Published on: 1 March 2024

What are police impersonation scams?

Scammers call, text or email you, out of the blue, and claim to be police officers. They lie that they’re involved in an undercover investigation and they need your help.

They may claim your local bank branch is giving out fake or counterfeit banknotes. You can help them put a stop to this by withdrawing some cash at the branch and handing it over to an ‘undercover officer’ for fingerprint analysis.

They arrange for an ‘undercover officer’ or courier to pick up the cash, and you’re told you’ll be reimbursed after the investigation. You hand over the money, but you never hear from them again.

They may also say they suspect a local shop is selling fake copies of goods, like watches or laptops. So, you need to go buy these expensive items and give them to the ‘undercover officer’ or courier for investigation. You hand over the goods, and you’re never reimbursed.

Or they may say your money is at risk and you need to transfer it to a safe account. The police will never ask you to do this.

The criminals will tell you not to tell anyone about this. It’s an ongoing police investigation, and you’ll compromise it by talking to someone. They keep you trapped in their lie and move on to scam another innocent person.

How to keep you and your money safe

It can be scary to receive one of these calls or messages. You want to help, and you wouldn’t normally question the police.

But there are some questions you can ask yourself to check what you’re being told.

  • How do I know they are who they say they are?
    If they’re really a police officer, they can show you their ID and tell you which force they’re with. You can then call that police force (opens in a new window) on 101 to confirm who they are.

  • Is this a real investigation?
    It’s very unlikely that the police would need to call you in person to help with an investigation. And if it’s a real investigation, it will have a crime number. Ask them for this number and call 101 to check it matches anything they have.

  • Why am I being asked to withdraw or spend my own money?
    The police can buy goods from stores and take out money in bank branches themselves. If you’re being asked to use your own money, this is a sign of a scam.

  • Have I ever been asked to do something like this before?
    Neither the police nor any other legitimate organisation would ever ask you for your card or PIN or to take out money or buy items on their behalf. If you're asked to do something with your own money, especially out of the blue, or if it feels at all odd – hang up the phone. Call the number on the back of your bank card to check it with us or dial 101 to go directly to the police.

  • Why am I being told not to tell anyone about this?
    There’s no reason you cannot talk it through with those you trust. They may spot something suspicious or know something you don’t. You can also make use of our Scam Checker Service.

Victim Support

Our partnership with this independent charity supports customers who’ve been a victim of fraud or a scam. They offer a tailored service to meet your individual needs. It’s free, non-judgemental and confidential. And they will help you for as long as you need.

The Nationwide Fraud team will refer you for further support if you need it.

Stop. Challenge. Protect

We're proud to be supporting the industry fraud awareness campaign Take Five, which encourages you to perfect the art of saying NO to criminals by taking five minutes to Stop, Challenge, Protect.

Criminals are experts at impersonating people, organisations and the police so it can be difficult to spot scam texts, emails and phone calls. However, there are things we can all do to protect ourselves.

Always remember to challenge if someone contacts you asking for your personal or financial information – be direct and say NO. Saying NO can feel uncomfortable but it’s OK to reject, refuse or ignore requests. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you.

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