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Types of scams and how to spot them

Last updated 19th June 2024
9 min read

The number of scams out there can often seem overwhelming, especially online. But the good news is, there are simple ways to spot a scam.

We’ve listed some of the most common types of scams here, so you can confidently steer clear of them.

On this page

  1. Online shopping scams
  2. Fake brand websites
  3. Facebook scams
  4. Voucher scams
  5. E-greeting scams
  6. Delivery scams
  7. Text and message app scams
  8. Technical support scams
  9. Refund scams
  10. Banking scams
  11. Phone switchover scams
  12. Insulation scams
  13. House repair scams
  14. People's Postcode Lottery scams

 

Remember: If you’ve been caught out by a scam, don’t feel embarrassed – you’re not alone. ActionFraud has a support page to help if you’ve been targeted by scammers, which you can visit here(www.actionfraud.police.uk opens in a new tab).

Online scams

New online scams are always cropping up, so it’s good to keep up to date on what’s out there. Once you know the signs, they can be easier to spot. If in doubt, don’t click on any links or share any of your personal details online.

The scams listed below usually fall into a category of scams called ‘phishing’. For more information about what to do if you’re a victim of phishing, read the National Cyber Security Centre’s guide here(www.ncsc.gov.uk opens in a new tab).

1. Online shopping scams

This is when scammers create fake websites that appear to sell items they don’t actually have. It’s common to see adverts for these kinds of websites and products on Facebook.

Only buy from websites that you know, and don’t trust websites with offers that seem too good to be true. (For example, if a site is selling a ‘designer’ dress for £5, it’s most likely a scam.)

If you’d like to buy from a website that you haven’t used before, search the site for reliable contact details. For example, a working chat box, customer service email and phone number, and a registered UK address.

Searching ‘[website name] reviews’ is another good test. You’ll often find third party sites like Feefo or Trustpilot with customer reviews. Here you’ll be able to read whether customers had a good experience buying from that website.

And while we're on the topic of online shopping scams...

2. Fake brand websites

Some online shopping scams can be very convincing if they’re pretending to be household names. Brands as big as Nike and Adidas have been imitated.

These spoof brand sites tend to grow in number around big shopping dates like Christmas and Black Friday. They often look almost identical to the genuine web pages, so can be tricky to spot.

Scammers might send emails with links to these fake offers and websites, usually with a deadline that claims the offer is ending soon. So, as with any other scam, don’t click on a link from an unknown email address. (If you want to check the email address, you can click the profile information at the top of the email. This will show you the full address.)

Instead on clicking links in emails, search for a brand in Google to find their official web page. It’s also worth checking the site’s web address:

  • Are there any spelling mistakes?
  • Does it contain numbers or unusual characters?
  • Does it end with something that isn't .com or .co.uk?

If so, it may not be trustworthy. It’s also worth making sure the address begins with ‘https’, as this tends to mean it’s more secure.

3. Facebook scams

Facebook ‘bonus’ scams use the fact that our loved ones are on Facebook to trick people into giving personal information. They are especially common at Christmas.

The scammer creates what’s called a ‘clone’ Facebook profile. This means they make an account that looks identical or similar to the account of someone you’re likely to trust. They message you from this clone account, offering a bonus or discount. They then ask for your personal details, saying they need them in order to give you the offer.

It’s important not to respond to any messages that request your personal information. Facebook also has this guide(www.facebook.com opens in a new tab) on how to report fake profiles.

4. Voucher scams

This is when you get an email, WhatsApp or Tweet claiming to be giving away free vouchers for supermarkets such as Tesco, Aldi or Waitrose.

As ever, don’t click on any links you don’t recognise. The best thing to do is delete the message, or report it as spam. You can go to any supermarket’s official website to see the promotions they’re offering.

5. E-greeting scams

E-greetings are digital ‘cards’ that are often sent by loved ones via email. Fake e-greetings usually claim to contain a gift card, but instead contain malware that can steal your details (and often your contacts’ details as well).

As a rule, don’t trust any email from an address you don’t know, especially one that claims to be offering a gift or money. If you get an e-greeting from an address you do know, check with them before opening it.

6. Delivery scams

This is when you get an email or text saying you have a delivery, or are about to get one. They often claim to be from the Post Office, or from parcel services such as Amazon, Evri or DPD.

The texts vary, but they often say you need to click a link and enter your personal details to get your parcel delivered. This is then often followed by a phone call where the scammer pretends to be from your bank. Their aim is to get you to transfer your money over to them.

Even if you’re expecting a parcel, no delivery company will ask for your personal information. Don’t click on any links in messages or emails you’ve been sent. And keep an eye out for bad spelling and poor punctuation in the message, as these are common in scam messages.

If you receive one of these messages and aren’t sure what to do, speak to the company who you placed the order with – not the delivery company.

Phone and text scams

Phone scams often overlap with the online scams listed above. For example, you might be contacted by a fake customer support agent by phone, or by email. Read on to find out what to look out for.

7. Text and message app scams

As text and message apps like WhatsApp are such popular way to keep in touch with loved ones, scams on them are common.

A recent WhatsApp/text scam is when you get a message from an unknown number claiming to be a family member. They usually say they’ve lost their phone and had to get a new one, and that they quickly need you to send them money for an emergency.

The message could also come directly from your loved one’s number, rather than an unknown number. If this is the case, their account will most likely have been hacked.

If you get a message from anyone on WhatsApp asking for money urgently, don’t act straight away. Reread the message – does it sound like your loved one actually wrote it? Are there any unusual errors? Even if it seems OK, call them and ask them if they sent the message.

8. Technical support scams

This is when you get a call from someone claiming to be from a company – usually Microsoft. They say they’ve called to fix an error or security issue on your computer, and ask for you to give them remote access to do so.

To try and convince you there’s a problem, they will ask you to look at files on your computer. These files are standard, but they claim they are bugs or viruses that need fixing.

They will then either take you through how to give them remote access to your computer, which means they’ll be able to access your personal information. Or they may ask for your card details directly, either to charge for fixing the issue, or for a subscription fee.

While many companies use remote access software legally, Microsoft will never call you and ask for it.

If someone calls you asking for remote access, you can just hang up. Then you can find the company’s number online and call them back. Never call a number given to you by the original caller. And never give your details to someone who calls you out of the blue.

9. Refund scams

Brands as big as Argos have been hit by refund scams. These are when you get a text or email that claims you’ve overspent on a recent purchase. The text/email offers to give you a refund, often for hundreds of pounds. The link included in the message takes you to a website that claims it needs your details to issue the refund.

This scam can be easier to spot if you haven’t recently bought anything from the shop mentioned in the text/email. Even if you have, it’s best to contact someone via the official company website if you’re worried. As ever, don’t click on any links in messages that claim to be offering you a refund.

10. Banking scams

This is sometimes called ‘push payment fraud’. It’s when someone calls you claiming to be from your bank. The usual story they give is they’ve noticed something suspicious in your bank account, or that someone is trying to access it. They say they need your bank details, and then take you through a process that they claim will fix the problem. This process lets them transfer your money to their account.

Remember, your bank will never call you out of the blue. If someone calls you and claims to be from your bank, you should hang up and call your bank’s official number to check. Never call any phone number the caller gives you, as it could also be a scam number.

11. Phone switchover scams

In 2025, the analogue telephone network is switching to digital. This means all phone calls, even on a landline, will use the internet.

Scammers are calling people and claiming to be from a company carrying out the switchover. They say they need your bank details to complete the switch, and tell you your phone line will be disconnected if you refuse. If you get one of these calls, the best thing to do is hang up.

In-person scams

Some scammers come right to your doorstep, although the scams listed here may also appear in an email or in a phone call. If in doubt, always ask to see ID and check the company’s website and reviews.

12. Insulation scams

With energy bills still high, scammers are claiming they can insulate homes for a high cost – sometimes thousands of pounds. This insulation is a spray foam that comes with safety concerns(www.which.co.uk opens in a new tab). It’s also costly to remove once it’s been installed.

Keep an eye out for tradesmen with no ID, who want you to pay in cash, and who do include the important information and cancellation rights in the invoice.

13. House repair scams

This are lots of different types of doorstep scams. Some of the most common are when a scammer comes to your doorstep and says they have noticed you need urgent repairs done to your home.

They may check parts of your house that you can’t access, such as the roof, and show you pictures of damage that isn’t actually in your home. Many claim to be working on a neighbour’s property to try and gain your trust.

Always ask for ID if anyone says they need to access your home. If you have any doubts, don’t let them in. And don’t trust anyone who asks for you to pay cash upfront.

Read this guide from ActionFraud(www.actionfraud.police.uk opens in a new tab) for advice on what to do if you’re a victim of a doorstep scam.

14. People's Postcode Lottery scams

Scammers are sending out letters that claims you’ve won thousands of pounds on the People Postcode Lottery. The letters say the prize has been awarded at random as part of a programme to give away money from unclaimed prizes.

They then ask for you to call a number in the letter to get your money. When you call, the scammer will ask for your personal information like bank details.

If you get a letter that seems to be from the People’s Postcode Lottery, call them on their official phone number (0808 109 8765) to make sure it’s not a scam.

Further reading and support

Want to feel more in control of your money? Read our guides on how to avoid being caught out by scams, how to spot financial abuse, and what to do if money worries are affecting your mental health.

You can also stay up to date on the latest scams with ActionFraud's news page(www.actionfraud.police.uk opens in a new tab). And Citizen’s Advice has this guide on what to do if you've been scammed(www.citizensadvice.org.uk opens in a new tab).

The thoughts and opinions expressed in the page are those of the authors, intended to be informative, and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SunLife. See our Terms of Use for more info.