Scams are when criminals use lies and deceit to fool you into parting with your cash. You usually get nothing in return and lose your money. Scams are getting more sophisticated and difficult to spot so it's important to know what to look for.

Spotting a scam

There are some signs that should set alarm bells ringing wherever you see them. Be wary if:

  • something sounds too good to be true
  • you’re asked to give out personal or bank account information
  • you aren't given long to make a decision or you feel pressured into making one immediately
  • you’re contacted unexpectedly by a company or person you have never heard of, by post, email, phone, text or on the doorstep
  • you’re asked to pay anything up-front
  • the only contact details are a mobile phone number and a PO box address

Find out about the  latest fraud news and alerts from Action Fraud.

Common scams

The number of scams is growing all the time. Some of the most common types of scam are listed below to help you recognise them.

Boiler rooms

Also called ‘pump and dump’, this is a scam where fake stock market traders contact you unexpectedly, usually by telephone, and place pressure on you to buy shares. The shares are either non-existent or close to worthless and so difficult to sell on.

You might be offered secret stock tips to make the process seem more believable or sent fake share certificates to try to make the transaction seem legitimate. The fraudsters will then disappear with your money.

Face-to-face fraud

There are many legitimate door-to-door sales people, but some may not have good intentions. You can be pressured into buying something that you don't want or that isn't worth the money you pay for it.

Fraud by bogus tradespeople can take a variety of forms including

  • fake charity collections
  • selling you unfair or unsuitable contracts
  • home maintenance or improvements that you are overcharged for or are badly done
  • potential thieves who are checking out your valuables once inside your home

Find out more about doorstep selling and bogus tradesmen fraud.

Pension scams

Pension fraudsters will tell you that they know a way that you can get access to some of your pension money before retirement. While you can make arrangements to withdraw money from your pension early if you’re 55 or over, it’s likely to be a scam if you see claims that:

  • you can get cash before the age of 55
  • you can get more cash than under your current scheme
  • you can have more than 25 per cent of the pension value “released”

The fraudsters might charge you a fee and any try to get money from your pension could leave you with a large tax bill.

Pension scams are on the increase. For advice on protecting yourself against pension scams visit the Pension Regulator website at the link below.

You can also find out more about pension scams from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) website.

Prize draws, sweepstakes and lottery scams

You could get a letter or email telling you that you have won a lottery, sweepstake or other prize draw and offering you a large prize. The scam can then take different forms. You might be asked to

  • send a small amount of money as a processing fee or legal fee in order to claim a non-existent prize
  • prove your identity with a passport, which is then used by the criminals to steal your identity
  • provide your bank account details so they can pay the money in but this information is then used to clear out your account
  • ring a special phone number to claim it - the call will be to a premium rate number, take a long time and cost you more than the value of the prize

For more information about prize draw scams, visit the Action Fraud website.

Property fraud

If someone offers you an opportunity to get rich quick by becoming involved in a property scheme then there are a variety of ways in which they could be trying to defraud you.

You might be offered a way to buy into a development that is not yet built. The people offering will try to tempt you by making claims about the profits that you'll make. In the case of a fraud, it will later turn out that the land is either farmland or derelict and will never get planning permission or is unsuitable for development. There will be no profit and you will lose your money. This type of fraud is also sometimes called ‘land banking’

Alternatively, a fraudster might steal the title deeds to a property, pretend to be the owner and then try to borrow money against the property

Find out more about the different kinds of property fraud on the Action Fraud website and land banking on the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) website.

Vehicle fraud

There are a number of scams around buying and selling cars. You may be sold a stolen vehicle or a cloned car where the details of the car have been changed to match a legitimate vehicle. You could pay for a car that is never delivered to you or take delivery of a car that isn't the vehicle that you paid for.

Financial scams

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) website, has information on scams involving financial services such as investments, banks and pensions.

Online scams

Some of the most common scams rely on the internet and email. Learn about some different types of internet frauds below, including how to protect yourself and where to learn more.

Advance-fee fraud

This is sometimes known as the ‘419 fraud’ or ‘Nigerian bank scam’. As part of the fraud, you'll receive emails from people claiming to be ex-ministers or royalty from other nations asking if they can use your bank account to deposit a large sum of money in order to move it out of their country. They will normally offer to pay you a fee.

They will ask for your bank details and may also ask you to send money to cover legal fees and other expenses. However, there is no money and you will lose any money that you have sent.

For more information about 419 fraud, visit the Action Fraud website.

Dating fraud

Some fraudsters will connect with you on a dating website. They’ll be up-front about living overseas and will email you, getting to know you over time and becoming affectionate and romantic. Then, when you have become involved, they will start asking for money for a sick relative or for a plane ticket to come and visit. They will take your money but never appear.

For more information about dating fraud, visit the Action Fraud website.

Health scams

If you see an email or an advert for a ‘miracle cure’ for baldness, cancer, impotence, acne or weight loss, then do not open the email.

You could be offered something that appears to be a legitimate alternative medicine but doesn't actually work. Or you might think you are getting drugs and medicines very cheaply or without a prescription but they may not be the real thing if they actually turn up at all In some cases these fake medicines can actually damage your health

For more information about health scams, visit the Action Fraud website.

Job scams

There are a variety of job scams which range from promises of a new career, where you’re asked to pay up front for training or materials, to being offered non-existent jobs abroad where you are then asked to pay a fee to organise visas and accommodation.

You might also get caught by a work at home scheme where you are told you'll make easy money. You may have to pay a fee up front to register, buy products to sell or recruit other people to take part. However, the ‘leads’ or products turn out to be worthless and your registration details may be sold on to other scammers.

To avoid ‘business opportunity’ frauds, look out for:

  • business opportunities that seem too good to be true
  • adverts that suggest you can sit back and the business runs itself
  • contact details that include mobile phone numbers starting with 07
  • email addresses that end in web mail addresses such as @gmail, @yahoo and @hotmail
  • people who are difficult to contact, who you have never met and you are unable to prove who they are

Money mules

Here you could unknowingly end up breaking the law and helping criminals by using your bank account to take delivery of, and then forward, stolen money and be paid a commission for helping. You would be breaking the law by money laundering.

For more information about money mules, visit the Action Fraud website.

Online auction fraud

With the growth of online auction sites, there are fraudsters who will pose as fake buyers. These criminals appear to pay for the goods that you then send to them. The problem is that the payment bounces. Or there could be fake sellers who take your money but don’t send the goods, or send something that’s less valuable or very different from the description.

Find out more about online auction fraud.


This is when hackers re-direct the traffic from a genuine website to another, such as a fake e-commerce or banking site. This is a difficult scam to protect yourself from as although you've entered the right address to bring you to a particular site, you're still sent to a fake one to try to get your personal information.

In order to protect yourself you should:

  • make sure that you’re using a trustworthy internet service provider (most are)
  • make sure that, once the page has loaded, the URL (website address) that you have entered hasn’t changed to a slightly different spelling, perhaps with additional letters or with the letters swapped around
  • make sure, when you reach the point at which you are asked to type in banking passwords and usernames, that the http in the website address has changed to https, as the ‘s’ stands for secure
  • make sure you always have the latest version of antivirus software by installing regular updates


Phishing is where someone tries to trick you into revealing personal information like your bank account details. A common trick is to send you a fake email pretending to be from your bank or another organisation you trust like HM Revenue & Customs or PayPal. This email will ask you to visit a website and log in with your account details. The site looks just like your bank’s website, but is really a fake site set up by criminals to get your details.

Email is the most common way of doing this, but you might be targeted by text message or by phone. If you’re suspicious, ask to call them back and see if the number matches your bank’s real phone number. Make sure you get a dial tone before you call, in case the scammer has stayed on the line.

For more information about phishing, visit the Action Fraud website.

The Little Book of Big Scams

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has produced an anti-fraud advice booklet designed to help the community protect themselves from fraudsters.

Download a copy of The Little Book of Big Scams from the PSNI website.

Report a scam

If you receive a scam email message or a computer virus, but you haven't lost any money you can report it online to Action Fraud.

If you report a scam, it gives important information to the authorities that can be used to warn other people. You can report a scam online to Action Fraud or to Consumerline.

Scams which are reported to Consumerline may be passed on to the Northern Ireland Trading Standards Service, who will collate the details for onward transmission to the National Scams Team.


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