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Avoid scams

How to avoid scams


What are scams?

Scams are schemes to con you out of money. Scams traditionally reside in confidence tricks, where an individual misrepresents themselves as someone with skill or authority. They often target vulnerable and particularly older people and can be extremely convincing.

Scams can include:

  • Telephone calls (Investment scams, pensions scams, courier fraud, psychics and clairvoyants and pyramid schemes)
  • Letters (prize draws and lotteries)
  • Online (website and emails).

More than 5 million people a year in the UK are victims of scams, according to Age UK ('Only the tip of the iceberg', published 2015). It claims that only 5% of scams are reported, so the actual number could be much higher. In addition, 80% of phone scam victims are over 55 years of age, according to 2015 research from the Financial Ombudsman, the average age of a postal scam victim is 74 years, according to National Trading Standards.

Older people often fit the bill, some older people may be suffering with dementia, which could affect the decision-making process or they may feel lonely, which might make them more likely to talk to people.

Anyone can fall victim to a scam, but older people can be at greater risk as they:

  • Live alone
  • Are at home during the day
  • Have savings or are vulnerable
  • Are more likely to talk to them.

If you have an older relative living alone, warn them about common scams. It is important to raise awareness of scams and how to spot them. Many people don't realise that they are being tricked.

If you think you or someone you know is at risk of a scam, use the free advice service offered by The 50plus. Click here to view our telephone numbers.

Types of Scams

Investment scams

Investment fraud can be sophisticated and very hard to spot:

  • You may be called repeatedly by companies offering investments that promise high returns
  • The callers are often highly articulate and seem financially knowledgeable and they will try to keep you talking
  • The offer may be time-limited, with a bonus if you sign up
  • Their website and brochures look good, with recognisable logos and impressive testimonials
  • The company may be listed with Companies House.

Pension scams

If you have a pension pot, you can now access some or all of the money and decide what you want to do with it. For free and impartial government service advice visit the Governments Pension Wise web site.

Pension scammers may:

  • Contact you unexpectedly by phone, text or email
  • Offer you a free pension review or a one-off investment
  • Be recommended by a friend
  • Offer investments, often overseas, that promise high returns.

If you lose your money in a pension scam, you won't be able to get it back and you may still have to pay tax of up to 55%.

Phone - courier scams

Scammers may contact you saying that they are calling from your bank, the police or some other law enforcement authority. They then trick you into revealing your PIN and handing over your debit or credit card.

They may:

  • Say a fraudulent payment has been spotted on your card
  • Ask you to call back using the number on the back of your card, then keep the line open so when you call you are connected straight back to them
  • Ask for your PIN number or ask you to key it into your phone handset.

The scammer then sends a courier or taxi to pick up your card. Once they have your card and PIN they can spend your money. There are many variations on this scam.

They may:

  • Tell you there is a corrupt member of staff in your bank and they need your help to identify them
  • Ask you to transfer all your funds into a 'safe account' because your account has been taken over
  • Ask you to buy an expensive item to help them identify counterfeit goods.

You should:

  • Wait for 10 minutes before you call your bank
  • If possible, use a different phone or call somebody else in the meantime
  • Never reveal your PIN to anyone - your bank or the police will never ask you for your PIN, bank card or to withdraw money.

Post and email scams

Lotteries / prize draws

A letter may be sent congratulating you on winning a cash prize. Before you can get the money, you have to pay an administration fee and/or call a premium rate number.


  • You can't win money or a prize in a competition you have not entered
  • You can't be chosen at random if you don't have an entry
  • Never send money to someone you don't know and trust.

If you respond, it is likely that you will receive more and more of this type of mail as your letter will be added to the list.

Psychics and clairvoyants

You may receive a letter from a psychic or clairvoyant offering to reveal something to you in exchange for money. Sometimes these scams are used to set you up for lottery scams by giving you lucky numbers. The letters may be sinister or threatening.

Pyramid schemes

You may be invited to invest in a business with high returns and low risk. You have to pay to join and you get rewards for recruiting other investors. You may get some small payments at first to persuade you to invest more but usually the investment is worthless or doesn't exist.

Email scams

Email scams come in many different forms:

  • Phishing emails that try to trick you into revealing your bank details - they may direct you to copycat websites that look like your bank's website
  • Stranded traveller emails - supposedly from a friend (whose email account has probably been hacked into) who claims to have been robbed abroad and asks you to send them money
  • Advance fee - the sender has something valuable and offers a reward for your help moving it from one country to another but you have to make a payment or provide bank details
  • Inheritance - someone has left you money in a will and you have to send an administration fee to get the money.
  • Miracle cures and medications from online pharmacies.

You should:

  • Delete all messages without reading them if they are from somebody you don't know
  • If you do read them, don't open any attachments as they may contain a virus
  • Ignore spam/junk email - don't reply or click on any links, even to unsubscribe.

Doorstep scams

A doorstep scam (or doorstep fraud) involves someone coming into your home and knocking on your door, with the aim of tricking you or a relative out of money. There can be added pressure with face-to-face interaction, which can sometimes be more challenging than dealing with phone scams, postal scams and online scams.

Doorstep scams account for around 5% of all scams, according to research by Citizens Advice. Scammers often target older people for doorstep scams, they are more likely to be at home all day and scammers might find it easier to intimidate them. In fact, 85% of victims of doorstep scams are aged 65 and over, according to National Trading Standards.

Bogus callers

These are people who try to get into your home and steal from you or try to get to your personal details. They may work in pairs and could pose as:

  • Strangers who say they need to use your phone because of an emergency
  • Officials, such as gas or electrical meter readers - they may have fake uniforms and ID charity collectors
  • Someone doing market research.

You should:

  • Be suspicious - never let anyone you don't know and trust into your home
  • Always check ID - you can call the company if you are unsure but don't call the number on the caller's card as it may belong to an accomplice. Check the telephone directory or the company's website
  • Set up a utilities password so you can check the caller is genuine - contact your supplier for details
  • Call the police if you are suspicious or feel threatened.

Rogue traders

A trader may call to sell you something or say you need work done, often urgently. They may put pressure on you to make a quick decision and refuse to take no for an answer. If you agree, you may:

  • Spend a lot of money
  • Have no consumer rights
  • End up with sub-standard work.

You should always take your time before deciding to buy something or having work done.

Credit & debit card RFID threat?

Electronic pickpocketing refers to the process of stealing credit/debit card information from people in a public place using RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology - otherwise known as Contactless.

Let's not get too excited about this. Do a quick Internet search and you'll find that an industry has grown up to solve a problem that probably doesn't exist. One expert is quoted as saying 'there's probably hundreds of millions of financial crimes being done every year and so far zero, real life RFID crime' (Roger Grimes, July 2017).

The general recommendation is take care, you are far more likely to have a card stolen than the data from it. Just keep your cards securely.

Free telephone advice service

If you think you or someone you know is at risk of a scam, use the free advice service offered by The 50plus. Click here to view our telephone numbers.