Money Advice Service

There are many con artists out there trying to part you from your money. Follow these tips to prevent yourself from becoming a victim of fraud.

How to recognise a scam

These days most people know about dodgy emails that try to get them to hand over their personal details or buy knock-off prescription drugs or watches – and the biggest risk of fraud is still online. But you can also fall prey to the tricksters by phone, by text, by post and in person.

The best advice is that if something seems too good to be true – it usually is.

Read our beginner’s guide to scams

Top tips for protecting yourself from scams and theft:

Taking some simple steps will make sure you are better protected:

Keep your cards and PIN safe and secure

  • Make sure your cards and PIN are safe – don’t write your PIN down, and if you have, make sure you don’t keep the note and your card together.
  • Don’t let your card out of your sight when you’re paying.
  • Don’t give your PIN to anyone else.
  • Shield your PIN whenever you enter it – both at a cashpoint and whenever you use your card for a purchase.

Make sure your computer is protected, and use it wisely

  • Keep your security software and firewall up-to-date to find viruses, spyware and other ‘nasties’.
  • Download any patches for your computer’s operating system from the official website of the company that created it (like Microsoft), as some fraudsters target possible loopholes. Patches fix known bugs for computer systems.
  • Password-protect your computer with a strong and not easily guessable password and make sure your screen’s locked when you’re not around. For a strong password, use a mix of letters and numbers – this can still be easy to remember if you use numbers to represent letters in a word.
  • Bookmark websites like your bank and the shops you buy from regularly, and use these links or type in the name directly. Never use links sent to you in emails they might be bogus, even if they look genuine.
  • Don’t give your online passwords away. Banks generally won’t ask for a full password – just selected letters from it. If someone rings you up and asks you for your full password don’t give it to them – it’s likely to be a scam.

Be a sensible online shopper

  • Check the details of a company you are buying from online. If the only contact details are a mobile number and a PO Box rather than a full address you should be wary.
  • Make sure that the website is secure. Only provide card details if the web address starts with https://. Often a golden padlock will show in the browser bar so you know it’s safe and secure – although some companies use a different system and their sites will be secure even with no padlock.
  • Sign up to Verified by Visa or MasterCard Secure Code if you have the option while shopping online. It provides an extra layer of security for you with shops that have signed up to the schemes.
  • Deliberately enter a wrong password – you can check a site is genuine if you enter your user name and put in a wrong password. If the site is genuine it will tell you that your user name and password don’t match.

Read ActionFraud’s online shopping guide for more tips on avoiding shopping scams

Check the credentials of any financial adviser you use

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) requires all firms offering financial products or advice to be registered with them to conduct business. You can use their online firm check service if you’re unsure about a firm that has contacted you.

Check whether a firm is authorised on the Financial Conduct Authority Register

Follow these ten steps to make sure you’re dealing with an authorised firm at the FCA website

Keep your details safe

  • Shred any documents you’re getting rid of before binning them if they have any personal details on them.
  • Don’t forget to shred receipts if they have your card details on them.
  • Get a shredder now if you haven’t got one – you can pick one up for less than £20. Although do consider a cross-shredder as these are more secure than the ‘strip-cut’ variety.
  • Keep all documents that you still need in a safe place.

Stay alert and be suspicious

  • Ask people for ID if they approach you or knock on your door.
  • Think twice if either you get an unsolicited offer, you’ve been told you have won a prize in a competition you haven’t entered, or you’re being pressured to decide on buying something quickly.
  • Check and double check before handing over any money or personal details.
  • Check your bank statement when it arrives and query anything that seems odd.

What to do if you think someone is trying to scam you

If you receive an email you suspect to be from a scammer – don’t open or reply to it, don’t click on anything in it, or you’ll just end up receiving more. If the email you are suspicious about is pretending to be from for example your bank, it’s worth contacting the bank and telling them about it. They may then be able to warn other customers. If you have the option to report the email to your email provider, use it.

  • Don’t reply to suspicious letters received in the post. Signing up to the Mailing Preference Service should help stop any further unsolicited mail. It’s free, and you can do it at mpsonline.
  • Similarly, signing up to the Telephone Preference Service makes it illegal for companies or organisations who want your business to call without your permission. Sign up for tpsonline.
  • You can report the scams to Citizens Advice consumer service and you should report banking scams to Bank Safe Online.
  • If you’re called by a scammer then hang up the phone, and don’t give out any personal details.
  • If someone asks you to keep the deal or the offer secret then you should be suspicious of them and decline the offer.
  • If you suspect someone isn’t from the company they say they work for, then ask to see their ID (in the case of a face-to-face scam).

This article is provided by the Money Advice Service.