How To Avoid Scam Emails & Phishing

Tips to spot and avoid scams

Are you up to speed on the latest and most common scams? Knowing what to watch out for when you’re contacted can stop fraudsters in their tracks.

Scams are schemes to con you out of your money. Fraudsters can contact you by post, phone, email or text – or a scammer may even knock at your door. It could be a scam if:

  • a call, letter, email or text has come out of the blue
  • you’ve never heard of the lottery or competition they’re talking about and didn’t buy a ticket
  • you’re asked to send money in advance
  • you’re told you have to respond quickly, so you don’t get time to think about it or talk to family and friends first
  • you’re asked to keep it a secret
Financial scams are ways of getting hold of your bank details to steal money from your account. Some financial scams persuade you to invest in bogus deals involving shares or other investments.

Scam emails asking for your bank or log-in details can look like the real deal, but we’d never ask you for this information in an email. Known as ‘phishing’ in the business, fraudsters use them to try and get hold of your details. They often include a link to a fake website, where you’ll be asked to enter your details. Even just clicking the link could activate a virus, so don’t open it, hit delete.

Tips to spot a scam email

  • You're being asked for personal information, such as your username, password or bank details
  • It’s been sent from a different or free web address to the organisation
  • Your name isn’t used, there’s just a generic greeting like ‘Dear customer’
  • The email is threatening or there’s a sense of urgency – saying something along the lines of ‘your account may be closed if you don’t respond’
  • There are spelling or grammatical errors

If you get a scam email

  • Don’t reply to the email
  • Don’t click on any links or open any attachments
  • Don’t give away any personal information
  • Forward it to us at

Phone scams are on the rise and can be a real nuisance. Fraudsters use all sorts of cons over the phone and it’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference between a cold call and a scam. Never give your details to callers, however genuine they seem – and don’t be afraid to hang up and call the company back. Typical scams include:

Bank Scams

These callers say there’s a problem with your card or account – for example your card has been cloned. Their aim will be to get information such as your log-in passwords, card numbers or PIN. We’ll never ask you for these. Find out how to check it’s us calling you .

Compensation scams

These calls offer you compensation for things like a recent car accident. They may well be genuine callers, but don’t give any information to them. If you want to make a claim, do your own research and contact companies direct.

Computer scams

A caller from a bogus helpdesk will tell you your computer has a virus, but they can fix it with anti-virus software for a fee. Their aim is to either install spyware on your computer and access your personal details, or get your bank card details.

HMRC scams

A scammer claiming to be from HRMC will call to say you have an unpaid tax bill or an issue with a refund. Don’t give them any details. Instead, call HMRC direct to find out if there’s a genuine problem.

Number spoofing scams

Advances in technology means fraudsters can show an official phone number on your caller ID display, to trick you into thinking it’s from a genuine company. If you’re suspicious, call the company direct.

These fraudsters often pose as police or banking officials who say your account is being targeted by scammers and they need your help to catch them.

To make it more convincing from the word go, they’ll ask you to hang up and call back – but they leave the phone line open, so you go straight back to them or another fraudster who’s part of the scam. 

How to spot a courier scam

Usually, you’ll be asked to key in your PIN on your phone to activate or authorise a replacement card. The fraudster then either sends a courier to your house, or poses as an official themselves to collect your bank card in person. They may also give you a ‘fake’ replacement card to make the scam seem more convincing.

Another tactic might be to ask you to withdraw cash to be collected from your house, which they’ll say will be marked to help catch a fraudster in action.

Common scams

Knowing how scammers work can help you to protect yourself against fraud. So read about the latest and most common types of fraud:

Holiday scams

What are holiday scams?

This is when scammers sell you flights, accommodation or holidays that don’t exist.

Holiday scams are on the up. People are being scammed out of millions of pounds a year and are often left with nowhere to stay when they arrive in their destination.

One of the biggest scams is on accommodation websites. You search for a villa, apartment or mobile home and find your perfect retreat. It looks great, so you email the owner. But instead of paying through the holiday accommodation website, they ask you to pay straight into their account by direct bank transfer – often enticing you with a discount. But the advert and photos are fake.

You can also be ripped off by bogus travel websites, selling discount package holidays. The websites can look like the real deal, some even claim to have ATOL protection. They might post you a glossy brochure, too. But you only realise it’s a con when your flight documents fail to materialise, or you get to the airport and can’t check in with your booking information. And by then, the website has closed down. 

Have I been scammed?

Thinking about booking a flight, accommodation or a package holiday? Make sure you do your homework before you pack your bags.

Unfortunately, with this type of fraud, you probably won’t realise you’ve been scammed until you arrive at the airport or in your holiday destination.

Give me some examples

Brenda: online tour operator scam

Brenda booked and paid for a 5-night trip to Norway with an online tour operator, specialising in Scandinavian adventures. The company had a professional-looking website and brochures, and Brenda even spoke to a travel specialist on the phone to plan the itinerary and pay for the trip. When she didn’t receive any travel documents, she tried to contact the tour operator, but discovered it didn’t exist.

Usama: holiday villa scam

Usama found an apartment in Florida on a well-known holiday accommodation website. After communicating with the owner via the website’s email messaging system, Usama was offered a 10% discount if he paid by bank transfer. When he arrived in Florida, nobody met Usama and his family, as arranged. The apartment did exist, but the fraudster had taken control of the real owner’s messaging address and received the full payment, without the owner’s knowledge.

Follow these three top tips to protect yourself against this type of fraud:
  1. Never pay for accommodation by direct bank transfer if you found it on a holiday lettings website – always go through their official payment channels
  2. Go to ATOL database and check the company’s ATOL protection is genuine – every UK travel company selling holidays and flights should legally be signed up to the scheme
  3. Check the company exists by checking their address, phone number and search for negative feedback on website forums, such as TripAdvisor

Investment and pension scams

What is investments and pensions fraud?

Scammers will usually call you, claiming they're from a respectable pension review company, stockbroker or investment consultancy. The fraudster will then try to sell you an investment with guaranteed or high returns.

The person you speak to will probably sound very knowledgeable and give you information you’d think only a genuine company would know. They might also have information about you, including details about other investments you’ve made.

The scammer will often try to call you a number of times to build a relationship with you and gain your trust. Then if you do invest, they’ll probably try and get you to part with more of your money in ‘another great opportunity’.

Have I been scammed?

Have you been contacted about a ‘too-good-to-miss investment’ with a guaranteed return?

The scammer could be trying to get you to invest your savings in anything from rare metals and wine, to shares and overseas property developments. Many developing markets are still unregulated, so investment markets are an easy target for fraudsters.

If you’re over 55, you can access your pension savings and scammers know you can choose how to invest it. Over £1 billion is lost every year in the UK, due to this type of fraud.

Give me some examples

Patricia: Champagne investment scam

Patricia was called from a company offering an investment in Champagne. The returns were guaranteed and the investment was offered below the market value. After her initial interest, Patricia was directed to a professional-looking website and sent a glossy brochure. She decided to invest £10,000, and was given official documents as proof of her investment. But when she tried to sell her investment, she discovered the company didn’t exist.

Martin: property investment scam

Martin’s friend recommended a financial advisor, who was investing in a hotel complex in Tenerife, on behalf of clients. A 7% return was guaranteed for a 12-month period. After a series of friendly emails and phone calls, Martin trusted the knowledgeable advisor and invested 70% of his pension fund. When his investment was due to pay out and he didn’t hear anything, Martin tried to contact the financial advisor, but he couldn’t be traced.

Joy: fraud money recovery scam

Joy lost £8,000 of her pension savings because of a scam. She then had a call from a company claiming to specialise in recovering money from this type of fraud for a one-off fee. The caller was very confident that they’d be able to recover her £8,000, so Joy agreed. But after telling the caller some of her personal details and paying the fee, she never heard anything and the telephone number they gave her had been disconnected.

Follow these three top tips to protect yourself against this type of fraud:

  1. Always get independent financial advice before investing your pension savings
  2. Do your homework – by law, financial advisors have to be registered with The Financial Conduct Authority
  3. Check The Financial Conduct Authority’s list of scams at scamsmart