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Advice Column: How to spot a scam

July is Scams Awareness Month – here’s how to spot a scam

Scams are schemes to con you out of your money. They can arrive by post, phone call, text message or email or a scammer may turn up at your home.

It could be a scam if:

  • the call, letter, email or text has come out of the blue
  • you’ve never heard of the lottery or competition they are talking about and didn’t buy a ticket
  • you are asked to send money in advance
  • you are told you have to respond quickly so don’t get time to think about it or talk to family and friends before you decide
  • you are told to keep it a secret.

Who is affected by scams?

Scams can affect many different types of people. It’s often thought that older people are the most likely to fall for scams, but while this does happen, other age groups can be just as likely to be taken in. If you’re aged between 35 and 45, you can be caught out by too-good-to-be-true offers and get-rich-quick schemes, especially if  you’ve suffered a difficult situation such as a job loss.  For example, there are training scams which affect people  who are hoping to improve their employment chances but which will defraud you of all your money instead.

Spotting scams

A scammer may:

  • contact you out of the blue
  • make promises that sound too good to be true – if something sounds too good to be true it probably is
  • ask you to pay for something up-front – for example, they’ll ask you to pay a fee before you can claim a prize
  • ask you to make a quick decision by saying things like ‘if you don’t act now you’ll miss out’. This puts you under pressure and doesn’t give you time to think
  • be over-familiar and over-friendly with you
  • tell you an offer has to be kept secret
  • ask for your bank account details. Never give your bank details to people you don’t know, especially people you meet online
  • give a mobile number or PO Box number as the contact for their company- these are easy to close and difficult to trace. It may be a sign that the company doesn’t exist or isn’t legitimate. Check out the company’s details with Companies House or look on the internet for more details about them.

If you think something might be a scam, don’t reply – then throw it away, delete it or hang up and get further advice.

How to report a scam

It’s very distressing to be caught out by a scam. But it’s important to report it to try and stop the scammer striking again.


If you’ve lost money or been threatened with violence

If you’ve lost money because of a scam, report it to Action Fraud, the national fraud reporting centre.

You can report the scam online or by phone.

You’ll need to provide as much information as possible, for example any names or other information about the scammer, dates and details about how the money has been lost or how you were threatened.

If you’ve been threatened with physical violence on your doorstep, you can report this to the police by calling 101.

Action Fraud

Telephone: 0300 123 2040

Textphone: 0300 123 2050

Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm


Reporting scams to Trading Standards

Trading Standards deal with complex consumer problems and potential criminal activities.

If you want to report a problem to Trading Standards, you should contact the Citizens Advice consumer service, who share information reported to them with Trading Standards.

If you report a scam to Trading Standards, you’re giving them vital information which they can use to help stop other people from becoming victims of the same scam.

Some scams are criminal offences under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. This means that Trading Standards may be able to take criminal action against the scammers.


Call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline and tell them you want to report a trader to Trading Standards. The consumer helpline will assess your problem and pass it on to Trading Standards if it’s appropriate.

Telephone: 03454 04 05 06
Textphone: 18001 03454 04 05 06
Open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. Closed on bank holidays.

Calls to the helpline cost up to 9p per minute from a landline. If you’re calling from a mobile, it’ll cost between 3p and 40p per minute – if you have inclusive minutes, it’s the same as calling a landline.

An adviser will answer your call as soon as possible, usually within a few minutes. Once you’re speaking to an adviser your call should take an average of 8 to 10 minutes.

Be prepared to tell the adviser details of the problem and the company’s name and address.

You can also use an online form or write to the consumer helpline – make sure you mention that you want to report a trader to Trading Standards


If you’ve been tricked into calling a premium rate number

If you’ve been tricked into calling a premium rate number or sending a text to this kind of number, you can complain to Phonepay Plus. This is an organisation responsible for policing companies that use premium rate numbers.  It can fine companies and may be able to help you get a refund.

Getting your money back

You can’t always get your money back if you’ve been scammed, especially if you’ve handed over cash. If you’ve paid for goods or services by credit you have more protection and if you used a debit card you may be able to ask your bank for a chargeback.

Don’t forget that If you’ve bought something in an off-premises sale, for example, on the doorstep, or by a distance sale, for example, over the internet, by phone or mail order, you may have a 14 day cooling-off period during which you can cancel a contract.