Guide to avoiding scams
Think you'd spot a financial scam if you saw one? Lots of people claim they could. Yet in 2020, £479 million was lost to Authorised Push Payment scams.
Learn how to spot a scam and keep your money safe from criminals. By being aware and staying vigilant, we can stop fraud.
If you think you are the victim of a scam, call us straight away.
What's on this page
What are scams?
Scams happen when criminals convince you to knowingly and willingly part with your money, making it very hard to get it back.
Protecting yourself from scammers
Check that the person you’re planning to pay is really who they claim to be. And check that any goods or services are legitimate.
We'll never ask you to:
Give us your full one-time code or card reader code
Transfer your money to a safe account.
Log directly into the Internet Bank via a link in an email, text or social media message.
Update your details directly from a link in an email or text.
Use, re-enable, or re-sync your card reader over the phone.
Be rushed – a genuine organisation won’t mind waiting.
Assume an email request, text, or phone call is genuine.
Disclose security details like your PIN or generated card reader code.
You should always:
Listen to your instincts – you know if something doesn’t feel right.
Stay in control – don’t panic and make a decision you’ll regret.
Types of scam
Safe account scams
Someone calls saying they’re from a trusted organisation, like a bank, building society, or the police.
They explain your money is at risk – that a security breach has affected your account.
They reassure you that your money will be protected if you move it now to a ‘safe account’ they’ve set up for you.
It’s you who moves that money, not them. And it’s money you’ve lost for good.
Never act on a call out of the blue and transfer money at the request of a caller. A genuine organisation would never ask you to do this.
Refund overpayment scams
Someone calls saying they’re from a broadband or telecoms provider. You may even hold an account with them. They say there’s an issue with your computer and can fix it if you give them remote access (access your computer from their location). They’ll tell you there’s compensation for the inconvenience, and will ask you to log in to your internet bank.
At this point, they claim to have made a mistake and paid you too much. What they actually do is transfer money from your savings account to your current account. It looks like a refund has credited your current account. You won’t know this, though, and they’ll ask you to transfer the overpayment of the ‘refund’ back to them.
Next thing you know, you’re using your security details to send your money to them. And just like that, a large sum of your money is gone.
Someone will contact you, trying to get you involved with investments that will make you money. They may ask you to invest in something like wine, diamonds or alternative energy.
But there is no investment opportunity, and you will lose any money you transfer to them.
Use the Financial Conduct Authority’s ScamSmart website (opens in a new window). It has a warning list for you to check the risks of a potential investment. You can also check whether companies are known to be operating without authorisation.
Online purchase scams
You find a real bargain online, like a car, mobile, or concert tickets. The seller wants you to use a different, less secure payment method, than the one the website advises. It’s a method that won’t protect you if things go wrong.
You’ve been emailing the seller all along, so you believe everything should be fine. But as soon as you’ve moved the money from your account, the emails from the seller stop. And that bargain you set your heart on never turns up.
Always use a reputable website or app to buy goods. For more expensive purchases, make sure you see what you’re buying before parting with any money.
Email hack scams
You have a genuine relationship with a person or company like a builder or a solicitor.
You get an email from them saying that you need to make a payment. It may tell you that their bank details have changed. You’re expecting to pay them, so you think nothing of it and make the payment.
You later discover that the request was fraudulent. Often, this is because someone has hacked the person’s or company’s email address or database.
Fake invoices sent over email can be very convincing. If you receive a request for payment, always get in touch using the original contact details you have. Make sure it’s a genuine request before transferring any money.
Rogue trader scams
Someone who looks like a tradesperson comes to your home and tells you urgent work needs to be done (like to your roof or driveway). This work may not even be necessary.
Typical scam outcomes are they:
- Overcharge you for their work.
- Convince you to make full payment for partially completed work or materials.
You pay them and never see them, or your money, again.
Don’t feel rushed to get work done by someone knocking on your door. Take your time, do your research, and get several quotes before making any decision.
Advance fee scams
Someone will contact you about a loan you’ve been interested in, goods, or a lottery win. They’ll ask you to pay an upfront fee before releasing the item to you.
You make the payment but never get what they promised.
If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Always do some research into whether any offer you’ve got is genuine.
You meet someone new online. But can you be sure they are genuine?
Maybe they’re in another country and say they need financial help to:
- Care for someone close to them.
- Avoid persecution.
- Cover travel expenses to visit you.
They’ve earned your trust. You’ve developed strong feelings. What’s to stop you transferring large sums of money to them? And how would you feel if you never heard from them again immediately afterwards?
Keep conversations through a reputable dating agency. Never send money to or receive money from someone you’ve only ever met online.
Someone calls you claiming to be from your building society or bank, or the police. They might claim there’s an issue with your bank account, or ask for your help with a bank or police investigation.
As part of a fake investigation, you may be asked to take out money or to buy something. The person is just tricking you into giving them money or goods.
Do not give out details, like your card number or PIN. Never take out money or buy goods for someone who claims it’s for an investigation. A genuine organisation would never ask you to do this.
Money mule scams
Sometimes people unknowingly help criminals move stolen money. They effectively become ‘money mules’.
You’ll see what looks like a genuine job advertised online, by email or on social media. It seems like a great chance to earn money for a few hours of work a week. But any money you receive could be from the proceeds of crime.
If you get involved, it could result in a criminal prosecution or your bank freezing your account. This could make banking and getting credit difficult for you in future.
A genuine company will never ask you to use your bank account to transfer their money. Don’t accept any jobs that ask you to do this. Be especially cautious of job offers from people or companies overseas. This makes it harder for you to find out if they are genuine.
Take Five to Stop Fraud
Nationwide supports the industry fraud awareness campaign Take Five. It offers straightforward and impartial advice to help everyone in the UK protect themselves against financial fraud.
How to report fraud or a scam
How to report a suspicious message
Help us stop fraud. Report suspicious emails, texts and messages to: email@example.com
We don't reply to every email but review all the messages we receive. This information helps us to stop crime. Thank you.
To report a suspicious text from another organisation you can forward the text to 7726.
More help and information
Action Fraud is the UK's national fraud reporting centre 0300 123 2040.
Action Fraud website (opens in a new window)
Advice from the Metropolitan Police, about avoiding fraud.
Little book of big scams - PDF 9.4MB (opens in a new window)
Our downloadable guide to scams.
Pocket Guide - how to spot a scam - PDF 123KB (opens in a new window)