UK credit reference agencies. 
  4. Check to see if you have a ‘Cifas’ marker on your credit file. A Cifas marker is a note that a bank may put on your file if it believes that you’ve been a victim of identity fraud. This warns lenders that you’ve been a victim of fraud, or could potentially become a victim. If you have a marker on your file, you can request more information from Cifas.

If you think you’ve been targeted by a scam, you should also report to the FCA it so it can be investigated. You can do this by visiting the FCA website and filling in their reporting form.