10 top ways to spot a scam

Figures from the Office of Fair Trading show that nearly half the adult population of the UK has been targeted with a scam of some kind, and that some three million - or one in 15 British adults - has been taken in by unscrupulous swindlers.

But how do you know if a seemingly great offer is the opportunity of a lifetime, or simply a chance to wave goodbye to your cash? Here, we list 10 signs that you should avoid the "offer" like the plague.

1. The golden rule of scam spotting is simple. If it seems too good to be true then it almost always will be.

So any business or individual offering you the chance to double your money within a couple of days or get something for nothing is highly likely to end in tears - your tears, that is.

Even if you are blown away by the potential scope of an "opportunity", it is always a good idea to check it out carefully before parting with any money as a result.

2. Unrealistically advantageous terms are not the only only sign that someone is trying to scam you. Most frauds of this kind will come to your attention by means of an unsolicited email, telephone call, text message, letter or fax.

So think carefully before responding to investment opportunities, holiday deals or any other "once in a lifetime" offers that you hear of this way.

3. Another favourite trick of the criminals behind scams is to ask for a - relatively - small amount of cash upfront, in return for a bumper payout at some point in the future.

You wouldn't pay a shopkeeper for goods that you won't get until an unspecified future date, so why send money to someone you've never even met in the hope that they will repay you 10-fold in the months or years to come?

4. While reading this, you may well be confidently thinking that you would never get taken in by such obvious tricks.

But the thought of getting rich quickly and with no effort can be extremely intoxicating - even if you have your doubts about the methods used to acquire your future wealth. And scammers are well aware of this!

That's why the schemes they attempt to get you interested in will generally offer fantastic returns, far greater than the 3% or so you can get from top savings accounts at the moment.

5. Another telltale sign to look out for is that there will be little or no explanation as to how these incredible returns on your money will be produced. Unless of course it is a Nigerian banker trying to release funds from a disused bank account!

On that note, anyone who asks for your bank details is almost certainly up to no good.

6. Most scam artists will also generally claim to have some kind of secret, insider knowledge that enables them to produce these market-beating returns, or offer amazing holiday homes or hotel stays at a fraction of the normal price.

If this is the case, you have to ask yourself how they know these things, and why they are contacting you with the opportunity rather than restricting it to their families and friends.

7. In fact, that is another way to spot a scam from afar. While they big up the potential to make a fortune, the people behind them will almost never give a reason as to why you - rather than the millions of other people in the country - have been singled out for this incredible opportunity.

And if you dig a little deeper, you will generally find that this is because a large proportion of those other millions have indeed been offered the same chance - to lose their money, that is.

8. Watch out too for "pyramid" schemes that work by encouraging investors to get their friends, colleagues and loved ones to join in.

While these schemes pay out to those who get in first, they always collapse once the number of mew members starts to fall. And even if you get your own money back, you may end up losing friends if they are not to lucky.

What's more, you will have to deal with the guilt that your own payout came from their pockets if you want to keep your hands on it.

9. If you contact an organisation to find out more about a particular offer, or you are initially contacted by telephone or in person by a salesman, then another way to spot a scam is to see how far they are prepared to go to part you from your cash.

Boiler room investment scams, for example, are so called due to the high pressure sales tactics the "brokers" making the calls are forced to use.

So if you are put under pressure to pay up or lose the opportunity for good, a hasty retreat is probably your best course of action.

10. While many scams work by persuading people to part with a certain sum of money in return for a much bigger payout down the line, for example, there are also a lot that promise something for nothing.

And as they say, there's no such thing as a free lunch - especially when it's offered by a complete stranger!

Free scratch cards offering prizes, or text messages saying that you have won a lottery you never even entered should therefore be treated with the utmost caution.

If not, you are likely to end up paying to receive a "prize" that never existed in the first place.

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