Scam alert! How to spot and avoid scam attacks on your money

Know the red flags of the most common scams, and how to protect your info

In today’s world, managing your money is more convenient than ever, with online access putting your bank accounts quite literally at your fingertips. Along with this comes opportunities for scams, and as the cost-of-living crisis escalates, people are becoming more vulnerable to fraudulent activity with new scams cropping up pretending to offer grants, support payments and energy rebates.

Bank fraud or bank scams involve someone gaining access to your personal information that they then use to take money from your account. They may do this in various ways, and as the techniques become more sophisticated, it’s important to know the signs to look out for to protect your money, wherever you bank.

Taking a proactive approach to keeping your information safe may help to reduce the risk of being scammed. And if you suspect you’ve been a victim, it’s vital to take action as soon as you realise: the faster you act, the more likely your bank will be able to help.  

Common bank scams and how to avoid them

Bank scams can happen by email, phone or text message. They involve a scammer trying to get details such as your password, PIN, card details or other information, often by telling you there’s a problem with your account, or in recent cases telling you you’re entitled to a cost-of-living support payment. They may even claim there has been fraud on your account in order to get the information they want.  

Email scams - phishing

Email scams are known as phishing, and they can be very convincing. They may look like they come from your bank, they may have the right logo and have some of your details. They may even mention things you’ve bought, holidays you’ve been on or places you’ve been to – all of which can be easy to find out from your social media profiles.

Crucially, they’ll be asking you to take action – to either click on a link or to call a number to sort out an issue with your account. There may be some urgency mentioned, designed to put you in a panic and make you want to seek their support. When you do so, you’ll either be taken to a bogus website that looks like your bank’s website, or a bogus number that’s not actually your bank’s.

If you unsuspectingly enter or give your details such as a password or PIN, a scammer can take your money instantly, directly from your account.

How to spot and avoid them: Be suspicious of any email claiming to be from your bank. Check the sender address and compare it to an email you know is genuine. A bank will never request a PIN or password from you by email. They also won’t request these via a linked webpage. Spelling mistakes, strange grammar and odd wording are obvious giveaways that the email is a fake, and the best action to take is to delete it.

If you’re worried the bank really does need you to do something, the best thing to do is call the number on your debit or credit card to discuss any issues over the phone.

Phone scams – vishing

The most common phone scams are money transfer scams known as ‘vishing’ – voice phishing.

Vishing scams operate by someone calling you directly, claiming to be from your bank. They will usually say there has been a security issue and that your money needs to be put in a safe account straight away while they sort the issue out. Just as with the email scam, they will claim the matter is urgent and that they need your details in a hurry to stop the problem.

This safe account is actually the scammer’s account, and once you’ve willingly given your details for them to transfer your money, they will often pass it quickly on to other accounts. Frustratingly, this makes it very difficult for your bank to get it back. 

Another technique scammers may use is to keep your phone line open once you’ve hung up. So if you put the phone down on them but then try to call your bank to ask if anything isn’t right with your account, they may intercept that next call and answer it as if they’re the operator. Because you’ve called them, you might feel safe giving them the information they ask for.

How to spot and avoid it: The telltale sign of a vishing call is that the scammer is hurrying you to give up your information. Your bank will never ask for your PIN or password over the phone, so if anyone does, hang up the call. To check your account is safe and not being compromised, call the bank yourself from a different phone if possible, to avoid any call interception. Or wait for half an hour to call from your own phone if you don’t have access to another one. Let your bank know you’ve had a call that is likely to be a scam, and ask them to take a look at your account.

Text message scams – smishing

Text message scams, or smishing, work in a similar way, but by text message. The text will say there’s a problem with your account or have an alarming warning message about fraud, and that you need to follow a link or call a number to resolve it. They may say a random amount has been taken or that a new device was used to access your account. In some cases, they may call you after sending you a text message to make it seem even more convincing. Or they may say you need to click a link to apply for your energy support payment or cost-of-living grant.

The scammer may be attempting to get your information so they can transfer money from your account. Or a link may be designed to install a virus on your phone or computer.

How to spot and avoid it: Be wary of any text message that asks you to take action on your bank account or give your details with a sense of urgency. Don’t click on any links or call a number sent to you in a text message, but do call your bank’s official phone number to check your account and let them know.

Been scammed or suspect a scam? Report it straight away

If you think you’ve been a victim of a bank scam, tell your bank or relevant financial provider straight away. They will be able to monitor any activity on your account and may choose to freeze your account while they look into it.

You should then report it to Action Fraud, which is the National Fraud and Cyber Crime Reporting Centre. You can either call them on 0330 123 2040, or use their online reporting tool. You’ll need details such as when the scam happened, how it took place, why you suspect it’s a scam, the type of information you gave them (you don’t need to share your actual PIN or password), and whether you clicked any links or did anything else.

You can also report it to the Citizens Advice Bureau, which has information about other places to report different types of scams.

Please don’t feel embarrassed for having fallen for a scam. It can happen to anyone, and scammers have clever ways of convincing people to cooperate with their requests. Reporting it as soon as possible will help the authorities to find and stop the scammer, and hopefully prevent more people becoming victims of bank fraud.

Quick tips for keeping your information safe

To minimise your chances of being scammed, stay in the know about common security tips and stay on your guard if anyone claims to need details to do with your banking.

  • Remember that your bank will never ask you for your PIN or password by email or over the phone and will never ask you to transfer your money to a different account.
  • Never share your bank details with third parties.
  • Make your passwords complex and unique for every account.
  • Keep an eye on your bank statement for any unusual activity, including any new Direct Debits that you didn’t set up yourself.
  • Shred documents that contain important information or personal details.
  • Keep your virus software and operating systems up to date on your devices – they’re regularly updated to spot new viruses and malware.
  • Talk to any elderly or vulnerable family members about never giving out their bank details by email or phone, and assure them it’s ok to ignore an unfamiliar caller or contact. Remind them that cost-of-living grants and support payments are sent directly to their accounts without needing to apply.
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Posted on
29 November 2022