How to avoid common scams

More than three million Brits find themselves the victims of cons every year

How to avoid common scams

Every year more than three million Brits find themselves the victims of cons.

Each time we lose hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of pounds, according to Citizens Advice. All in all almost half of us have been targeted by a scam at one time of another.

If that wasn't bad enough cons are on the rise. Crime figures showed a 60% rise in reported fraud over the five years to 2014. So, what are the most common scams to watch out for and how can you make sure you don't become a victim?

Here's a rogue's gallery of the scams you are most likely to come across, according to statistics from the National Fraud Investigation Bureau (NFIB).

Learn more about the latest scams and cons

1. Online shopping

Whether you are shopping on what looks like a reputable website or scouring an internet auction site for a bargain you have a high risk of being scammed. Online shopping and auction scams were the most common reported fraud in 2013 with losses of over £63 million – on average people lost £200.

Victims were either lured to bogus websites where they paid for something that never arrived, or bought a non-existent car, mobile phone or pet from an auction site.

Make sure this doesn't happen to you by practicing safe online shopping. Be wary of websites offering deals that seem to good to be true. Never enter card details into a site that doesn't have https at the start of its address or a padlock symbol either in the bottom right corner of the screen or in the address bar. These show it is a secure web page.

If you are buying from an auction site again beware of deals that seem to good to be true. Do your research and look at what the item costs on other websites. If the price is suspiciously low ask why and be on your guard. As for cars, never hand over cash until you've seen the car, are happy it is as described and have seen the paperwork to prove the person has the right to sell it.

As for pets, never buy them off a website. The safest thing is to purchase via a recognised animal charity or a breeder who is registered with the relevant expert body such as the Kennel Club.

2. Investment scams

Often known as boiler room scams due to the high pressure selling tactics these are the second most prevalent scam in the UK. There were 6,000 cases in 2013 with each victim losing £5,000 on average. These scams typically involve you being contacted over the phone (but can be by email) and offered an amazing

deal on some shares that you have to buy quickly or you will miss out. You pay up and the shares either never appear or turn out to be worthless.

Avoid becoming a victim by putting the phone down. Remember, if the deal was that incredible they wouldn't need to call strangers to ask for investment.

Warning of OnLine Dating

3. Dating cons

Next in the top five is the dating con. This possibly should be higher on the list as it is believed to be one of the least reported scams. According to figures from NFIB dating scams cost victims at least £24.5 million in 2013.

What happens is scammers find victims via dating websites. They draw them into long distance relationships with attractive photos and romantic emails, text messages and phone calls. Then once they think the mark has fallen for them they start telling them about problems they are having and ask for money to be sent to them.

How to avoid being scammed? Don't let your heart rule your head. Have you been contacted by some ludicrously beautiful man/woman who you wouldn't stand a chance with down the pub? Be careful, scammers use photos of models to lure you in.

Watch out for someone who professes to love you before they've even met you – that's a common sign of a scam according to the FBI. Finally, don't send cash to someone you've never met, if you think they are genuine offer non-financial help and see how that goes. Look up professional bodies or charities that could help them and pass on those details.

4. The Microsoft scam

Many of you will have heard of this one. It is where you are contacted by phone or email by 'Microsoft'. The person will tell you either that they need your credit card details to 'validate' you copy of Windows, or that there is a problem with your computer and they will talk you through how to fix it. You will then be talked to a website that will install malware on your computer. This can either result in your personal info being stolen or the person demanding money to remove the programme.

If you receive a call like this hang up. Then contact the company they said they were from yourself using a number from their website and ask if there is a problem. Scam emails of this type are usually easy to spot thanks to spelling mistakes or dubious looking logos. But, if you receive an email that looks genuine, don't click on any links within it. Instead look up contact information for the company yourself and ask them if there is a problem.

5. Courier scams

The final entry on our scam hit list is a fraud that involves quite a bit of time on the scammers part but a big pay off at the end. It starts with you getting a telephone call from someone posing as the police or your bank. They will tell you that there is a problem with your credit card or bank account. Typically they willeither say their has been fraudulent activity on your account or your card is due to expire.

They will then send someone to your house to collect the card that has a problem, and sometimes replace it with a fake card. Either way they end up with your bank or credit card which they then use.

This scam is easy to avoid. If you receive one of these phone calls, tell the person at the other end that you will call them back. Wait before you call your bank. Some scammers simply don't hang up and are still there when you pick up the phone ready to pretend to be your bank. Instead hang up and wait a while before calling your bank, making sure that you get a dial tone when you pick up your phone.

Speak to your bank and check whether there really is a problem with your account, chances are there won't be.

These are just the top five common scams but there are many more. Be on your guard and if you are ever suspicious of a deal or offer take the time to check it is genuine before you part with money or your bank details. If in doubt contact Action Fraud ( or Citizens Advice ( for guidance.
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