Five top scams to watch out for

Holly Thomas / 10 February 2016 ( 17 July 2018 )

What's the difference between smishing, vishing and phishing? Avoid getting scammed with our guide to some of the con tricks and frauds in the UK today.

While some scams are fairly easy to spot, others are well disguised. Every year three million UK adults fall victim to mass marketing scams losing on average £850, according to Consumer Direct. 

In truth, the numbers are likely to be much higher as these are only the official figures – a large number of victims don't report their experiences.

Here we look at some of the most common ways in which conmen are scamming people for money so you can be on your guard:

1. Phishing

The most common type of email scam is 'phishing'. This is an email from a fraudster masquerading as an organisation like your bank. 

They'll ask you to log on, confirm account details and passwords and then use these to raid your account. It’s important to remain vigilant because if you lose money, there’s little chance of getting it back.

Five things your bank will never ask you to do.

Our tip: The rule of thumb is, if you’re asked to enter your account details in order to click through the email – avoid it, no matter how convincing the email may be.

2. Smishing

"Smishing" is SMS phishing where text messages are sent trying to encourage people to pay money out or click on suspicious links.

Sometimes attackers try to get victims on the phone by sending a text message asking them to call a number, in order to persuade them further.

How to stop spam text messages

Unsolicited text messages from unknown numbers should raise alarm bells, but often banks do text their customers for a variety of reasons.

Our tip: Call the bank using a number from a bank statement or a verified source, not a text message.

Paul Lewis on bank fraud scams

The collapse of the IT system at TSB in April 2018, in which some 1.9m customers were affected, was followed by numerous reports of customers being defrauded. It appears that thieves took advantage of the computer chaos to find out customer details and take money from their accounts.

One common fraud is to send people texts or emails, or ring them, in the name of a bank and offer to help. You should never reply to a communication like that. Always find the number for the bank yourself from your own documents or the back of a debit card. Ring that number or call into the branch to speak to someone. Ignore any suggestions by the thieves that branch staff are involved and are not be trusted.

Normally if you play any part – however innocently – in fraud, a bank will not repay stolen money, though you can always appeal. TSB says customers will not be left out of pocket for frauds where its computer problems played a part. So far it seems to be paying up.

3. Boiler room scams

A professional sounding stockbroker will call out of the blue and offer an investment opportunity with returns at around 40%.

You will most likely be told this is rare opportunity that you “don’t want to miss” and be encouraged to get into a market early while there’s still big money to be made. 

Fraudsters aim to make their business seem legitimate, so they will often use technical jargon, impressive job titles and mock websites to appear credible.

Once they reel in their victims, they get them to agree to transfer money to them, which is never seen again. Often sums handed over are in excess of £50,000.

While most companies that sell investments in the UK are authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority by law. Boiler-rooms, are not. This means that victims don’t have the rights of redress that clients of listed firms do.

Our tip: Deal only with companies that are authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). You can check by calling 0800 111 6768 or online at

Read more about boiler room scams.

4. Vishing

This type of fraud is done over the telephone. Criminals persuade victims to hand over personal details or transfer money during a call that will come out of the blue. 

They have a number of techniques which urge victims to quickly part with information they ordinarily would keep safe. You are made to believe your money is in danger and have to act quickly – fear often leads people into acting without thinking. 

How to deal with nuisance callers.

The criminals already have your name, address, phone number, bank details – essentially the kind of information you would expect a genuine caller to have which makes you trust them. 

In some cases, the criminals can hold your telephone line, so if you hang up to call back the bank, you can get put straight back to the fraudsters. They even go to the trouble of making it sound genuine by creating background noise so it sounds like a call centre rather than a one-man con artist in a basement.

Our tip: If you get a call, hang up, and ring the number on the back of your credit card using a different phone from the one they called you on to see if the query was genuine.

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5. Pension liberation scams

Scammers are bombarding people aged 55 and over offering them bogus investment opportunities to get hold of their pensions savings. 

Since April 2015, people have had more choice about what to do with retirement savings and can withdraw their money as they wish. But opportunistic criminals are increasingly trying to persuade savers to move their cash into schemes that did not exist. They can approach you by post, email or telephone.

Paul Lewis' guide to spotting a pension scammer.

Low interest rates on savings accounts are tempting more people to take on extra risk which means they could get caught out by fake investments which result in people losing their life savings, leaving them with little or no money for retirement.

Our tip: Be alert to offers like this and if in any doubt, take advice from a registered independent financial adviser. If you think you may have been made an offer, contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.