Too good to be true? A scam or an exception to the rule?

Is it really too good to be true?

We've all been tempted by an offer that's too good to be true. There's the website you've never seen before that has the must-have toy that everyone else has run out of, or the email we get telling us we won a lottery that we didn't even know we had entered. If we fall for it, we can lose our money and our pride. So it's worth being aware of the five signs that something really is too good to be true.

See also: Scamwatch: six signs your internet date is a fraudster

See also: Carol Vorderman learns the secrets of the scammers

See also: The three secret holiday scams that will catch you out

1. You track down something that's not available anywhere else
When the Hatchimal craze was at its peak, there were scam websites set up, claiming to have them in stock. People paid for their Hatchimals, then the websites disappeared without a trace. It's very common when something is in high demand for scammers to take the opportunity to cash in

2. You find something for sale at an exceptionally good price
There are plenty of eBay listings of designer clothes and shoes at fantastically good prices. Unfortunately, in many cases, these are fakes. When they arrive the fit is wrong, the quality is poor, and you realise you've just paid over-the-odds for a shoddy knock-off.

3. You're offered an investment with unusually high returns
You may get a call or an email offering you the chance to invest in something which is low risk, but which offers fantastic returns. It's a tempting offer while savings rates are so low, but it's a mirage. In some cases the investment is high risk, in some you are being persuaded to buy something worthless, while in others it's a complete fallacy - and just a rouse to enable them to take your money.

4. Someone calls to make you a fantastic offer
One common theme with scams is a call, text or email out of the blue. An unsolicited call can be a sign you're being contacted by a company you don't want to have anything to do with. It often makes sense to err on the side of caution and to assume that none of these calls are genuine. If you want to make an investment, or have your computer checked for viruses, you can get in touch with a reputable company for help.

5. You are offered something for nothing
Generally this sort of thing doesn't happen. If, for example, you are approached by someone claiming to be from a lottery, who explains that you have won - despite the fact that you haven't entered - then it should ring alarm bells. You can expect them to start asking for payments to free up your winnings or to get them through customs - or any number of ridiculous lies designed to part you from your cash.

The exceptions to the rule

It's easy to become jaded. When you know how to spot the scammers, you suddenly see all these exciting opportunities for what they are - rip offs. Fortunately, you don't have to get too miserable about it, because there are some exceptions to the rule. We have tracked down three things which really should be too good to be true - but aren't.

1. Sainsbury's is always offering freebies
The supermarket is one of the most proactive in offering something for nothing. Usually you have to shop online, add the freebie to your trolley, and then use a code at the checkout to get a freebie. In recent weeks they have offered everything from free cat food to free cauliflower rice. You'll find their latest offers on the website.

2. When it's your birthday, companies want to give you things for nothing
The birthday freebie is a fabulous phenomenon, and available from companies offering everything from doughnuts to coffee. The users of have published a thread featuring some of their favourites,

3. The Free Postcode Lottery
This does exactly what it says. You register your postcode, and then every day the lottery will choose a handful of winners at random. There's a main prize of £400 and a survey prize of £150 - among a number of other smaller prizes.

If nobody claims the prize, they will roll over to the next day, and people have won more than £1,000 in the past. All you have to do is visit the site once a day to check if you have won, and then claim your prize when your postcode is listed. There's no catch: your details aren't sold on, and the prize is funded entirely by advertisers. It makes this a completely free lottery.

Victims of scams and fraud
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Victims of scams and fraud
Susan Tollefsen, Britain's oldest first time mother, was scammed out of £160,000 by a fraudster she met on an online dating site. A man claiming to be an Italian gold and diamond dealer told her he was in the middle of a land deal but couldn't access cash. Tollefsen felt sorry for him and started wiring him money, eventually selling her jewellery, her flat and borrowing £32,000 from friends to give him. Read the full story here.
In March 2015 an American woman who was only identified as 'Sarah' went on the popular US television programme the Dr Phil Show to reveal she had sent $1.4 million to a man that she had never met. Although she was certain she wasn't being scammed, her cousin made her go on the programme because she was convinced it was a scam. Find out more about the story here.
Maggie Surridge employed Lee Slocombe to lay a £350 deck in her garden in March 2015. However Slocombe used a combination of lies to scam Surridge out of thousands of pounds. He told Surridge that the front and back walls were dangerous and needed rebuilding and also conned her into building a porch, all for the cost of £8,500. Read the full story here.
It's not just individuals who can be the victims of scams, big corporations can also fall foul of these fraudulent practices. In 2015 Claire Dunleavy repeatedly used a 7p 'reduced' sticker to get significant amounts of money off her shopping at an Asda store in Burslem, ending up with her paying just £15.66 for a shop that should have cost £69.02. Read the full story here.
Sylvia Kneller, 76, was conned out of £200,000 over the space of 56 years thanks to scam mail. The pensioner became addicted to responding to the fraudsters, convinced that she would one day win a fortune. Ms Kneller would receive letters claiming she had won large sums of money but she needed to send processing fees to claim her prize. Learn about the full story here
Leslie Jubb, 103, became Britain's oldest scam victim in August last year when he was conned out of £60,000 after being sent an endless stream of catalogues promising prizes in return for purchasing overpriced goods. The extent of this con was discovered when Mr Jubb temporarily moved into a care home and his family discovered what he had lost. Find out more about this story here
Stephen Cox won more than £100,000 on the National Lottery in 2003 but has been left with nothing after falling victim to two conmen. The 63-year-old was pressured into handing over £60,000 to the men who told him his roof needed fixing. They walked him into banks and building societies persuading him to part with £80,000 of cash while doing no work in return. See the full story here
Last year the Metropolitan Police released CCTV footage of a woman who had £250 stolen at a cash machine in Dagenham. The scam involved two men distracting the woman at the machine, pressing the button for £250 then taking the money and running away. Read about the full story here.
Rebecca Ferguson shot to fame as a runner up on the X-Factor in 2010 but fell victim to a scam artist last year when someone she had believed to be a friend conned her out of £43,000. Rachel Taylor befriended the singer in 2012 and claimed to be a qualified accountant, so Ferguson allowed her to look after her finances. Instead of doing this Taylor stole £43,000 from the Liverpudlian singer. Read more here
When Rebecca Lewis discovered her fiance had started a relationship with a woman he met online she packed her bags to leave. But that didn't stop her checking out the mystery woman, Rebecca quickly realised Paul Rusher's new love was actually part of a romance scam. She told Paul just before he sent the scammers £2,000 which was supposed to bring his new girlfriend to England. Find the full story here.

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