Seven ways to spot a scam

Holly Thomas / 10 July 2014

Even the most sharp and savvy among us get caught out, so it’s important to keep your wits about you and guard your personal information well.

Common scams include unsolicited correspondence, cold calls, fake lotteries, competitions and even extortion.

A study in 2012 showed that almost 30% of Which? members who have been scammed said they were caught out by schemes claiming their bank accounts or computers had been compromised.

Bank scams

Banking scams prove to be common. A typical scenario is where you might get a call from someone pretending to be from your bank saying your account has been hacked, and a courier is being sent to collect your bank cards.

They are told to ring their bank helpline, but the scammer doesn’t hang up and plays a dial tone.

The victim, thinking they are talking to their bank, is then asked for their PIN number, before their cards are collected.

Read our tips to protect yourself from cash machine scams.

Identity theft

ID theft is still a huge problem where a fraudster applies for credit in your name. Your details can be compromised in an email scam known as phishing.

The scams, which claim to be from reputable companies and urge readers to click on a link to enter their personal details, are just one technique of many aimed at cheating people out of their money.

Emails claiming you have won a large sum of money in a US lottery are common, according to Which?. It said victims often hand over their bank details to receive the prize – which of course, doesn’t exist.

An organisation calling itself the ‘International Monetary Fund’ promising an $8 million windfall, if £960 is paid to release the funds is another common email scam.

Some fraudsters even pretend to be from the Metropolitan and Strathclyde Police and contact targets saying that pornography has been detected on their computer and they have to pay £100 to unlock it.

It’s unnerving to discover that your name and email address is known to anyone other than family and friends. Fraudsters target victims through criminal syndicates who generate email lists, sometimes comprising up to 10 million names. Only a few responses are needed for the fraudsters to succeed.

How can you tell if you've been a victim of identity theft?

Avoid being an easy target

These so-called ‘sucker lists’ are then compiled from the details of people who’ve responded to scams in the past and are therefore considered an easy target. The best way to avoid getting on these lists is by not responding to any unsolicited emails or calls.

Richard Lloyd at Which? said: “Some scams are very sophisticated and tricky to spot but the golden rule is always if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

“Your personal and financial details are precious so if in doubt, double-check exactly who you are dealing with before giving anything away.”

Experts have compiled a checklist of seven ways to spot a scam. Alarm bells should ring if:

  1. You were contacted out of the blue;

  2. The deal seems too good to be true;

  3. You have been asked to give personal or financial details or pay an upfront fee;

  4. You are under pressure to respond quickly;

  5. The contact details are vague, for example a PO Box or premium rate number;

  6. The correspondence contains glaring grammatical or spelling mistakes; or

  7. You have been asked to keep the matter confidential. 

Read about five scams that try to steal your personal information.

Useful link - The Metropolitan Police's 'Little Book Of Big Scams'

* This article was revised in January 2014 and updated in July 2014.

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.