Money habits

Financial scams are on the rise: here’s what to look out for

Protecting yourself from scams is more important than ever as fraudsters try new ways to take advantage of people. Here’s our guide that could help keep your money safe.

The spiralling cost of living has been a gift for fraudsters eager to separate us from our cash.

As well as giving them ever more creative ways to rip us off, the current situation is making us all that little bit more susceptible.

“Every penny really does count at the moment, it makes us more vulnerable and increases our risk of getting caught out”

- Catherine Livesey, fraud expert, NatWest

Research from UK Finance highlights the problem. It found that more than half (56%) of Brits are looking for ways to make a bit more cash as the cost of living continues to bite, while one in six (16%) say they’re more likely to respond to an unprompted approach for, say, a loan or investment opportunity – all of which could place people at risk of being swindled.

Some scams can be incredibly convincing and it's all too easy to fall for them. But by being aware of the latest tricks and the red flags that can give them away, it’s possible to beat the fraudsters.

What scams do I need to be aware of?

NatWest fraud expert Catherine Livesey says that most of the scams she and her team come across fall into three key areas:

  1. 01

    Purchase scams

    “This is where you order something online – a bargain air fryer, for example – but you pay for it and the item never turns up,” she says. These scams could be run on fake websites or from fraudulent sellers on legitimate selling sites, and are also increasingly common on social media.

  2. 02

    Impersonation scams

    Here, you get a message, perhaps by email or text, from a fraudster who is pretending to be someone else – for example, from a bank or government organisation. They’ll usually either ask for a payment or personal information that could be used to defraud you.

    “We’ve seen a lot of cases lately of fake messages offering energy rebates,” says Catherine. Money.co.uk research reported an 800% increase in Google searches for energy-bill scams.

    “Another common one is the ‘Hi mum and dad’ scam, where you get a message requesting money for an emergency, supposedly from your child,” warns Catherine.

  3. 03

    Get-rich-quick schemes

    This could be anything from an offer to review your pension to an investment opportunity such as cryptocurrency or shares in ‘the next big thing’.  But the investment will either not exist at all or not be worth the money you paid. Fraudsters could target you with a cold call or posts on social media.

    Alternatively, you might be approached to be a ‘money mule’. This is where you’ll be offered a cash incentive to receive money into your bank account that you then need to transfer on. This is money-laundering and is illegal. Banks monitor accounts for this type of activity and, if you’re caught, you’ll lose your bank account and could get a criminal record, plus a fine or even a prison sentence.

How to protect yourself from scams

Catherine shares her tips to help you stay safe:

  • Look out for red flags: Signs of scams to look out for include poor spelling or grammar in an email, being rushed into a decision, or a request for cash or personal information. Contact may be ‘out of the blue’ or contain a threat – for example, there’s a warrant out for your arrest unless a ‘tax’ payment is made. Your bank or the police will never contact you to ask you to transfer money elsewhere, or to approve a payment in your app that you haven’t made yourself.
  • Only shop with trusted sites: Preferably, choose those that have buyer protection in place. You can look at review websites such as Trustpilot to check the quality of a business.
  • Make sure online payments are secure – check the URL starts with https and there’s a padlock symbol next to it.
  • Hang up your phone: To check a caller is who they say they are, hang up and call the number listed on the company’s website. Don’t let worries about being rude or impolite keep you on the line.
  • Call 159: If you’re ever worried that a message or phone call is a scam, hang up and call this number. It will take you straight through to your bank.
  • Download Malwarebytes Premium for free: NatWest offers its customers free anti-malware protection, worth £49.99, for use across all your devices, helping to protect you from fraudulent online activity.
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is: This one might be a cliché, but with good reason.

Rachel Lacey

Rachel is a freelance journalist specialising in consumer finance.

Worried about scams?

For more advice on keeping your money safe, visit our Security Centre.

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