Scam Dictionary

Here are a few descriptions of common scams to help keep you in the know.

Contactless Card Scams

Contactless card scams are a relatively new form of fraud, currently with low reporting figures. The rise in popularity of contactless cards to make payments quick and easy has subsequently led to a rise of this type of crime. Criminals may use a card reader or phone nearby to 'skim' a contactless card to read/copy the details.

Top tip: Wallets and purses are now available with blocking technology which can help deflect readers and shield the card from things you don't want to access it. Alternatively, wrapping a piece of foil around your card will do the trick!

Online Shopping and Auction Scams

Images of fancy clothes, luxurious shoes and glamorous lifestyle items are more accessible than ever on the internet, however unfortunately not always honest! Items are advertised online often at a bargain price, with payment encouraged via bank transfer as opposed to a third party payment system such as PayPal. Unfortunately, in many cases the item never arrives or is a counterfeit.

Top tip: Only use established and certified websites and never transfer money directly to someone's personal bank account. Ensure the payment website is secure by looking for an URL beginning with 'https' and a closed padlock symbol.


Subscription Traps or Free Trial Scams

Some dishonest companies use subscription traps, particularly reoccurring payments to gain access to consumer's accounts. Subscription traps offering beauty and health related products such as face creams and slimming pills are most likely to target women aged 50-64 rendering them most at risk. In April 2018 the Government reassured their crackdown on subscription traps to empower consumers to put a stop to them. Free trial scams work in a similar way, normally by offering a consumer a limited time free trial whereby they only have to pay for postage and packaging. However, when they give their payment details for the P&P, they enter themselves into a monthly repayment plan via a continuous payment authority (CPA). This allows the company to withdraw cash from the consumer's account every month unwillingly.

Top tip: Carefully read the small print and terms and conditions before making a purchase or entering into an agreement. Make sure you cancel any agreements before the cancellation deadline as well as with your bank and never give out your bank details without doing prior research.



Voice phishing ‘vishing’ works by receiving an unsolicited phone call from someone who claims to be from a bank or building society, police or fraud investigation team. The criminal tries to get personal and financial information from you such as your full name, address, date of birth, credit card details and bank account details. The criminal then uses this information to gain access to your finances in order to get you to make payments into their account.

Top tip: Limit the amount of information you share online, and never give out your personal or financial details over the phone. Don’t assume anyone who has phoned or contacted you is who they say they are. If you’re not sure, ask the company in question if the call is genuine by finding the official number either on the back of your card or on their official website.

Advertising Scams

This type of scam often targets self-employed people and small businesses. The criminal will cold call the victim and claim they are from an advertisement agency who works in partnership with charities, crime prevention and emergency services. They state they can advertise for a fee which will go towards a good cause. The criminal will often claim that someone else from the business has agreed to an advertisement space before to convince the victim. The victim is sent an invoice and is usually told that they have verbally consented and legal action will be taken if they don't pay up.

Top tip: Be wary of anyone who claims to be from the emergency services, charities and rehab projects. Do your research into the advertisement agency before agreeing to anything.


Job Scams

Searching for a new job isn’t always fun. So when someone offers to write your CV or give you the best training on offer for a fraction of the retailing price, you may jump at the chance. Unfortunately a lot of the time these offers are another method of fraud. The criminal (who claims to be an employer) contacts a victim who has placed their CV on a job site and is allegedly considering them for a role. These scams can involve holding a phone interview which ends up costing the applicant hundreds of pounds in charges, expensive training programmes that don’t exist, or taking money in order to carry out security checks/write CVs. Reality is, there is no job and the money spent by the victim goes straight to the criminal. The most likely age group to be targeted by this type of scam is 18-24 year olds according to Safer Jobs, founded by the Metropolitan Police.

Top tip: Be vigilant of recruiters that ask for money upfront in return for them finding you a job, real recruiters get paid by the employers not the candidates. Never provide financial, personal or sensitive information, there is no reason why any employer would need these details. Carefully examine the email address, grammar and spelling of any unsolicited job offer and check it’s coming from a legitimate company.



SMS phishing 'Smishing' is when criminals send text messages inviting you to click a link which will lead to a fraudulent website, download something which will contain malicious content or call a premium rate number. They may also ask for personal information.

Top tip: Never click on links or download content that has been sent in an unsolicited text. If in doubt, contact the company using the details on their official website. Look out for poor spelling, grammar and poor image quality. Always be careful when sharing personal information.


Money mules

Often targeting students or younger people as they are often strapped for cash, being a ‘money mule’ is a quick way of laundering money through the system. However, with the promise of being allowed to keep a fraction of the money for their assistance and then transferring the money onto the next person also comes the risk of being implicated for illegal money laundering.

Top tip: If any one approaches you with any money transferring actions, STOP. Contact your local authorities immediately.


Ticket Scams

The excitement and time constraint when buying tickets for events can easily distract you from checking the authenticity of the purchasing site. Unfortunately buying tickets through an illegitimate website can lead to never receiving the tickets, arranging to meet someone for collection and they never show up or purchasing tickets for a show which is already sold out!

Top tip: Make sure you research the company you’re buying from. Ensure they are genuine, use credit cards or secure payments methods and ensure purveyors are members of STAR (Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers).


Social Media Scams

Adverts on social media can be expertly crafted to appear professional and genuine by criminals. They do this by using official looking logos, made up Terms and Conditions and a link in which to enter your details. However, the victim is unaware that clicking on the links will send their personal information to third parties and unknowingly triggering the share feature to your connections. The victim’s friends and family are then likely to fall for the scam as well because they assume that the victim has shared it, therefore it must be genuine.

Top tip: Observe the URL for anything suspicious and whether it matches the URL of the company website. Check your social media timeline to see whether there is an unusual volume of the same link/status being shared, as this should be clear that it’s a scam. Contact the company to find out if the deal in circulation on social media is genuine, but don’t do this by clicking on any links you believe to be a scam.


Pension Scams

Criminals attempt to get their hands on your pension pot. This often begins with unexpected contact regarding a possible investment opportunity, accessing your pension before you’re 55 or options of how to invest your pension money. The criminal may ask you to move or withdraw a sum of money.

Top tip: You can find out if a pensions company is genuine by checking that it appears on the Financial Services Register or by calling the Financial Conduct Authority on 0800 111 6768. If you need to call the company that contacted you back, be sure to use the number listed on the Financial Services Register rather than a number they may have given you.

Council tax re-banding scams

Criminals claim to be from the local council or Valuation Office Agency (VOA) and cold call people to inform them that they have over-paid on their council tax and a refund is due to them but there is a fee to claim this. They may also ask for a fee to either challenge or investigate the change in council tax.

Top tip: You can check your council tax banding by checking with the Valuation Office Agency for free. For further information on how to do this, head to their official website. Remember - Never give out your personal details to a cold caller.


Computer Scams

Cold callers call individuals claiming that their computer has a problem which needs to be fixed for a fee. Alternatively, pop-ups may appear on the victim’s computer claiming that it’s been infected with a virus so they initiate contact with the criminal. The criminal takes the payment either through a pop up, over the phone or by money transfers. Older people who are less aware about technology are more likely targets for this type of scam. Other computer scams include being sold fake virus protection and warranties.

Top tip: Ignore any unsolicited phone calls regarding the condition of your computer and never agree to any work to be done unless you know there’s a problem and you have contacted a legitimate person.

Investment scams

Investment scams are more difficult to establish. Their websites and documentations are produced professionally to give the illusion of a genuine package. Often initiated by a cold call from someone pretending to offer you the opportunity to invest in a variety of schemes or products that are either worthless or don’t even exist. They usually offer to sell you bonds or shares but also other assets such as wine, art, energy and precious metals for example gold or silver. Most investment scams are run out of offices called boiler rooms and often target people over 65.

Top tip: Never take up offers of investments on the spot from cold calls. Take a look at the Financial Conduct Authority’s ScamSmart warning list to make safe investments.

Telephone Preference Service (TPS) or call blocking scams

This type of scam is where criminals will ask for money to provide the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) or call blockers. This may enter you into a subscription service or leave you with a unit that doesn’t work properly.

Top tip: It is free to sign up to the Telephone Preference Service (TPS), visit their official website for more information. Always do your research before purchasing a call blocking device to make sure you’re using a legitimate company. Remember – Always be wary of someone who has contacted you out of the blue asking for money and/or personal details.


Psychic/Clairvoyant scams

This type of scam often targets older people and people in vulnerable situations. The criminal will approach the victim through post, email, telephone and sometimes in person and claim they have seen something amazing or awful in their future. They ask the victim for money in order for them to provide a full report for them about their future. The criminal convinces the victim that they’re in some kind of trouble but can offer a solution in return for a payment.

Top tip: Don’t reply to any unsolicited mail that asks you to send money to them, however personal they make the letter seem. If in doubt, don’t reply and bin it.


Romance Scams

This type of scam works by the criminal pretending to be a love interest on a dating website/through letters to gain your trust. They use tactics to steal your money, personal information and your identity. Once the criminal has gained the victim’s trust, they will tell them about a problem they’re experiencing which can be helped by the victim sending money. For example they may exploit the victim’s sympathies and tell them that a family member or someone close to them is very ill and needs money to receive treatment. Once the criminal has received money, they will keep coming back to the victim with reasons as to why they need more.

Top tip: Don’t give away personal details to someone you have only met online, as this can lead to your identity being stolen by the criminals. Never give away your bank details or send and receive money to someone you’ve only met online, regardless of how genuine their story may seem. If you have already sent money, cease all contact and don’t respond or send money again.


Copycat Government official service scams

Websites or callers claim to be from official government departments and then sell their services for a charge. An example of this is websites which claim to process passports and driving licenses which aren’t legitimate. Another example is receiving calls from an unofficial ‘Government Grants Department’ which claims you are owed several thousands of pounds for being a good citizen for paying bills and taxes on time. They usually trick victims into revealing their bank details or demand a payment to release the funds.

Top tip: Do not automatically choose to use the first website that pops up on a search engine, however much of a hurry you’re in. Make sure that any page you are making a payment on starts with https along with a locked padlock in the address bar.


Doorstep crime

Doorstep selling is a legitimate and convenient way some businesses sell their products, however criminals can use this as a method of committing fraud. A bogus salesman can use cunning tactics to convince a victim into buying something they don’t need and at the same time massively over paying for it. There are many forms of doorstep fraud which include overpriced or shabby home maintenance, unfair contracts, fake charity collections and consumer surveys. Bogus salespeople will provide the victim with fake personal information to make them impossible to trace.

Top tip: Always ask the person for ID and take control by asking them questions, for example about references and proof of previous customer’s work. If you are still unsure, then ask the person to leave and call Citizens Advice on 03454 040506. Remember to never sign anything on the spot.


Impersonation of officials

 This is when a criminal impersonates someone from law enforcement such as a bank fraud team or HMRC. They may make false promises about tax rebates or ask you to assist with an investigation which involves either withdrawing cash or transferring money to them. Victims may even be told how to act when they go to the bank and are told to lie to the staff about what the money is for. For example, to say that the money is for something else such a wedding or holiday.

Top tip: Always be wary of requests for money or personal information. If in doubt, talk to someone you trust or contact the officials on a number you know to be genuine before sharing any information. If you have been cold called, wait five minutes before using the phone or use a different phone line if you can in case the criminal is holding the line.